Richard Price has written career-jolting roles for the likes of Paul Newman (The Color of Money) and Al Pacino (Sea of Love). But in his book, one name stands out from the others: Delroy Lindo. Lindo, 43, plays the pivotal part of Rodney, the fatherly drug lord, in Spike Lee’s adaptation of Price’s explosive novel Clockers. ”He’s got this combination of gravel, gravity, and dignity,” says Price. ”Probably he’s always gonna get compared with other black guys — ‘Oh, he’s somewhere between Morgan Freeman and Samuel Jackson’ — but this guy should be compared with anybody out there: Gene Hackman, Bobby Duvall, anybody.”
The key to Lindo’s powerful screen presence is his knack for getting a bead on his characters. ”He’s a scary cat,” Lindo says of his drug- and death-dealing Rodney, ”but he’s got charisma. I wanted to make it as difficult as possible for people to dismiss him — ‘Oh, he’s just a drug kingpin.”’ Lindo passed the ultimate authenticity test: The real Jersey City drug lord Rodney is based on saw a Clockers screening and, says Price, ”he thought Delroy was great.”
Born to a Jamaican family in England, Lindo studied at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater in 1977. His Tony Award-nominated 1988 Broadway triumph in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone got Spike Lee’s attention. ”Delroy just inhabits his roles,” Lee enthuses.
A strict Method man, Lindo hung out with Harlem numbers runners to prepare for his 1992 career-making performance in Malcolm X (he played West Indian Archie, Malcolm’s mentor, pairing him with fellow ACT alumnus Denzel Washington), and he transformed himself to portray Woody Carmichael, a character based on Lee’s jazzman father, in 1994’s Crooklyn. ”Woody wanted to pursue his artistic muse, but life was calling him away,” reflects Lindo. ”I can relate to that about 3,000 percent. Oh, dig it — I’ve done it all: busing tables, driving cabs, selling pesticides over the phone.”
Next month Lindo plays Bo, another dope dealer, in Barry Sonnenfeld’s black comedy Get Shorty, costarring Gene Hackman and John Travolta. But don’t expect the return of Rodney. ”They both sell drugs, but they’re worlds apart,” says Lindo. ”Rodney’s smug about his success. Bo’s a man who studies elocution, is very concerned with being appropriately attired. It’s about betterment, people trying to reinvent themselves in the Hollywood tradition.” While Delroy Lindo reinvents himself with every role.