Delroy Lindo

Published June 23, 2010

Hollywood star Delroy Lindo, currently appearing in Joe Turner’s Come And Gone at the Young Vic, reveals his long-time love of August Wilson’s play and his lack of affection for a certain North London football club to Matthew Amer.

“This is not an easy play to engage with,” Delroy Lindo explains early in our conversation about Joe Turner’s Come And Gone, the August Wilson piece in which he is currently appearing at the Young Vic. “From an audience point of view, it’s challenging.”

The America-based star, who was born in Lewisham, is somewhat disappointed with the number of theatregoers who have made the trip to see the critically acclaimed production described by The Guardian as “tremendous” and by The Daily Telegraph as “a play, and a production, of great distinction”.

“I think it’s the nature of the material,” he says, “and I think on some level we’re competing with the World Cup. But having said that I’ve always felt and still feel that this is August’s best play. It would be nice if more people were coming, but probably the most important thing is the fact that the people who are coming are appreciating the evening.”

When you delve into Lindo’s long history with the play it becomes obvious that he is attached to the 1911-set piece that follows Herald Loomis, a man released from Joe Turner’s slave gang after seven years. While searching for his wife, he encounters the residents of a Pittsburgh boarding house, including Lindo’s mystical Bynum, who help reveal that his search may be for something other than his spouse.

Lindo originally appeared in Joe Turner’s Come And Gone in 1986, starring in four productions of the play before his Tony-nominated Broadway performance as Loomis in 1988. Then, 18 months ago, he returned to the play, directing his own version at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

“From an audience point of view, it’s challenging”

You might think that having appeared in five productions of the same play and directed another, Lindo could have explored all there was to explore in the piece. Clearly this is not the case: “It’s a play for the ages. I feel it goes right to the heart of what it means to be a person of African descent anywhere in the world, what it means to be a person of African descent and to be on the journey of trying to establish who am I as a person of African descent, who am I on this planet, where do I belong? I think that is a social, cultural and socio-political dynamic that one can continuously uncover and make discoveries for oneself.

“It is very much like Shakespeare,” he continues. “Every three or four years there’s a major production of Hamlet in this country, or Othello, or the Scottish play. People keep returning to these big, classical works for similar reasons; either someone has a slightly different way of interpreting it or somebody has a way of investigating material in some different or new, fresh way. I think that Joe Turner’s Come And Gone is a play of that kind of magnitude, that kind of breadth, that kind of depth, so, consequently, one can always find really stimulating and rich things to discover in returning to the play.”

In returning to the piece on this occasion, Lindo has taken on a new role, that of Bynum. It was a part that “intrigued” him.

“What I’m bringing to this production really is an amalgamation of all my previous experience, all of my various experiences with the play and the various points of view,” he says, sipping orange juice and enjoying a partially melted pre-show chocolate bar.

Could his vast knowledge and previous history with the piece have been a stumbling block to casting, I wonder? Would director David Lan have worried about Lindo having a very distinct view of how the play should be performed?

The pair met in New York prior to casting – Lindo was there already, Lan flew out to meet him – where they had a three and a half hour meeting about the production. “The way you say that, it seems kind of extraordinary to you,” Lindo half states, half asks. He is right; to me it seems a touch unusual for a director to take a transatlantic flight and spend that long talking to an actor about a production in which he may not even be cast. “From both our points of view,” Lindo explains, “ we had to be as sure as we reasonably could be that this was going to be a workable relationship. We had to take the time to sus each other out. I’m not even sure what he knew about me in terms of having seen my work.”

“It’s a play for the ages”

The pair obviously found common ground regarding the project; Lindo describes the rehearsal room as an open forum where his views and insights were always welcome. But it seems the relationship has grown even stronger, with Lindo now discussing the very real possibility of returning to the Young Vic to direct.

He won’t, however, be making a permanent return to London from his San Francisco home. In fact, the suggestion of it, as grey clouds fill the Waterloo sky outside the spacious room at the Young Vic in which we are chatting, is met with laughter.

“In a word, no,” he chortles, physically folding up at the thought. “I’m open to coming back here to work, but the possibility of coming back here to live is not something that I would consider. There’s no way in the world that I could make the same kind of living here as I can in the United States. The grand irony of my being here at the Young Vic, doing this play at this time, is there’s no way that I would be in this position had it not been for the success that I’ve had in the United States.”

Lindo took a circuitous route to Hollywood fame. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he was born in Lewisham, south London, in 1952 before moving to Canada with his mother as a teenager. He later moved to America, where he studied at the American Conservatory Theatre.

Lindo’s first movie role came in 1979’s More American Graffiti, after which he spent a decade concentrating on stage work, including his 1982 Broadway debut in Athol Fugard’s Master Harold And The Boys and 1988’s Joe Turner’s Come And Gone.

It is for his screen work that he is best known, whether it be for Spike Lee’s Crooklyn, Clockers or Malcolm X, Get Shorty, A Life Less Ordinary, The Cider House Rules, Romeo Must Die, Gone In Sixty Seconds or Broken Arrow, he consistently provides a strong, striking screen presence.

“TV can be a very slippery slope”

He will return to screen work following his time at the Young Vic, though to television, not film. Lindo is to play a Chicago politician – “if you know anything about Chicago politics, it’s a fascinating world” – in new American police drama Ride Along opposite Flashdance’s Jennifer Beals.

Though he is excited about this new project, he is distinctly cynical about the television industry and is delighted that he only had to make a one year commitment to Ride Along. “TV can be a very slippery slope – I’m not sure how it is here – certainly for African American actors, it can be doubly slippery. So I have a certain amount of trepidation about television series. Of course, one wants the work and the money in television is wonderful, but traditionally, creatively it can be very stifling. So for me doing something like Ride Along, committing only for a year is perfect.”

It will mean, also, that he is closer to his wife and eight-year-old son, who he is missing while working at the Young Vic. “One can’t just pull him out of school whenever one wants to,” Lindo sagely says, before adding that being separated from his son is “something I negotiate all the time and grapple with. It’s hard being away.”

Technology does ease the situation; father and son managed to watch a football match together, via the internet and Skype, on Lindo’s day off.

Soccer, as Lindo calls the game, giving away the extent of his Americanisation, causes a moment of uproar in the actor who, for the most part of our meeting, is careful, thoughtful and deliberate with his words, taking time to choose each and every one. When I suggest, on the basis of a little internet research, that he supports London club Arsenal, the assertion is met with consternation. “I’m a straight up Man United fan,” he erupts good-naturedly. “This goes right back to Georgie Best and Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law, all those cats.” He concludes his expression of disgust at being labelled an Arsenal fan with a bold, unabashed raspberry.

Yes, Delroy Lindo, oft-Hollywood baddie, mystic stage presence at the Young Vic and intellectual discusser of August Wilson finishes our chat with a brilliantly childish raspberry, revealing an endearing, light-hearted side that somehow comes as a wonderful surprise from this stern-faced, serious, six-foot man.

MA