Delroy Lindo has appeared in dozens of films over the years. Currently, he's directing Tanya Barfield’s Blue Door at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Lindo, who played Herald Loomis in the Broadway run of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, has only recently returned to the stage. He brings the intensity and drive that comes through on the screen to his directorial work – this is the first time he’s directed in the Bay Area - and to his conversation. Tommy Amano-Tompkins recently spoke with him.
Guardian: There’s a scene in Blue Door in which the protagonist, Lewis, the only black man at a faculty party, looks at his hands and feels a kind of cosmic dislocation – misunderstood and out of place. You’re nearly six feet four inches tall – did you ever wish you were a few inches shorter?
Delroy Lindo: You mean as a black man? Did I ever wish I stood out less because of how people react to me? No, never. Would I prefer because of my size that I not be responded to the way I am? Certainly. Because often people don’t respond to the way a person is but to the way they think a person is. That’s the problem. And that’s exactly one of the things that the play is examining.
G: I was watching television and I heard an announcer say that Spike Lee had turned 50. And I started because I still think of Spike as a young filmmaker. And I think that’s because the predicted Rennaissance that came after his debut didn’t happen the way I thought it would.
DL: Spike’s 50? I don’t think people demanded or wanted anything but the right to express themselves. And Spike’s a guy who makes films. You're addressing a number of things making the statement about the imbalance, and it’s not only in the entertainment industry, but in America. Charles Burnett made an interesting point – he’s a wonderful filmmaker, and he’s had a hard time. He acknowledges that he’s had a hard time, but he also said, “No one’s forcing me to do this, I do this by choice.” So it becomes a question of making a choice that one wants to do this as a career, that one wants make films. And the fact that there’s not a level playing field, one just has to deal with that, and that’s not going to change. That doesn’t make it right, but one has to take it into account when one decides to do this kind of work.
G: Being represented on the screen is important – I teach school and I know it matters to non-white students to see images of themselves on the screen. It allows them to see themselves in the world.
DL: Yes, it is.
G: Does the experience of growing up outside the U.S. give you a distance about Blue Door?
DL: I’m not sure I can answer that. On the third page, [the play] talks about “generations of black men.” And I started thinking about that phrase. One of the things that the play most centrally explores is the interconnectedness of the past, the present, and the future. How the past of black men influences the present and how the past and present will influence the future. From that standpoint, I am a black man, and rather than looking at it from a distance, I respond as a black man for whom many of these things resonate, personally. And that’s how I approach directing this play. Because of that fact, in a funny kind of way, perhaps the things are universal. I think that all human beings have to know where they come from. With regard to African men, with regards to slavery, how black people came to this continent, there’s a particular importance. White audiences, I hope, will see a play that involves specifically black men, but I also hope that that they’ll feel viscerally the importance of history to who we all are.
G: The writing is wonderfully particular, as in the conversation between the two brothers about their father. But at the same time, the play doesn’t allow people to float up into the ether with prosaic generalities about how “We’re all the same.” How is it that the playwright is able to do this?
DL: She’s a good writer, she’s really accurate. She’s found the humanity of this story, and very eloquently [portrays] these two people, and – I was going to say tragedy, but it’s not tragic, it’s the humanness of their condition. I think she’s done that really, really well. A mark of how good this play is – and this part has kind of snuck up on me - is that one keeps uncovering different layers of understanding, and it’s a really interesting, fascinating thing to negotiate.
G: You spent a number of years doing stage work, not doing film at all. Does that experience, even though it was some years ago, inform what you’re doing with Blue Door?
DL: Everything I’ve done in the theater – and I don’t mean this facetiously at all – informs everything I’ve done since. I developed a way of working, an ethic if you will, when I was doing theater that I’ve taken into all my work. And certainly, the things I learned as a theater actor I bring directly to directing in the theater. In terms of working with actors, what I needed as an actor, what I responded to as an actor, I try to [bring] to how I communicate with them -- that’s one thing. The second thing is that in the theater, if it’s a really good play, you can spend several days in the beginning just sitting around deconstructing it, developing an understanding of it. I really value that time, and understand the necessity of doing that. And we’ve done that here and continue to do it.