Colman Domingo made his Broadway debut in 2006 as an understudy in Lisa Kron’s play Well. Soon, he turned heads in Broadway’s Passing Strange and followed up that performance by earning a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for the too-short-lived Kander and Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys.
Since then, Broadway has been conspicuously Domingo-less—though he’s kept close to the theatre community. In between movie appearances in 42, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and Lincoln and starring as series regular Victor Strand on Fear the Walking Dead, Domingo has written award-winning work for the stage.
His A Boy and His Soul premiered at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre—where Scottsboro also began—and earned him a Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Solo show, as well as a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Solo Show Performance and a Drama League nomination. His Wild With Happy premiered at The Public Theater, and in 2016 Dot debuted at the Vineyard.
Domingo continues to fulfill each aspect of his multi-hyphenate status on stage and screen, as he returns to Broadway as a co-book writer on Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, continues to star on Fear the Walking Dead, just wrapped production on the movie If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Dave Franco, Regina King and more, and adapts Dot for AMC (renamed In The Middle of the Street). Here, the artist shares how he got his start, the collaborators and works that have inspired him, and his sense of responsibility in his work.
What was your first professional job?
Colman Domingo: My first professional job was with Berkeley Repertory Theatre. I started out in an educational touring play and eventually starred on their stages. That was the theatre that nurtured me to expand as an artist.
What was the stage show that has most influenced you?
The Scottsboro Boys. It was artistically ambitious, daring, provocative, arresting, painful and socially conscious. This was a WOKE event before the hashtag. The musical built by the legendary duo of Kander and Ebb with a book by the masterful David Thompson, helmed by visionary director Susan Stroman and a production that demanded that its actors become even greater than they imagined as activists. That experience spanned five years from Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theater to the Guthrie, Broadway, The Young Vic and finally to the West End, and gave me the paradigm shift that I was seeking as a storyteller. It is important to be even more daring with the way that I tell stories and crucial to love my fellow artists even more than before.
Is there a stage moment you witnessed (from the audience, from the wings, in rehearsal) that stays with you?
There was a moment in my play Wild With Happy when Sharon Washington, who was pulling in a tour de force as Aunt Glo, and Adelaide suddenly appears in full Cinderella attire. An artistic advisor questioned that moment repeatedly and wondered if it was necessary to the play. I could not articulate the reasons why this was intrinsic to the event, yet I knew in my heart that we, as an audience, longed for this moment at this exact moment. It was difficult yet necessary to answer the questions that were asked of me. Was she real? Was this a dream? What exactly do we take away with this moment? The first time that moment happened the audience gave a collective sigh. It happened night after night. It was make-believe at its perfection, an absolute utter joy. Adults melted into children at that very moment of pure bliss. It was then that I learned to trust my intuition as a writer.
What’s been the most rewarding experience onstage for you?
On stage I have felt most fulfilled as a playwright, for everything I create gets to grow and evolve with collaboration from directors, actors, and so on. Specifically, to give a voice to strong complex characters that are women has been the most satisfying because I grew up in a family consisting of—and continue to be surrounded by—strong female individuals. I know them very well and consistently champion for their voices to be loud and clear. The characters of Aunt Glo [in Wild With Happy], Averie and Dottie [in Dot], and the three Donnas [in Summer] have been the most remarkable in terms of achievement; they are almost truly alive, yet they are not at all perfect.
Who is a collaborator from theatre who has made you better?
Robert O’Hara (who directed Wild With Happy), Susan Stroman (who directed Dot), and Des McAnuff (who directs Summer) truly made me a better collaborator. [Producer] Scott Rudin has a wonderful artistic eye that has been a revelation during our work together. Oscar Eustis, Mandy Hackett, Carey Perloff, Jim Nichola, Doug Able and Sarah Stern and numerous other friends and colleagues have been instrumental in my evolution as an artist.
What is your favorite part of doing TV that’s different from theatre?
When I create and write for TV, I build universes that will have arcs lasting seasons, whereas theatre allows me to explore storylines that will open up for two hours or less. Both are wonderfully fulfilling but they couldn’t be more different.
What different piece of you do each of these disciplines (performing, writing, directing, producing) feed?
I like creating the rooms and calling the shots, simply because I am the best person I know to do it. I love collaboration and seeing fellow artists take ownership in the work; it becomes imminently richer.
How would you describe your mission as a writer?
To tell many stories as honestly as I can. It is my responsibility as a writer to help people hold on tighter to one another, now more than ever.
What type of character would you like to play that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
I am excited to step into a role of a showrunner. It is time to lead rooms with a fresh perspective, respect, love and passion for story, while creating a brand new culture with the most uplifting values at heart.
In terms of performing, which of your past characters do you miss the most and why?
Recently I wrapped Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk where I portray Joseph Rivers, a strong father to two daughters, who tries to protect them from the outside world, and that is how I feel about my work in general. To a certain extent, just like my children, I nurture my writing until the point when it has to get out and face the outside world, where it takes on a life of its own. That is a purpose of any artist and their art.