There’s something to be said for standing in the shadows for most of your life. Most of us do, and we quietly pay our dues. For the lucky few who have toiled for decades in their chosen profession, sometimes the sun shines, and for a moment, you can feel the warmth of adulation and success. The sun is beginning to radiate on Colman Domingo. For most of his prestigious career, he’s paid his dues while others took center stage, but his time has come.
He costarred alongside Regina King’s Oscar-winning performance in If Beale Street Could Talk and Chadwick Boseman’s and Viola Davis’s Oscar-nominated turns in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. And he played civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy in the Oscar-nominated film Selma.
In a career that spans over 30 years, Domingo has acted, danced, and sung in numerous theater productions, several of which he wrote. And those plays continue to be produced all over the world. He has appeared in 30 films and 20 different TV series. He is that familiar-faced guy on the street that you pass and utter, “I know him from somewhere.”
It’s been a series of near-misses for the versatile actor and prolific writer and director. He met his husband (Raúl Domingo) through a “Missed Connections” ad on Craigslist. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 2011 for Best Featured Actor in a musical, playing Mr. Bones in The Scottsboro Boys. But even with a résumé that spans pages and pages of films, shows, and series, Domingo has yet to land the recognition of some of his colleagues.
With a few months left in 2021, it could prove to be the year Domingo becomes a household name and an LGBTQ+ one at that. At 51, he has a leading role in the critically acclaimed film Zola, and supporting roles in the drama The God Committee and Oscar-winner Jordan Peele’s latest film, a sequel to the horror classic Candyman. There is also his costarring role on HBO’s hit show Euphoria and his return for a seventh season as Victor Strand in the AMC series Fear the Walking Dead. If that isn’t enough, his wildly popular AMC digital series, Bottomless Brunch at Colman’s, has just been renewed for a fourth season.
The roles he’s played throughout his career are diverse. In his 2021 lineup of characters, he morphs into a pimp, a priest, an old-timer, a recovering drug addict, and a businessman. One rare lackluster review he did receive was for a role where he essentially played himself. After A Boy and His Soul, a one-man show Domingo wrote about his celebratory coming-out experience in Philadelphia, premiered at San Francisco’s Thick Description theater in 2005, the play’s premise did not gel with one critic’s notions of experiences to which she could relate.
“The critic doubted the validity of my story,” Domingo remembers. “She was a white woman, and she claimed that in her ‘research’ it was very hard for a Black man to come out as gay in an inner-city neighborhood because it meant rejection. So she didn’t believe it. And I wrote her a long letter, and I told her, ‘This is my research and my story, and it is a happy one.’”
Domingo grew up content in a family supportive of him from birth. “It was a nurturing environment, and I was loved by my mom and stepdad, and my sister and brothers,” he says. “The neighborhood was community-centric. We were all there to support each other. I couldn’t have done all the things I’ve done in my life without all that love and support I had when I was growing up.”
Domingo shares that he had a speech impediment and was awkward, gangly, and sensitive, but he always felt love in his life. “My stepfather sometimes would try to toughen me up and make me box with him,” he recalls with a laugh. “I wasn’t about getting into fights. I thought more about love and didn’t understand why people hated each other. My family and friends ended up realizing that’s who I was, and they embraced me for it.”
To celebrate his 21st birthday, Domingo’s older brother took him to a strip club. He realized he had to come clean to his sibling. “My brother Rick is the epitome of masculinity. But I had to tell him I was gay,” Domingo says. “He had to know my truth, and he hugged me and told me that that was fine, he still loved me, and that he wouldn’t tell anyone.”
When Domingo moved to San Francisco after graduating from Temple University, he got a call from his sister, Avery. His brother had spilled the beans. Avery wasn’t upset about Domingo being gay, only that he didn’t tell her first.
“She told me to call my parents since she didn’t want them to find out the way she did. So I did. They told me they loved me and accepted me, and that they wanted to better understand me,” he says.
Soon after, Domingo’s mother came to visit.
“She just wanted to make sure I was the same guy. We took a stroll in the Castro and walked by a gay bar. She wanted to go in for a drink. She just wanted to know everything about me, and we had the best time. We always did. She was the most fun-loving person I’ve ever known,” he says.
