Brief Encounter With ... Delroy Lindo
Lindo rose to fame in the early 90s in Spike Lee's Malcolm X, Clockers and Crooklyn. His other films include The Devil’s Advocate, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Cider House Rules, A Life Less Ordinary and Broken Arrow.
On stage, he made his Broadway debut in 1982 in Athol Fugard's Master Harold and his Boys, before winning great acclaim (and a Tony nomination) for his performance as Herald Loomis in the original production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone. He recently directed Joe Turner at Berkeley Rep Theatre.
How did you get involved in this production?
Another actor (Roger Robinson) dropped out, and I received an email from David Lan asking if we could meet. We met in New York and talked for about three and a half hours - talked about a lot of things - and at the end of that conversation he told me he would like me to do it.
Did you take much persuading?
Not really, because it’s such a brilliant play. What both David and I needed to be sure of was that there was a symbiosis of understanding and philosophy about the material itself, and that we could work together. Because I've performed in the play and also directed it, I wanted to have some reassurance that whatever it is I have in my head about this play I could infuse that into the performance, and that David as a director, whatever his feelings about the play were, was not going to interrupt that.
And it has proven to be the case; he has been very gracious in terms of taking on board that I have experience with the play. Actually with all the actors in the room, he is very open to constructive ideas, anything that will make the play as alive as possible.
Could you provide a quick overview of the story?
The play is set in Pittsburgh in 1911, in a boarding house which is run by Seth and Bertha Holly. A young man, Herald Loomis, comes seeking a room with his 11-year-old daughter, and announces that he is looking for his wife. What the play is about, by extension, is people of African descent looking for themselves on this new continent, looking for a place to be, looking for their identity, as clearly presented by Herald Loomis and the search that he is on for his wife.
What's it like returning to the play with a different character?
It’s a process of discovery. I first started working on this play over 20 years ago now, in 1986, when obviously I saw it through the lens of Herald Loomis. Then when I directed it, I was trying to see it from everybody’s perspective. What I have discovered playing Bynum is that there is, weirdly enough, a similarity of experience between Bynum and Herald; even though they are the opposite sides of a coin, at the core there are some similarities.
August Wilson called it his best play. Do you agree?
I do. Absolutely. Clearly I'm biased, I have a very particular relationship with this material, but knowing all the other plays as I do, I have always felt that this play is painted on the broadest canvas. Having said that, I just saw Fences in New York having not seen it for over 20 years. And I have to acknowledge that Fences, even though it's arguably one of August’s most accessible plays, is extremely profound. But I still believe that Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is his best work.
How does it feel to be staging it now, compared to 1988?
Somebody asked me, 'is it still as relevant?' The answer is yes. Now clearly in 1988, nobody could have dreamed that we would have an African-American President and obviously that’s a seismic shift, socially and politically. But you would be surprised how many things are the same in America. I feel that many of the social political and certainly social economic issues that were present in America in 1988 are still present today. America is and always will be a country of immigrants.
Does the same apply to the UK?
Less so, in a funny kind of way. What I mean is that historically, people have gone to America seeking different kinds of opportunities, new opportunities. England‘s history is different from that standpoint. The fact that America is a country of immigrants tells me that many people go there either seeking a new reality for themselves, or, as it relates to African Americans, having been brought there forcefully as slaves. This relates to this play because August always said this was his most African work.
Do you feel quite paternal towards this young company?
That’s a good question. I could probably be quite a bit more paternal. I certainly feel protective of the material, but I could probably take on more responsibility from a paternal point of view, and maybe do a little bit more. One of the things we learn as a parent is that sometimes you have to let your children go, and so I am about the business of doing that in the rehearsal room. But I hope that the company knows that if they ever feel I can share something to enhance a given scene or understanding of the play, I am open to doing that.
What have been your career highlights?
I have three or four particular highlights. Certainly one of them was appearing in Malcolm X, not only in terms of being really proud of that film and proud of my own work in the film, but the fact that it started my film career in earnest. That’s when this whole phenomenon of starting to get recognised in the street began. And it led directly to a few months later Spike Lee calling me up to do this film Crooklyn, and then Clockers following year.
The fact that I appeared in those three films back to back led directly to me doing Get Shorty, which was when I started doing big Hollywood studio films. There was also a film I did called Soul of the Game, where I played Satchel Paige, which I'm really proud of. And I'm proud of the The Cider House Rules - I had trepidation playing that part for obvious reasons, but it worked out well.
What have you got planned in the coming months?
Well, I'm actually committed to doing a television series, so no matter what I know that in the Fall I'm contractually committed to start work on that. What I'll do between the end of this production and then, I don’t know. One of the things I discussed with David Lan were directing possibilities for myself, because I made it very clear I'm interested in expanding my directing career over the next few years.