Luke Millington-Drake has built up quite an impressive following on Instagram and TikTok. If you haven’t yet discovered his Keira Knightley impersonations, then you are definitely missing out. They are so on point that they went viral overnight. He manages to capture her essence in an affectionate way, no matter how absurd the sketch. Nigella Lawson, Hugh Grant and Luke’s own parents have also become part of his repertoire.
Luke grew up in the UK but he’s been based in Los Angeles for almost six years. In his first major interview, Luke speaks to our Editor-In-Chief, Darren Burn to discuss his rapid rise to social media fame, comedy and various other topics.
Luke posted his first social media video in October 2020 after a nudge from a family member. “My brother told me I should do TikTok. I didn’t think I was cool enough for TikTok, but I started blitzing it. One of the videos was about American vs UK cultural differences and then I tried impressions like Keira. A lot of it was trial and error. But I’m shocked at the rate it went!”
“I do impressions of my brother too, even though they don’t sound like him: it’s just what I hear in my head.”
Both his TikTok and Instagram followings leapt to hundreds of thousands of followers in a very short space of time as his posts went viral.
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The most famous impression he does is Keira Knightley. “We’re so used to seeing Keira in period dramas, or high concept dramatic roles. We’re not used to seeing her at Pizza Hut. How would she order there?” Naturally, Keira struggles to understand the finer points of ordering a Pizza Hut or at KFC. Does a family bucket come in an actual bucket? He plays the scenario up to hilarious effect. He found wearing a white knitted turtle neck to be the ideal costume for Keira.
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From London to LA
Luke’s Anglo-American upbringing helped to shape his comedy. His British dad met his American mum while he was working in the US. Luke grew up with the cultural clash of a posh English dad and a mum from the Midwest. Observing the dynamic between them has provided him with plenty of comic inspiration.
Luke moved to Iowa from London for college. He even joined a fraternity – “it was an all-American experience.” Once again, he was given an opportunity to observe. “I watched how Americans behave, their body language, how they spoke to each other. I didn’t realise but I was recording it all.” This would all come in useful when he launched his comedy career online.
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The art of comedy
His comedy clips have a real immediacy – hence why they work on social media. “With people endlessly scrolling, you have to be offering something good to keep their attention for a whole minute. It also has to land very quickly – you don’t have much time to set up the scene.” Could he extend these sketches to a longer format?
“My training is in sketch comedy. I’m used to writing four to five pages for a sketch and working for that laugh at the end. I’m working on projects to get myself to full-length character shows.” Especially in theatre, where he’s eager to return after lockdown. His characters will likely take on another dimension with a live audience to play off.
Luke’s training has seen him spend a great deal of time at The Groundlings – the improv and sketch comedy troupe based in Los Angeles. Former alum include Bridesmaids writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo as well as their fellow cast members Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph.
For Luke, it’s important that his impersonations don’t descend into cruelty. You can tell he respects Keira – and his mum, for that matter! “I have an immense amount of respect for Keira Knightley. Watching her films was a form of escapism when I was a kid. I just thought there was something about her that was so magnetic… That’s why I play up more to the silliness. Clean humour, you could say. If you go after someone to mock them, it’s a very low bar. If you can earn the laugh by being smarter and not using the low bar then you really earn that laugh.”
UK vs US comedy
He cited Ab Fab as one of his biggest comic inspirations – a very British show but popular worldwide. UK humour works well in America, not least Luke’s. What’s his take on the unique nature of British comedy? “We’re a country of bizarre characters and we all live in this small space together. There’s more room to be experimental and push the envelope with the characters. Americans are used to seeing posh English people in period dramas. Seeing posh people being overtly silly can work for Americans – you’re presenting them with another version of how posh people can behave.”
Have Keira or Nigella seen Luke’s sketches?
Naturally, Nigella Lawson is a character he’s drawn to, not least her pronunciation of “microwave”! She has also become one of Luke Millington-Drake’s main characters. He does a sketch where he imagines her saying other things – ‘mee-cro-wa-vay’ indeed!
So, the big question: has Keira seen his impressions? “I can neither confirm nor deny if she’s seen it. I’ve heard rumours that maybe, just maybe. But I can’t follow the breadcrumbs to get the confirmation. I think I’d lose it if she did. I hope that if she has seen it she’s laughing.”
But one of his idols who has seen his work is megastar Jennifer Coolidge, known for her role as Stifler’s mom in American Pie and also her roles in Legally Blonde as well as guest-starring in Friends. “I threw my phone across the room. I couldn’t quite believe it. She’s an absolute icon in my eyes. The fact that she saw that, liked it and shared it and commented on it, I was absolutely thrilled. [With Jennifer] you really believe the person you’re watching and so she earns all of her laughs.”
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Diversity, travel and proposing in Yosemite National Park
We asked Luke for his take on diversity and LGBTQ+ in comedy: “It feels like we’re at the beginning of being able to go more mainstream. Shows like Drag Race are showing us in a different light. Telling our stories is important. I would like people to be drawn tome because of my ideas, not because of my sexuality. But I equally understand that they go hand in hand right now and I think we’re working our way through that part which might feel a bit muddy right now, but I think we’re getting there. It’s an exciting time to be doing what I’m doing.”
Naturally, we spoke about travel and asked where are Luke’s favourite places? “My favourite place in the world is Yosemite National Park. My now fiancé took me there. It’s our favourite place to go. I proposed to him last year in the park and it was great because no one was there due to COVID!”
And what about his bucket list? “I’ve never been to Italy which is terrible! I really want to go to New Zealand as well.”
So what’s next? “I’m working on a screenplay, TV series ideas, developing my characters and finding places for them. And just to work. I want to be a working actor. I just want to keep going and see what I’m capable of doing. COVID has taught us you have no idea what’s going to happen next.”