Because of that unyielding acceptance, Domingo was honest about his sexuality from the moment he began his career. “I don’t lead with the fact that I’m gay or any one thing except my talents,” Domingo says.
“I had a reporter ask me years ago after I did a Spike Lee film, ‘How does Spike feel about you being gay?’ And I thought that was the oddest question in the world. I told the reporter that I don’t know how he feels since we’ve never talked about it. He’s a friend and brother, and that’s your answer. That reporter thought that being gay must be so difficult, and if you believe it’s difficult, then it is.”
Domingo has pushed back against stereotypes for most of his career. “So many have had it in their minds about who I was before I walked into the room. They believed that I was a Black man from the inner city who is gay and all these other things, and they took it from there.”
The multitalented Domingo has worked steadily throughout his career. While he believes the intersections of his being Black and gay haven’t necessarily cost him work, he calls out disparities in the attention he’s received for it.
“I don’t know if that has prevented any opportunities for me, since I’ve been pretty busy throughout my life and always getting work and continue to be cast in roles that could be made for heteronormative white men.”
“I hope this doesn’t come across as egotistical,” Domingo says. “I remember when I was nominated for the Tony for The Scottsboro Boys, and in that show, I played a hodgepodge of characters, sang, and danced. Then I did the musical Passing Strange, where I did everything but spin plates. I know that if a white man did what I did on those stages and had all those superlatives hurled at him, the awards would have been thrown at him, and I don’t think they were thrown at me in the same way.”
“Even the roles I’ve played in film and the myriad characters and the detailed work that I did to excel, and I’ve wondered, If I was white, would things be different? I’m eternally grateful for all that’s happened to me. Don’t get me wrong. Hopefully, I’m breaking new ground for people who are like me. I believe, as a gay Black man, we don’t have a lot of comparisons to a Daniel Day-Lewis or Philip Seymour Hoffman, actors who slip into different roles like I have, and are not limited in what they can portray.”
He adds, “Do we see Black character actors who can also be leading men? Do we see that in Black men who are openly gay? No, we don’t. I think a lot of my peers play openly gay and are successful at it, and I think that is fantastic. They’re making money from it, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. But I don’t want to be pigeonholed in my work. I never have.”
A glance at Domingo’s résumé reveals he’s pretty much done it all; plays, musicals, television, movies, talk shows, playwriting, and directing. “For years, I’ve felt all these things that I do, and I kept asking, I don’t know how much more I’m supposed to do. Honestly, I just don’t know how to describe it, but this year, for some reason, I feel like things are starting to change a bit.”
In addition to Domingo’s already full dance card, he signed a deal with AMC to develop a drama series, West Philly, Baby, based on his award-winning play Dot. He is also creating a half-hour comedy titled Peaches for HBO.
Thanks to his recent success, the artist has been more comfortable talking about his personal life.
“I used to think that being featured in gay media would put me in a box. I didn’t shy away from it, but I didn’t want that to be my narrative. Just compare it to how my peers are described. For example, with Denzel [Washington], they don’t put the words ‘straight actor’ in his descriptive,” Domingo says. “But when some write about Colman Domingo, they always seem to include ‘out actor.’ How about just actor? Or an actor who happens to be gay? What I really want is for the next wave of artists to just be who they are and that being gay isn’t even a consideration or a description.”
Part of Domingo’s speaking out more about his personal life includes discussing his relationship with his husband, Raúl, and that Craigslist missed connection.
“We’ve been together for 17 years, and this year we did a GQ article together and opened up our home for Architectural Digest. We discovered a lot about ourselves during the pandemic, and that’s made us and me a bit more confident in our bond and about opening up,” he says.
A Zoom tour of Domingo’s office in the couple’s Los Angeles home reveals a shelf of awards and an eclectic collection of books from his heroes and influencers, including James Baldwin, Gilda Radner, Mel Brooks, Egon Schiele, Toni Morrison, and so many other poets, writers, architects, and photographers. Gazing down at him in the office is a photograph of his late parents.
Hanging from the ceiling in front of him is a model hot air balloon with two tiny plush animals in the basket that represent the symbolic journey of life that he and his husband are on together, he explains. Beyond that, a large open window with the curtains pulled back allows bright sunlight to stream through. It’s Domingo’s year.