Colman Domingo, an eponymous “theater nerd”, still can’t believe he’s friends with Audra McDonald.
“It’s beyond corny,” the award-winning actor and producer jokes about his unexpected friendship with the Broadway legend. Domingo will hang out with other theater greats on Sunday, June 11, when he hosts the Tony Awards on CBS (later airing on Paramount+), a night he plans to be a full-circle moment.
“I feel like I’m among my superheroes,” he told Yahoo Entertainment of the Broadway community.
The 53-year-old showbiz veteran is having a hell of a year, as a series of passion projects are set to drop in the coming months – including Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (June 9), Dolls to go (September 9) and the highly anticipated film version of the Broadway musical The purple color (Christmas Day) where he played the role of Mister, originally played by Danny Glover in the 1985 film.
But it was never about glitz and glamor for Domingo, who spends more time counting his blessings than reveling in glory.
“I’ve always been an actor who aspired to do good work and amplify it, but it’s a whole other level to observe your influence and see where you’re at in the zeitgeist,” says Domingo, who is also nominated for a Tony this year as co-producer of the Broadway play Fatty hama modern version of Shakespeare Hamlet which focuses on a black queer track.
Reflecting on the indelible mark he left on the industry, Domingo can’t help but point out that, in some areas, arts education is becoming a battleground in the culture wars.
“When I got into theater as a kid in the 90s and toured high schools, there was no art education. It was missing,” he recalls. “That’s when I started to understand, Oh, when you take away the arts, you take away the constructive thought, you take away the spirit and the soul. We need to infuse the schools with more art, more drama, more music, more expression, because that’s how we bring about change. And I think the “status quo” knows it. They’re trying to take away that promise, but the problem is… you can’t.
The roles he chooses to play, like Ralph Abernathy in the Martin Luther King biopic Selmaor as famous LGBTQ civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in the upcoming Netflix biopic Rustmirror of his own activism.
This also goes for the companies he chooses to partner with – including his partnership with Zacapa Rum, the official sponsor of the 2023 Tony Awards.
“For me, they’ve been a terrific brand partner,” he says of the company, with which he’s had a relationship for nearly three years. “They’re really there to help me amplify things that are important to me,” like fighting censorship and empowering marginalized communities.
“Historically, it’s always something artists have to contend with,” Domingo, a proud gay man, notes of censorship. “We’re always fighting a status quo that keeps us from being who we are, then suddenly we feel like a threat. For example, how is it possible that drag is a threat? It’s the most absurd thing in the world, this idea that people feel like they want to take away their personal choices and self-expression. This is the exact opposite of what America is about, which is to try to live up to the ideals of being free. Yet it still seems like it’s only for the few.
Domingo learned this lesson in real time, after performing in the play strange passageher Broadway debut in 2008, and later in Susan Stroman’s musical The Scottsboro Boysfor which he was nominated for a Tony Award in 2011.
“Those are light bulb moments in my life,” he says of those roles. “People were like, ‘Oh, black people like Rock ‘n Roll? Aren’t blacks monolithic? It taught me to be militant in my work, to say ‘Actually, art East activism.'”
It also helped him develop unique methods of preparing for roles, especially for characters often seen as dark or menacing, like Monsieur in The purple color, a complex and troubled man who is initially portrayed as an abusive husband to Celie (played by Fantasia in the latest iteration). But as the story progresses, it undergoes development and transformation.
“He’s a hurt person who hurts people,” he says of Mister. “Even with his abusive nature, you understand he is a hurt person, a broken person. He’s not just mean. He didn’t wake up one morning deciding to knock Celie over her head. It comes from years of his own conditioning.
“It’s an examination of humanity,” he says of this performance. “I recognized that there is darkness within each of us. We all have choices: I choose to live with grace, I choose to live with forgiveness. I have all the same tools that can flip over and be dark, if I didn’t have access to them and if I wasn’t loved, if I didn’t feel heard. And so, I try to push my characters that way.
Even more, adds Domingo, to be fully himself as a queer man – and always being one of Hollywood’s most sought after talents, often playing heterosexual male characters who have intimate relationships with women – is a testament to how far society has come.
“I never thought of it as a limitation in any way,” he says of his identity. “I’ve always had a sense of confidence and belief in who I was in the world. It’s always been important to me not to impose something that the outside world has imposed on me, whether that’s what they see, as a black man. They might not necessarily know that I’m queer, and yet, I think I like to surprise people with that, like, ‘Hey, that’s who I am.”
This pride, he says, continues to motivate him. It also inspires the message it conveys to young people. “The fight,” as he calls it, isn’t just about them. “It’s on all of us.”
“It’s time for us to get back out there,” he says of turning art into activism. “You can’t legislate joy, love and expression. You are not going to silence me. You are not going to cover my mouth.