The award-winning actor shares how a solo trip and well-curated social media clip help him score top billing in Walter Hill’s latest film.
When Netflix’s hit sitcom Family Reunion won its second NAACP Image Award for best children’s program in 2021, the cast was gifted first-class flights to any place in the world. For Warren Burke, who stars as the affable-but-always-unemployed Uncle Daniel, the ticket would prompt him taking his first solo trip and serendipitously help him book his next film: the gritty western Dead for a Dollar starring opposite Hollywood heavyweights Christopher Waltz, Williem Defoe and Benjamin Bratt. In the film, set in the 1890s New Mexico frontier, Burke plays Sergeant Poe who’s been conscripted by the Army to assist a bounty hunter (Waltz) track down a runaway Buffalo solider (Brandon Scott). There’s one snag: the solider has run off with his lover, the wife of a rich landowner, who wants her back at all costs.
Booking this role came right on time because Burke, who has Jamaican and Memphis, Tennessee roots, needed some grace in his life. “You know when stuff is not right with kinfolk and they just draining you,” he says, now laughing at the memory. But back then, the weight felt insurmountable and the only way out for the actor was R&R in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “I told myself, ‘Let me use this ticket and let me just go.’ I took my first solo trip and it was such a magical time. I was in this beautiful mode, feeling good, everything's great,” says Burke, who’s giddy retelling the story. “As I’m chilling on the beach, I decide to go horseback riding and the guide says he’ll record me. I'm galloping and everything. I look great because I got my shirt off, I got the red handkerchief. I want to post the clip with Rihanna’s ‘Desperado’ behind it but then I decided to elevate it, so I get the clip from Django Unchained where Sam Jackson ask’s ‘Who's this **** on that nag?’ I post it and everyone is like, you’re having so much fun on vacation.”
Burke continues: “Cut to three days later and I’m back home. My ICM agent hits me up. She was like, ‘Hey, do you have any horseback riding experience?’ And I'm like, ‘Are you joking? Did you just see my clip?’ She was like, ‘No, I didn't even see it.’ I send it and she’s like, ‘Oh my God, Warren, this is perfect. But take that part out.’ Do you know after that after that solo vacation, the first audition I got coming back was for Dead for a Dollar. No lie.”
Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Another place where Burke feels blessed is working with Family Reunion legends Loretta Devine and Richard Roundtree. “I don't know how God ordained these steps for me to be in their presence to hear the stories of what they talk about and what it was like when they were my age. I remember this one time, Richard and Loretta were talking about when they were hanging out with Cassius Clay. And they were calling him Cassius Clay and we were calling him Muhammad Ali. I'm like what!? Eric Dean Seaton, who was the director on the episode, made sure everybody stopped and allowed them to tell the history so we all know the shoulders that we stand on.”
Paying it forward is already on Burke’s radar. The writer and director has cast Devine in his first short, Lucile, which is an age-old tale of 70-something lovers. “I feel as though, today we only focus on the 16, 20, 30, 40s and see their lives,” says Burke, who’s also directing. “But we don't really understand what’s in the mindset of both the male and female as elders, so I wrote this short. I was inspired from something that happened with my grandfather and my grandmother, but it's just a lover's tale.”
With two Image Awards and a blockbuster western under his belt, there’ll be plenty more to keep Burke on Hollywood’s radar.