Recently we had the chance to talk with Colman Domingo about the joys of acting and the complicated Victor Strand, who he plays on the hit AMC series Fear the Walking Dead.
So how is the acting business treating you? Is this what you always wanted to do or more of a happy accident?
Colman: That’s a great question. I started out wanting to be a writer, in particular, a journalist. I went to Temple University, that was my major and I really thought that was the way my life was going to work out. I would go to grad school, start writing for periodicals, possibly explore photojournalism, travel to war-torn places and document cultures. However, then I took an acting class as an elective in college and one of my teachers inspired me to pursue it as a career. I didn’t know anyone who had made their living as an actor, director or writer but I chose to pursue it. I moved to San Francisco and built my career there for the first ten years and then I went to New York for sixteen and now I’m in L.A. I was trying to tell stories and document humanity and I’m still doing that, I’m just doing it in a different way. I’m still a writer, it’s just turned into creative writing and now I’m developing television, plays, and musicals.
You’ve done theater, movies, and television. Do you have a preferred medium to work in or do they all have their own individual charms?
Colman: I think they do, I enjoy all of it. It’s funny, people always ask if I favor one or the other, I think I just like telling stories. I think the way that I tell them I don’t have to be in front of the camera, I actually really enjoy being behind the camera and I now beginning to direct for television as well, just always trying to explore each medium. Any medium that I have questions about I’m like, how do you do that, how do you tell a story that way, how do I collaborate, so each time I’m working in a different medium it’s almost like I’m raising the questions for myself on how to do it. I guess I like to be a little uncertain, which is why I keep jumping from medium to medium.
Is theater work something every actor should experience, working without a net so to speak, or is it just not for everyone?
Colman: Wow, that’s a great question. I think it benefits most artists, not only fellow actors but directors and writers who explore the theater as well. I know I’ve benefited from being in the theater for over twenty-five years because it provides you with a sense of true collaboration. When you’re doing something in a basement theater, from basement theater to Broadway, you’re always just trying to assemble a community and really trying to explore ideas and a lot of times it’s not about any outside residual glorification, it’s really just about creating the thing and I think you’re always concerned about creating the thing and giving it what it needs. It’s a community event, that’s what I enjoy about the theater, most people can benefit from that. I know in other mediums like television and film it can seem so individual, everyone is so concerned about what they’re doing but theater challenges you to think about others more.
Ok, let’s talk about Fear the Walking Dead. I really enjoy your character Victor Strand, he is a very complicated fellow. How much fun have you had playing him?
Colman: It has been such a joy and still is. Every single time I get a script I’m always intrigued by what Victor Strand is up to, what’s he going to do. I love the fact that people don’t know if he’s a good guy or bad guy or something in between, I think part of Victor’s power is his charisma. I love that he’s got a sense of humor, even from reading that first monologue from season one, episode five, it was written as if it was a monologue out of a great Shakespeare play. He had so much charisma, sense of humor and a dry wit and I thought wow, this is really a character I can sink my teeth into. I had no idea the character would develop the way he has, all the work and deconstruction of the character, I get excited each time I get to investigate Victor.
Victor seems to be a combination of loner and survivor but at the core, he seems to still have a good heart. How much of a struggle is it for him to find his way in this new world where it’s so important to depend on others?
Colman: I think it is a bit of a struggle for Victor and men like him, I think he’s a self-made man and he’s depended on himself, not so much the kindness of strangers, I don’t think he really understands that. I think he’s really, especially in season four, he’s trying to adapt and become part of a larger community and he does struggle with that, looking out for the community instead of himself. Sometimes you need to divorce yourself from the emotion of a situation and just look at the clear-cut signals of what is the most practical thing to do.
As an actor, can you talk about what it’s like to work with a big and talented ensemble cast on an everyday basis and does that force you to up your game, so to speak?
Colman: Yeah, it does, especially when you’re working with people like Kim Dickens, Alycia Debnam-Carey, and Frank Dillane. We have some of the most generous souls in the industry and we’re also very close friends and so we challenge each other and set the bar very high for each episode. The new cast mates, Maggie Grace, Garret Dillahunt, Lennie James and Jenna Elfman, they are bringing that same culture to our show, they are very thoughtful and intelligent actors and you want to be on your game. Everyone is ready to bring their A game and no one settles for anything less, that’s the joy, no one sits back on their haunches at all.
The show is very well written and combined with the great cast, it makes for a wonderfully entertaining show. Does that allow you more freedom to focus on your scene partners and what’s going on around you?
Colman: It does, I really think it does. I trust the writing but I’m an actor who interrogates the writing as well, I never just take exactly what’s been given to me. I have questions about it, especially if I’m trying to create a very nuanced portrait of the character, and most actors that they cast on the show are just the same. I know it’s a benefit to the show that you have actors who are just as inquisitive and challenging in regards to the writing because then it just sings, it soars.
You have a great fan base for Fear the Walking Dead. Have you embraced the fandom or is it something you’re still getting used to?
Colman: Oh, I embraced the fandom immediately. (Laughs) I think the idea that people are just invested in something as you are is a joy to me, there’s nothing fearful about it at all. The moment I heard it had an enormous fan base and was going to get even more spectacular, I embraced it. Whenever we go on press tours around the world, to Spain, England, Mexico, I’m probably the first one out there taking pictures with fans. I know the truth of the matter is, without their support we would be nothing so building that bridge, between myself and the fans, is a pretty simple thing to do.
So besides Fear the Walking Dead, what other projects do you have coming up?
Colman: I’m actually in pre-production to direct the next episode of Fear the Walking Dead. It’s very exciting, especially knowing the show so well, to finally be on the other side of the camera to tell the story. So I’m prepping to direct that, I start doing that next week, and I’m developing a series for AMC and other series for HBO and I have a musical opening on Broadway right now, it’s about the life of Donna Summer, I co-wrote the book, and it’s called Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and it’s in previews right now on Broadway. I also have a few films coming out this year, one is called Assassination Nation, directed by Sam Levinson and also Barry Jenkins new film If Beale Street Could Talk so yeah, all that stuff. (Laughs) I’m so blessed, I get to do what I love and I wanted to design a life for myself where every single thing I’m doing is because I’m truly in love with it, so I give all my attention and energy to it. I get to wake up every day and enjoy everything I do, I really am blessed that way.
I want to thank Colman for taking the time to talk with us