By Bruce Collier
Justin Brooke had to reschedule his interview with The Beachcomber several times, for excellent reasons. The Destin native had been called back for a role, which he landed. He’s can’t say much about it, except that it’s in Outcast, a Cinemax original series.
Brooke got his start as a fourth-grader at Destin Elementary, as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. He was in drama club at Fort Walton Beach High School, but his interests inclined toward music.
Graduating from Florida State with a degree in English, poetry and creative writing, he moved to Atlanta and formed a rock ‘n’ roll band, Howlies, playing guitar (self-taught) and writing songs. A MySpace inquiry to Los Angeles record producer Kim Fowley led to Fowley’s request for a demo, which led to an invitation to record at Fowley’s home. Brooke was impressed when he walked in.
“There were stacks of demos everywhere,” he says. “I felt pretty honored.” Howlies released two albums, Trippin’ with Howlies and Stunned. Part of the band’s act involved onstage comedy. Fowley suggested there was natural acting talent there. “He said we should have our own reality show,” says Brooke.
Howlies disbanded, but Brooke says he learned a lot from the regular performing schedule. Back in Atlanta, Brooke had a friend who worked in the film business, and got hired as an extra on AMC’s The Walking Dead. This led to a job as a stand-in and three years of 60-hour weeks working on film sets. “It was basically like going to film school.”
The hit zombie series had him working with professionals “at the top of their game.” In 2014, he was hired as a stand-in for Scoot McNairy on the premiere season of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire. McNairy lobbied for Brooke as a regular cast member. Brooke realized then he could make a career in film. “[The show] taught me so much about acting.” The hours were long, but “I kept my head down and did it.”
Brooke regularly sends off audition demos, and received a booking from Nate Parker, director and lead actor in the Nat Turner Rebellion drama Birth of a Nation. Parker offered Brooke a role because he was impressed with Brooke’s “slate,” the part of the demo where the actor looks at the camera and states his name. “I was kind of in shock.” The critically praised film opens in wide release Oct. 7.
Brooke’s biggest role yet came when he was cast as Fred Turner in The Founder, a film about McDonald’s mogul Ray Kroc (played by Michael Keaton). Brooke had numerous one-on-one scenes with Keaton, calling it a great experience. The film opens next January.
Brooke has also worked with Tyler Perry in If Loving You is Wrong. Noting Perry’s “singular” style, Brooke says the Atlanta-based actor-director-writer built an entire neighborhood of houses just for shooting his work. Another current project is Ozark, a Netflix series with Jason Bateman.
The variety of his life suits Brooke. “I’m used to uncertainty,” he says.