Colman Domingo on his Emmy nod, overcoming grief and the power of art : The Limits with Jay Williams On today's episode of The Limits, Jay speaks with Colman Domingo, star of stage and screen. He's the ultimate character actor, known for stealing scenes in films like Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Selma, and If Beale Street Could Talk. He embodies every character he takes on, most recently earning an Emmy nod for his role as father-figure Ali to Zendaya's Rue on HBO's Euphoria.

Colman is a triple threat in Hollywood, with experience as a producer, director, and writer. He just wrapped shooting the film adaptation of the musical version of The Color Purple, where he plays the villain, Mister. Through the conversation, Jay could not believe that a man so full of reflection and empathy could tap into that kind of darkness so convincingly. As Colman puts it, he "chooses the light," channeling negative energy into making poignant art. He also has this wisdom for aspiring Black artists: "No one can tell you not to create. So just create the thing--and don't wait."

Alongside his extraordinary talent as an actor, Colman's depth as a human being is every bit as impressive. In this moving conversation that brought both men to tears, he and Jay discuss expressing needs and boundaries in relationships, finding identity in fractured families, and grieving the loss of beloved parents.

Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter. Email us at thelimits@npr.org.

Colman Domingo on his Emmy nod, overcoming grief and the power of character actors

Colman Domingo on his Emmy nod, overcoming grief and the power of character actors

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Colman Domingo. Photo illustration by Jackie Lay/NPR hide caption

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Photo illustration by Jackie Lay/NPR

Colman Domingo.

Photo illustration by Jackie Lay/NPR

This is adapted from the latest episode of The Limits with Jay Williams. Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts, or get sponsor-free episodes, weekly bonus content, and more with a subscription to The Limits+.

On today's episode of The Limits, Jay speaks with Colman Domingo, star of stage and screen. He's the ultimate character actor, known for stealing scenes in films like Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Selma, and If Beale Street Could Talk. He embodies every character he takes on, most recently earning an Emmy nod for his role as father-figure Ali to Zendaya's Rue on HBO's Euphoria.

Colman is a triple threat in Hollywood, with experience as a producer, director, and writer. He just wrapped shooting the film adaptation of the musical version of The Color Purple, where he plays the villain, Mister. Through the conversation, Jay could not believe that a man so full of reflection and empathy could tap into that kind of darkness so convincingly. As Colman puts it, he "chooses the light," channeling negative energy into making poignant art. He also has this wisdom for aspiring Black artists: "No one can tell you not to create. So just create the thing — and don't wait."

Alongside his extraordinary talent as an actor, Colman's depth as a human being is every bit as impressive. In this moving conversation that brought both men to tears, he and Jay discuss expressing needs and boundaries in relationships, finding identity in fractured families, and grieving the loss of beloved parents.

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On learning to forgive his estranged father, with whom he shares a name

Before he passed away, I sent him a letter 'cause I didn't have any sort of relationship with him, like nothing. ... I wanted to make sure before he passed away, that he knew that I understood that, that he was human. He was doing the best he could with what he was given. You have to look at history of someone's trauma, like why a person's actually doing what they're doing. It's not always about us. You know what I mean?...The healthy thing is, it's not about me, the way that my dad couldn't be a good dad, the dad that I wanted him to be, but I'd understand that he was a human being and he had his own trauma that he was dealing with. Once you understand that, you understand it's just human, and I'm like, brother, I send you peace. I send you joy, light, and laughter and just know that I thank you.

On his beloved late mother, and her belief in him

My mother loved me so much. Even if she didn't understand me at times or what was happening or what was going [on], she always believed I can do anything. ... My mother had so many big dreams for me, and I think the dreams that. ... I didn't even possibly have for myself. I remember my mother wrote Oprah six times and I was so annoyed with her. I was like, "Mom, why are you doing that?" She said, "Oh, you know, Oprah helps people. She can help you."... I thought she's being a mom. I'm like, "Yeah, whatever. Oprah don't care nothing about me." Now, Oprah's a dear friend...[My mom] actually helped me see what I couldn't see...What I really knew about myself was that I was a really good son...And she said... "You're gonna take that love and put it into everything you do." And it's every single day. It's all the time, and I know what I'm doing it for.

On tapping into darkness to adapt to character roles, including Mister in The Color Purple

I had to understand...the core of Mister is that he's a broken human being. He's me if things didn't work out, if I didn't achieve my dream, if I was at that, at that mid place in my career where I was constantly bartending and not getting jobs, and, and my parents were both dying and I had nothing. He's that guy where I could have made the choice to say, "F*** it all." And to go to the darkness, there could be darkness within myself. Baldwin would always talk about it, go look for the light. There's always light and darkness. I naturally go [to the light], but I do know I have a lot of darkness in me as well. I think dark thoughts like everybody else. So I think that...I can tap into that stuff.

On advice for aspiring young Black actors

What I'd like to say to young Black actors in particular is to have a true sense of who you are... In this business... that comes from study. That comes from interrogation. That comes from understanding the landscape of our industry...I've never been interested in playing a version of myself. I'm a character actor, a craftsman. I would say I've always admired people like Christian Bale or Philip Seymour Hoffman...and I didn't understand why there weren't a lot of Black actors that you could say compared to them. And I know that I've been becoming that...So that's what I would say to, uh, really expand your breadth and vision of what not only the character is about, [but] what you're putting out into the world. I just take it on as, that's part of my responsibility as a creative.

On the impact of art in invoking social and political change

We really create such impact because, listen. With television, with films, with theater, especially with TV, we're in your living rooms every single day, you know. We're showing, you know, why does this show like Queer Eye? Why is that so successful now? And how has that changed the narrative in how people are? ...RuPaul's Drag Race, you name it. ...More shows about...women in their, their honest struggles and, and their complexities. This is the way we change minds actually, because we're with you every single week and in your living room, you know what I mean?...You'll change the way you feel about, um, women's reproductive rights about...gay couples and, and marriages. You'll see that my marriage is, probably even more normal (laughs)...We're married..and we pay our taxes, and we're good citizens. What's the problem?...If you don't believe in it, don't get married to a same-sex person.


Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter. Email us at thelimits@npr.org. For sponsor-free episodes, weekly bonus content, and more, subscribe to The Limits Plus.

The Limits is produced by Devan Schwartz, Mano Sundaresan, and Leena Sanzgiri. Our intern is Danielle Soto. Our Executive Producers are Karen Kinney, Veralyn Williams, and Yolanda Sangweni. Our Senior Vice-President of Programming and Audience Development is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Special thanks to Christina Hardy, Rhudy Correa, and Charla Riggi.