Colman Domingo: Big Gay Showstopper
Much like his blindingly illuminated RuPaul impersonation on Logo’s The Big Gay Sketch Show, Colman Domingo is enjoying the ever-brightening spotlight. After appearing in the Tony-winning Broadway musical Passing Strange and Spike Lee’s subsequent film adaptation, the Philadelphia native recently won a GLAAD Media Award for A Boy and His Soul, his autobiographical off-Broadway solo show. Now he's back at the Vineyard Theatre in The Scottsboro Boys, a controversial John Kander and Fred Ebb musical, which reopens on Broadway next season. Between lunch dates with Mr. Lee and Mr. Kander, Domingo discusses the big responsibilities of being the only black soul on The Big Gay Sketch Show — and the only gay soul in just about everything else.
Advocate.com: As seen in a preview clip that’s already gone viral, you play RuPaul in a RuPaul’s Drag Race parody from The Big Gay Sketch Show’s new season, which begins April 13. That’s very ballsy of you guys to mock another Logo show.
Colman Domingo: RuPaul’s Drag Race is on such a great high, and sometimes it’s nice to spoof one of your own. It’s done with such great humor and love, so we’re honoring it in our own special way. RuPaul is strong and hilarious, but it’s also a fact that he’s over-lit like old-school Joan Crawford, so we wanted to kick that up a bit.
I know that clip’s been teased during RuPaul’s Drag Race commercial breaks, but has Ru definitely seen your impersonation?
I’m sure he’s heard about it, but I’m not sure he’s seen it yet. I assume so.
Well, watch out, because you know you’ll run into him sooner or later.
[Laughs] Yeah, she may cut me.
Your breakout character last season was Maya Angelou, but you probably don’t have to worry about her watching Logo.
Who knows? Maybe some gay friends of hers turned her on to it. I’m sure she’s got a good sense of humor, so Maya would totally get it. My Maya’s going to be making a big splashy return this season.
Which other new characters can we expect from you?
Whoopi Goldberg, Tyra Banks, and Beyoncé. Beyoncé will be battling Svetlana in a dance-off. I’m going to be playing even more women because I’m now the only African-American actor on the show. Erica Ash isn’t on the show anymore, so now I’ll be playing all the black men and women.
What’s it like to be the sole black member of a sketch troupe?
I’m always very conscious of what I’m doing and where the joke is, but our writing team is also very responsible. We spoof, but we also have a great respect for the characters that we portray. I’m not playing any crazy thugs or anything, and it’s all in light fun. Everyone welcomes my perspective, so I’ll absolutely say something if I think a sketch is leaning toward being hateful or offensive. Even as she reads “missed connections” on Craigslist, I want to make sure Maya Angelou’s saying things that are funny but not too vulgar.
And as a bonus, you don’t have to compete with anyone when it’s time for someone to spoof Beyoncé.
Yes, I don’t have to fight anyone for the black characters anymore. Erica Ash and I used to go to the mat! Now I get ’em all. I want to go for the Asian and Latino characters too.
How hands-on was executive producer Rosie O’Donnell this season?
She was even more involved this season when it comes to the sketches that we chose and things like that. We also have a huge list of celebrity folks dropping by this season, so it’s been a lot of fun.
Out of the characters you played in Passing Strange, Mr. Franklin, your flamboyant yet oppressed choir director, was especially memorable.
For that role I drew from the many men I knew who are too afraid to come out and come to terms with who they are in the world. I’ve been blessed with a loving family that has accepted me from the moment I came out, so I was always able to be myself, but there are a whole lot of gay men living in the shadows. I have some friends who are still dealing with that, and I think it’s a sad existence, but hopefully people like you and me can be inspirations to these guys.
Spike Lee directed the film version of Passing Strange, which came out on DVD earlier this year. Is he gay-friendly?
Absolutely. His mind is like his work — it’s far-reaching and it draws from many different human experiences. People forget that RuPaul was in Spike Lee’s Crooklyn, and it was a fabulous role. Spike’s awesome. I just had lunch with him yesterday, and he’s a real good, supportive person.
How did being gay inform your autobiographical solo show, A Boy and His Soul, last year?
I wasn’t really a specific character when I first starting writing it. I was writing more about music and my family, and a friend said, “Where are you in this story?” The show’s about soul, the love of music, and the love of who you are, so I realized I had to put my soul in there too. My coming out enabled me and my family to open ourselves up, so I knew that had to be an important component of the show. Some people wanted to highlight the gay aspect and make it about that one thing, but it’s also about love, family, acceptance, relationships, change, the changing of a neighborhood, where we live, and where we’re going. I was very conscious about making sure the show was about more than being gay, just as gay people are about so much more than being gay.
That said, A Boy and His Soul recently won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding New York Theater: Broadway and Off-Broadway, beating out high-profile gay-themed nominees like Next Fall and The Temperamentals.
And I feel like that’s the point, in a way — because I cast a broader net than just a coming out story. I was so honored. I couldn’t go to the awards ceremony because I was doing The Scottsboro Boys that night. After my show I’m getting off the subway, the N/R at Times Square, and who do I see but [Next Fall playwright] Geoffrey Nauffts with a GLAAD Award in his hand. He doesn’t know me from Adam, but I went up to him and said, “My name’s Colman and our shows were nominated together tonight, but apparently you’ve won, so I wanted to say ‘congratulations.’ I’m so happy for you.” He said, “Thank you, but I actually accepted this for Brothers & Sisters.” I said, “Oh, well, who won the theater award? Tarell McCraney for The Brother/Sister Plays, right?” He said, “No, it was a solo show. A Boy and His Soul?” I was like, “That’s me!” It was the biggest shock.
When did you decide to be out in your professional life?
I hired a publicist once I got cast in Passing Strange, and one of the first conversations we had was about how I wanted to handle talking about my sexuality. I said, “It’s never been an issue for me. I want to talk about my work, but if something about myself relates to my work, of course I’ll talk about it.” I don’t really talk about relationships — my private life is private — but I’m very open about who I am. When I first moved to New York, I had some colleagues who said I should be my straightest self — whatever that means — when I went into casting offices, but I didn’t want to put on an act of what I thought was heterosexual. I just wanted to be myself, and I’m very grateful because I feel like I’ve been embraced for that.
How do you feel toward closeted actors?
It’s frustrating when I see others who’ve made the decision to hide who they are. The first film I did was Around the Fire [in 1998] — this hippie movie that took place in San Francisco — with Tara Reid, Devon Sawa, and Eric Mabius from Ugly Betty. I remember Tara and Devon were like, “Oh, my God, it’s so cool that you’re out. I don’t know many people who are out.” But it didn’t seem like a choice to me. I just talked about who I was.
Please tell me you went drinking with Tara Reid.
Yes, I did have cocktails with her. Back then she was young, cute, and really enjoying being a Hollywood starlet. She’d say, “Come hang out with us, Colman!” I’d say, “No, I have to go home and learn my lines for tomorrow’s scenes.” She’d say, “Ugh, you can do that on the set. Let’s go drinking!” So we’d make the rounds. We made good use of her per diem — I’ll say that much.