Colman Domingo on feminism, upcoming projects, and having a full garden

By: Kalean Borowsky
By: Kalean Borowsky /

In part 2 of our conversation with Colman Domingo we discuss the two shows he’s currently developing. We also get some gems from Colman on maintaining a busy schedule and taking agency over your career.

Colman is the type of person you can sit and listen to without feeling the passage of time. As we transitioned away from Fear the Walking Dead, we began to learn more about the man himself. We first discussed the shows that he’s developing for HBO and AMC and how those projects came about. This led directly into a discussion about his prior work and a noticed penchant for writing strong female leads.

Later in the conversation, we get some gems from Colman as he discusses his keys for success and being able to relax after years of grinding to put food on the table.

Hidden Remote: I know that you’re developing Dot for AMC and you also have an HBO show you’re working on as well, so how are they coming along? 

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Colman Domingo: They’re both coming along well. Any time I have some days off, which I do right now, I’m writing. Writing is sort of my hobby and my passion. So I’m working on the pilot right now for the AMC show which is based on my play Dot. It now has two titles. It’s called In the middle of the Street, but it’s also called West Philly Baby, and I think we’re leaning towards West Philly Baby. (Laugh)

HR: I like that.

CD: Right, right? And then I have a half hour comedy for HBO that I’m developing called Sweet Lady Kickers. It’s based on an all-female kickball league in Atlanta, Georgia. I also have a musical running on Broadway right now that’s been selling out over a million dollars every week, about Donna Summer. It’s called Summer: The Donna Summer musical. That’s been going super well, nominated for two Tonys, and we’re just having a good time. I love writing. Writing is truly my passion, and I love directing as well. Acting has sort of become more my day job, although I have some high-profile films coming out too which is cool. I have a film called Assassination Nation coming out in September. It was a nice, big sale at Sundance. And If Beale Street Could Talk, with Barry Jenkins.

HR: That cast is ridiculous.

CD: Oh, it’s kinda ridiculous. When I knew Regina King would play my wife I thought: wow this is a dream. And with Barry Jenkins at the helm, I think we created a very beautiful, intimate film.

HR: We’re definitely looking forward to that one. I do notice a trend however. Dot is going to be female lead correct?

CD: Yeah

HR: Then the HBO show is Sweet Lady Kickers, so pretty obviously female lead.

CD: Yep

HR: Donna, obviously female lead.

CD: (laugh) Yes

HR: Then, I was at SXSW in March and I got to see First Match . . .

CD: First Match? Great, yeah.

HR: Which is also female directed and led.

CD: You know, I’m a feminist. I think that I’m drawn to works that are very female-centric. Even before the “Me Too” movement and “Times Up”. I think that it’s always been part of my consciousness to have a lot of strong women in the room. Women who lead. I’ve had mostly female directors who’ve directed my plays. For me it’s not even a movement it’s just common sense and human nature. It just makes sense to me. I love having a very diverse group of people around me. Just in my life. So it makes sense to me. You know, I respect women so much. Women have always taken a lead in my career, whether it’s my agent or a manager, you name it.

But I also love to write strong, complex women. I think, possibly, it’s influenced by my mother and sister. They’re both compelling and bold and colorful and spiritual. Just incredible women. I feel there’s no ending a story with them. So usually the women that I write, that’s the biggest complement I’ve ever gotten. People always say I write very compelling, strong, female characters. Which is why Sarah Jessica Parker’s company, Pretty Matches, reached out to me to write this show about an all-female kickball league. (laugh) They saw my play Dot which has a plethora of strong female characters, and I thought that they were right. (laugh).

Colman Domingo
Colman Domingo /

That being said, I have to recognize that, even in the films I have coming out, I’m playing a man supporting these young women to find their voices. In First Match, and Assassination Nation, and If Beale Street Could Talk. [In If Beale Street Could Talk] I’m dealing with my daughter who is pregnant and trying to find agency in her life. So I feel very strongly that as advocates of women’s movements this is how women must engage with us as men. We’ve got to be advocates and we’ve got to be out there on the front lines. I think it’s also important for women to lift us up as well. You know, all guys aren’t like the “others” who are full of shame and disgrace. We have so many men who are in the trenches who are making sure that it’s just part of their DNA to have women in strong roles in their lives and in their art.

HR: So it’s definitely just something that comes naturally for you and not something you’ve sought to do in any way.

CD: Never. It’s just always made sense to me. I’ve never been a reactionary person to anything. I remember when artistic directors would ask me about directors for my plays. “Oh we should look for a black male” and I’m always like, why? (laugh) I said I’m black male enough for anybody, I think. (laugh) And I write very black people, (laugh) so I’m secure with that. I said it would be interesting to have a female voice because I write some female characters. She could be a woman of color, or she could be a woman who is not of color (laugh). You know? So I’m very open in that way but I also try to be specific about the piece itself. I think it’s important for artists to have a community that looks like the world that they’re creating as well.

HR: 100%. We definitely need people like you who are in positions to make those decisions so I’m happy for the success you’re having right now. Now with that said, you also tend to have a historical lean in some of your work. From 42, to Lincoln, to Birth of a Nation. Is there any story that you’re looking to tell down the line at some point? I know that can be kind of dangerous.

CD: I think I know exactly what it is. I think I’d like to play Paul Robeson. Because I think Paul Robeson is a man that I understand very well. First of all, he actually passed away 4 blocks away from where I grew up. So there’s a plaque on Walnut Street or Chestnut Street, and like 48th where he used to sit out on the porch. He was living at his sister’s house and he would sing and things like that. But everything I know about this man is part of men that I admire, people like Jeffery Holder who bucked the system and did everything. You know people who had many lives in one life.

