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Exclusive: Colman Domingo On Playing A Loving Father In If Beale Street Could Talk

Domingo On Bringing A Character Trait Rarely Shown On The Big Screen

KiKi Layne as Tish and Colman Domingo as Joseph star in Barry Jenkins' IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Currently playing nationwide from Annapurna Pictures is Academy Award-winning Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ film If Beale Street Could Talk.

The cast of the film includes Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Teyonah Parris, Regina King, , Brian Tyree Henry, Dave Franco, Ed Skrein, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis and Finn Wittrock and Diego Luna.

Based on the novel by James Baldwin, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” follows Tish (Layne), a newly engaged Harlem woman who races against the clock to prove her lover’s innocence while carrying their first born child. The movie is a celebration of love told through the story of a young couple, their families, and their lives.

For Domingo, who plays Tish’s father, Joseph, the role affords him the opportunity to display a loving trait of an African American father that’s rarely seen on the big screen. Best known for his role as Victor Strand on AMC’s post-apocalyptic, zombie series Fear the Walking Dead, Colman is also a playwright and stage director, whose works include Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and Dot.

Blackfilm.com recently spoke Colman on his role in Beale Street.

How would you best describe your character?

Barry Jenkins, Writer/Director/Producer, Colman Domingo, Regina King

Colman Domingo: I would describe Joseph as a blue collar, salt of this Earth, ordinary guy. But in being ordinary, he’s extraordinary. My brother, who is a garbage man in Philadelphia, or my stepfather, who has a third grade education, and sanded carpet floors. Very simple men. Joseph loved his wife and worked hard to support his children. When I found out Regina King would be playing my wife, I thought I hit the jackpot. I couldn’t be in better hands. To have a great dance partner. The biggest compliment I received at the premiere came from many women. When they saw the scene where Joseph was caring for his daughter and she was having a lot of contractions and having a hard go at being pregnant. He just took that on with such a loving embrace. He’s someone who would look after his kid while his wife is off in Puerto Rico handling business. He has an equal partnership with his wife Sharon. I was representing my brother and my father, so I slipped into their spirit.

Had you read the prior to doing the movie?

Colman Domingo: I did. I read the book three times prior to doing the movie. I read it the first when I was in college, then again in my 30s and now again in my 40s. All of those complexities of those people speak to each other and how they relate to each other, and the way they strolled or walk or stroke their hat is all in the pages. We had a great landscape to work with to find our character and find our story.

There’s a scene in the film where a big ensemble is included. How was working with this cast?

Colman Domingo: Oh my gosh. A lot of the cast have history with each other and some we are working with for the first time. Aunjanue Ellis and I worked together on Birth of a Nation. She’s a beast of an actress. She comes in and knows how to create a moment that’s bold and complex and dark as well. It was a dance that we all had to do. It was 8 actors in one scene in a tiny brownstone in Harlem. We had to figure out who was sitting where and who was standing. We made this decision and then we invite the other family in and then there’s just this uncomfortable dance. Everyone has their own objectives and action and they are all at the center of it. Our children. We are all trying to work it out as a family, and then invite the other family to help process this.

It’s not that often we see Black love on the screen, especially with a father and his daughter. Can you talk about that relationship?

KiKi Layne as Tish and Colman Domingo as Joseph star in Barry Jenkins’ IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Colman Domingo: I’m glad you asked that. My sister was close to my dad, and with my mother, in her eyes boys can do no wrong. I loved the bond between Joseph and his daughter and his other daughter, played by Teyonah Parris. He loves these characters, these strong young women. He’s not critical of them and their choices. He’s letting them be of their full selves. There’s also a tenderness between between Black family men. You see it in the scenes with me and Michael Beach and with Stephan James and Brian Tyree Henry. There’s a lot of love in these relationships, whether it’s between a father and daughter or two best friends. The bond is rich, the people watching the film can relate and understand because that’s how we live our lives. You don’t often see that in cinema. I received at least 20 comments from those who saw the film at the premiere. These are images that we need to see more of.

What goes into the projects that you say yes to?

Colman Domingo: I think the selling point to saying yes to any of the projects I have done is whether I factor in the project. I’m the opposite of the actor-for-hire. When you hire me, you are going to get the whole brain, the part that is also a writer and director and producer. I want to help be an ambassador for the project. That’s what I say yes to. I just want to do good work in something that makes people feel a shift in their lives.

I see that you have a part in the film Zola. What’s your role in that?

Colman Domingo: I’m playing the dirty nasty pimp. I’m investigating all the things about that character so that we can take what’s on the page and elevate it a little bit. It’s dark, it’s funny and based on a real scenario that happened. It’s a different role for me but one that I’m hungry to play.

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