Colman Domingo on Fear the Walking Dead being a 'blessing' and how 'most villains are queer'
While Colman Domingo has been steadily working as an actor for decades, his turn as the shifty Victor Strand on Fear the Walking Dead kicked off an impressive run of profound supporting roles in projects like If Beale Street Could Talk, Euphoria, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
"I always want to challenge audiences. I want to give a fullness with everything," says Domingo, 51, of finding great depth in each role he takes on.
The actor talked to EW about how his particular queer role on the hit AMC series hasn't been limiting, and why he's currently drawn to playing villainous characters like X, the menacing "roommate" of Stefani (Riley Keough) in Zola.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Happy to share that since we last spoke I have now seen Zola.
COLMAN DOMINGO: How do you feel? Are you scared of me right now?
A little bit, a little bit. I think the funny thing too is it's not quite a queer film, but it still feels like queer canon.
Because all the characters have such size, right? They still have such campy size.
I mean Riley's giving a drag performance.
I never thought of it that way, but now I cannot unsee that. Because it's true, it is a drag performance. She's put on so much to become this other thing away from herself, or appropriated so much, so it's fascinating. Then you have [Zola], the Black girl who is just like "What is up with this? What is all this that you are bringing? That has nothing to do with my experience."
Getting a little more into your career though, has this phase been fun? Really finding projects that naturally have queer narratives or queer characters woven into it? Thinking about Ma Rainey's, Euphoria, even Fear The Walking Dead. Never have those come across as having an "exclusively gay moment." It's so much more a key part of the continuing narrative.
You know what's wild? Now that you've mentioned it, I didn't even recognize [them] as being queer, because I think that they're so full in their expression, all of these projects. And it's not necessarily about queerness, it's about all these other things. Sometimes we dilute things down to just being about being queer and I think that each of these projects, they're dealing with so many more things. They're dealing with addiction, they're dealing with having agency in the world.
My character Victor Strand that I've played, and built, he is who he is — but it's not like he's operating as a gay man. He is a gay man, and his system of operation is so complex and interesting, which makes it closer to real life and the way that we actually do represent one another. So I think that's why I didn't even recognize it. I'm like, "Oh, are they?" They are, but they're so full in their experience, which I think sometimes that's very limited for us.
The Big Gay Sketch Show was 2008, so you've been out-out professionally for a while.
Even before that though, I didn't even need The Big Gay Sketch Show. I've just always approached myself in this industry as being my full self. There's an old belief that people feel like they have to hide who they are in order to be considered for certain roles and certain opportunities. I've never felt that way, I've always felt that my work will stand on its own.
Still, was there any difficulty that you ran into as a Black gay actor, or has anything changed to now being on this run that you're having?
To be very honest, I didn't recognize this until some years ago when I was at the University of Wisconsin and a student raised his hand and said, "Mr. Domingo, do you realize that you're doing something in our industry that is just not done?" And I didn't understand what he meant. I didn't recognize that, and I look to the sides of me and I don't see — I know that I have many peers who are so open in the most wonderful way about their queerness, but sometimes I think that narrative is the thing that it is now they're known for. They're not known for their body of work, and I think we need that. We need all of it. We need people who are standing out there saying, "My queerness, my politics," all that stuff. They're out there in that way and then there are some people who are like me who will just say, "I'm a nerd, I'm a weird guy, I like music. I play all these different weird characters in different genres and that's why I live." So I'm holding that space while my comrades hold some other spaces. To be honest, if I had difficulties, I didn't know.
Because I'm too busy building as well. I'm building and creating worlds for queer characters to live in, for heterosexual characters to live in. So I feel like that's what I'm so focused on. So I've never focused on something that possibly I didn't get if someone had any issue. I remember someone asked me before, and I thought it was the most ridiculous question, "Well, how does Spike Lee feel about you being gay?" It was the oddest question I ever got in my entire life. I was like, "What? I think you live in a world where that stuff comes up." I'm like, "You see that we worked together many times, he's like a brother to me, that should let you know how he feels about me." We've been in each other's company so much I'm like, "Yeah I personally think that no one cares." You know what I mean? I haven't met someone who cared so much, because I don't think I necessarily talk about queerness. I talk about art, I talk about spaces and how we can be there for each other and establish a culture where everyone wins.