And I recognize I’m one of those guys. I think that I’m so drawn to Paul Robeson from being a singer, being an activist, you know the many lives that he’s lead. So I think I would like to bring his story to the screen and I’d love to collaborate with someone about that. But I’d also like to play him as well. Honestly there’s rare stories that I would play right now because I feel like I’m more drawn as a director and as a writer. But as an actor it’s really in my heart of hearts to really be of service as an actor to bigger stories and stories that have tremendous legacy. Stories that really raise the consciousness of a people. That’s why I’ve been part of things like Selma and Birth of a Nation.

Colman Domingo
Colman Domingo /

Honestly it’s harder for me, I get many offers and scripts and a lot I say no to. I probably, surprisingly, say no to a lot of things. (laugh) You know, I’m sure I could work more as an actor if I wanted to but there’s a lot of things I won’t do. I won’t even go in for an audition or a meeting. I’ll read it and I’m like, no, that’s not for me. And I recognize that’s someone else’s blessing but for me, I do want everything to be profound. I would like to do more comedy, more things that are also bringing humor because that’s also part of our humanity. So I’m interested in things like that but I’m also waiting for the absolute right thing to come along. Usually when it comes along they know that they want me involved. There’s not usually a casting. You know if you want me involved because when I come to it I’m going to bring all of my humor, humanity, I’m going to interrogate. You’re going to get that artist. Otherwise, go through a casting session (laugh).

HR: That has to be an awesome feeling to know that people know that about you.

CD: It is, it is. I do know that when people want me in the room they really want my entire voice and not to just move me around like a puzzle piece or something. People really want my mind and soul. I know that when I worked with Sam Levinson on Assassination Nation he would send me a monologue and he would ask me, Colman what do you think about this? Do you have notes on this? These are the things that excite me. I’m not an actor that sits back and just, ok hand me something and I go and run the lines and I do it. You want me to interrogate this with you and create with you. I think that’s why I’m drawn to certain artists who I’ve worked with forever. You know I’ll work with Sam Levinson, I’ll work with Nate Parker, I’ll work with Steven Spielberg, Ava Duvernay, whenever they call because they want all of me.

HR: Right and you’re building those relationships so when you go to do something you know who you can reach out to and how they’re going to respond to you. So I would definitely buy a ticket to a Paul Robeson story.

CD: Aw thank you, thank you. Hey make that happen. From your mouth to God’s ears.

HR: We’ll put that out into the universe. So we’ve touched on a lot of what you’re doing. It seems like your sort of all over the place currently. What’s something you do to kind of manage yourself and not allow yourself to get overwhelmed?

CD: I’ve become very organized. I even put on my calendar days off, or hours where I don’t work. I always give myself at least 2-3 hours each day to just do me when it comes to going to the gym, going for a walk, going to just get lost somewhere. It’s funny because anyone can look at my resume or the things that I have going on and they can be overwhelmed. I could be overwhelmed just by looking at all the things I have going on but I’m not, because I’m very organized. Sometimes I have to tell certain people, you know, I’m on deadline for this so I can’t even think about that. There are some collaborators where I’ll say I can’t even think about that until September. (laugh) You know, just to be respectful because I want you to know that when I’m in, I’m all in. And I want you to respect that I’m all in for these other projects, you know? So people know I’m here in Austin, Texas right now so it’s about Fear the Walking Dead and you can’t challenge that. I want to respect and give it all the love and passion and power that I have.

Colman Domingo
Colman Domingo /

I try to have a full life. I go to dinner, I like to cook, I have loved ones around. I try to be a good family member, but that’s years of managing. I’ve been doing this now for 27 years so it takes a while. I think when you’re a younger actor you’re just trying to survive and you overextend yourself in many ways. Finally, actually, someone just told me this to be honest. Someone said, ok Colman you know when you’re off from Fear the Walking Dead you should probably take a vacation. Go away for like a month or two. And I thought, what?

HR: (laugh)

CD: They’re like Colman you’ve been planting seeds for so long. Do you realize that you have a full garden right now? And I thought, wow, and I actually had to recognize that. That all the seeds I’ve been planting, things have been coming to fruition. That I don’t have to push as hard as I used to. It sort of has been ingrained in me, being a kid from West Philly you’ve got to have your hustle on. I always had a few things going to make sure I’m going to have food on the table (laugh). And now I have food on the table and I can actually sit and eat it. How nice. You know? (laugh)

HR: You know, I had a follow-up but you touched on it there, how you got to this place where you feel like you’re in control of what you’re doing and not overwhelming yourself.

CD: I’ll add something actually. I’ll add one thing, you just brought up something. I think it’s so important, and I’m always trying to inspire other actors, to have agency in your career. To not sit back and wait for anything. The blessing that I know that my career trajectory has been, I can absolutely say, without question, that no one has given me anything. Even when people had the opportunity to give me a leg up it actually has been a blessing for them not to. Because I actually had to figure out how to find my way in. How to have the career that I’ve had. How to become a director for television. When others have had opportunities to make that happen for me but they chose not to for whatever reason. You know what I mean? A lot of times in our industry, people feel like they have to hang onto things. Or they have to hang on to access. I’ve never been that way.

Next: Colman Domingo Interview: Part 1

So I think that you do get what you put out. I know that people in a companies like AMC who have been generous to me. I know that it’s because I also have a sense of generosity. That’s the thing I’m always trying to inspire other actors and other creators. I believe the key to any success is to be generous. To show up and say, what can I give you? To show up at any table and come with something to give. To not think about what am I trying to get out of somebody, you know? How can I make someone’s day great? How can I open up a door for someone? I know that’s the key to why I am where I am in my career right now. And I hope that resonates with people to do the same.

Catch Colman Sunday nights at 9/8 Central on Fear the Walking Dead, and be on the lookout for Assassination Nation in the fall.