It doesn't really sound like it, but did your decision making process change at all as there's been this progress this past decade with LGBTQ rights and representation becoming more front and center in the national conversation.
It's important for everyone to take moments to make sure they speak out in support of one another and our rights, and making sure that there's an equal playing field for everyone. For everyone, truly, because if one of us isn't free, then none of us are free. So we got to really take care of each other. So I've always been conscious of that to be honest.
It's very interesting that Fear The Walking Dead was a turning point for you, and it's a gay character, but the fears we hear around taking on a gay character don't seem to have applied to you because if you think about it, it hasn't stopped you from playing X in Zola.
No, or having Regina King [in Beale Street], or Gabrielle Union [in The Birth of a Nation], or you name it be my wife. I don't know what that is, but I do know that when I went to Fear The Walking Dead, the character was built in such a complex way, and I gave all that I had to it. We didn't even make the decision that he was queer until season two, that was a surprise and I thought, "Oh, I think that's interesting for the character." Because now the audiences know him to be a con man. Now you peel back the layers, you get something else. I always love that he's not led with just being queer. Sometimes writers want to lean into that very quickly because they think, "Oh, that's who he is." I'm like, "No, queer people have so many other layers and colors and complexities and it's not just about who they are attracted to." Also, I like to change Victor Strand up, because my secret with Victor Strand is that he's a bit more fluid than anyone can even imagine.
We're in an age where younger actors are able to live openly as themselves the way you have been in your career. Are there any young LGBTQ actors that you find yourself being inspired by?
I'll say the young lady, Mj Rodriguez. I've known Mj for years and I'm so proud of her. I love that she's carving out a place for herself in this industry as a true leading lady, and also a character actress too. So I look forward to seeing what Mj does in particular, because [she's] also truly kind, and generous, and you want Mj to win.
I saw her do Little Shop of Horrors in L.A., and that was an amazing role for her.
Oh, and she can sing down.
As someone who is Afro-Latino, has it been especially satisfying to see entertainers with the same background leading the way in conversations about LGBTQ representation?
It has. Well, it's also been nice for people to recognize that part of my identity as well, because for a lot of times it's just gone by the wayside. I was like, "Yeah, I'm a Black guy from Philadelphia, and my dad and his whole family they're from Central America. They're absolutely Afro-Latino people [with] culture and the way they live, community, you name it." So it's been really refreshing actually to say that, "Oh, I can be all of those things." I've noticed that people have been laying claim to me a bit more in a wonderful way, "Oh, that's ours too. We see ourselves in that," and don't diminish [it]. Because you rarely see Afro-Latinos in the press as well. I feel like there's been a dim light on that, so I feel proud that I get to represent both.
Yeah. It's been nice to see that intersection really come forward, especially with a show like Pose. Because it's not something that you can ignore, Afro-Latinos are so vital to queer history.
Absolutely, and we know that, but now I think the world is starting to catch on.
What are you excited about next? I'm particularly excited about Candyman, even though I am so terrified of horror movies.
It's fine. You should be terrified, it's going to scare you. But I'm very excited about that, I'm excited to go back into season 2 of Euphoria that we're about to start shooting. I'm very excited I'm about to start shooting season 7 of Fear The Walking Dead. That's been such a blessing in my life, and my character Victor Strand has really gone to the dark side, which I'm very interested in. I'm loving that I'm getting to play these really wildly dark characters and that's another thing I think you don't usually see queer actors playing. Anything that's outside the box in every single way, I love it. Ultimately it's kind of queer. I think most villains are queer in some way. They always have a great sense of humor about things that are a little off color.
Look at Disney, those are the characters we love.
Absolutely. Think about it, Cruella de Vil — the first drag queen, right? I mean, they get to have a great time, so I'm looking forward to getting my shot at playing a lot of villains. I have the most fun doing that, because I'm such a sweet loving guy, so it's nice to play with the dark side.
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