It was a chilly Saturday night in New York City, and the spring air was filled with electricity. It was the witching hour: The moment when you can decide to either go home to Netflix and chill, or hit the streets and get the party started. On this particular evening, actor/writer/director/producer Colman Domingo, 53, chose the latter.

As a producer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning and five-time Tony Award-nominated play Fat Ham (inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet), Domingo decided to celebrate the play’s Broadway debut with a “Juicy Disco” (so named for Juicy, the Black queer main character of the dramedy). The party was filled with references from the hit play, including a backyard barbecue complete with picnic tables and green Astroturf, a massive light-up dance floor, and juice-box-inspired raspberry cocktails. It was the perfect recipe for mischief, mayhem, and magic.

“For me, that dance party was very special,” Domingo recalls. “It’s still one of the best nights out I’ve had in a long time. And I felt like we all needed that. I invited people from the literary world, the art world, the fashion world, and the theater world, because as we know, as artists, it’s all a hybrid. And we need each other in that way. I just wanted to make people feel good and feel like they’re part of something again.”

“It was very old-school,” Domingo continues. “I wanted cultural curators. I wanted people who were going to give to the event. I wanted people on roller skates, and I wanted drag queens. I wanted everything that makes us who we are—that makes us Black, makes us artists, makes us fabulous, and makes us thinkers.”

“If you want to work with me, I’m gonna show you all of me. I guess I’ve always known that that’s sort of my superpower, being open and vulnerable, and not putting on any airs.”

– Colman Domingo

The room was filled with luminaries like Tony Award-winning actor Adrienne Warren (Tina—The Tina Turner Musical and The Woman King), actor John Leguizamo (Encanto), TV personality Bevy Smith, actor Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and trans actor and activist DJ Lina, who played a choice mix of classics and house music. Domingo, the consummate host, made sure everyone was having a good time, introducing folks to Fat Ham playwright James Ijames, director Saheem Ali, and the show’s entire cast.

“The thing I learned about Colman as an actor is that he is extremely generous and supportive of his cast,” shares actor Niecy Nash-Betts. “He also is the person who brings everyone together for trips and dinners. He keeps the vibes going!”

In many ways, Domingo’s disco party serves as a metaphor for his ideology about his own life and work. The Broadway, television, and film star has played a diverse cast of divergent characters who run the gamut—disruptors, disenfranchised, and distinguished. This is what makes Domingo simultaneously one of the most underrated and one of the most exquisite actors of our time: He has the ability to play the everyman, and then seamlessly morph into the sinister or the sublime.

“Colman’s approach is immersive and intimate. And yet, it’s not Method,” says Ava DuVernay, who directed Domingo as Ralph Abernathy in Selma. “He doesn’t seem to detach from his immediate circumstances in order to delve deep. It’s all right there—just under the surface, and completely available to him at any time. He makes it look easy when it is anything but easy.”

You see, Domingo has range, and he leaves no crumbs on the table. From costume dramas and period pieces like Lincoln (Private Harold Green), The Butler (Freddie Fallows), and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Cutler) to modern classics like Fear the Walking Dead (Victor Strand), Zola (X), and Candyman (William Burke), the actor is nuanced, authentic, and captivating in every role he takes on. In 2022, he won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Ali, the Narcotics Anonymous sponsor of Rue Bennett (played by Zendaya) in HBO’s smash hit Euphoria. Domingo is undeniably the character actor’s actor.

Growing up, Domingo reveals, he was not the gregarious person he has become. While coming of age in West Philadelphia, he was actually very shy. “I was not cool, fun, or funny,” he says flatly. “I was just trying not to get beat up. [I would] go home and do my studies.” His defense mechanism was observing other people. When he went to Temple University, he studied journalism, his first love. At his mother’s suggestion to take an elective that was “fun,” he chose acting because he felt that it would help him be less introverted. One day his acting teacher asked him if he would consider it as a career, because he saw that Domingo had a gift. Domingo eventually moved to San Francisco to pursue acting, and that is where, in 2005, he met Raul, to whom he’s been married for nine years.

Domingo acted first in the theater, and then eventually in film and television. “I would always go back to writing,” he explains. “And then I was writing plays. I was directing, and then I was kind of doing it all and producing at the same time. [Later] I moved to New York, and I started pushing my work as a writer-director first, but acting was the thing that was paying the bills.”

“Steven Spielberg was coming to New York to meet a couple of actors, and I happened to be one of them,” Domingo reminisces. “I had a general audition for him — this is before I did the movie Lincoln. We had one hour just to get to know each other. He hopped behind a camera in a casting office and said, ‘Colman, your face just keeps changing in the camera. And I see so many levels of your humanity. You’re so open. Thank you.’ ”

According to Domingo, his ability to transform is part of his very being. “I think I was truly just myself [when I met Spielberg],” he reveals. “I think I try to just really be myself in any meeting, not to want for anything. If you want to work with me, I’m gonna show you all of me. I guess I’ve always known that that’s sort of my superpower, being open and vulnerable, and not putting on any airs.”

It is that affable and often charming presentation that makes Domingo feel so familiar in his roles and in life. Yet, many people are shocked when they realize that he’s gay. “I get that all the time,” Domingo says, laughing. “I get a comment every so often on Twitter. I’m like, Uhhh, where have you been? I’ve written solo shows about my coming-out story. I play gay lovers. I have a husband. I’ve been an open book since day one of my career. I’m not popping into some tropes that [people] have in their mind. I don’t know. I think I’m a nerd more than anything. Maybe masculine presenting. It’s as if I have to come out like every time.”

‘I’ve written solo shows about my coming-out story. I play gay lovers. I have a husband. I’ve been an open book since day one of my career.’

Colman Domingo

This year, Domingo is taking a step up from the role of supporting actor to that of the leading man, playing not one, but two iconic roles. He will portray the queer Black civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in Netflix’s Rustin, which is being directed by the Tony Award-winning director George C. Wolfe and produced by former president Barack Obama’s and our forever First Lady, Michelle Obama’s, production company, Higher Ground. And then, on Christmas Day, Domingo will take on the role of Mister in the musical adaptation of The Color Purple, which is being directed by Blitz Bazawule and produced by Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, and Scott Sanders.

Both characters are complex and compelling Black men, but they are from opposite ends of the masculinity spectrum. One is a gay Quaker who introduced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the philosophy of nonviolence and helped orchestrate the 1963 March on Washington. The other, a fictitious character created by Alice Walker, is the textbook definition of toxic masculinity and misogyny. Domingo was ready to brave the challenge because both men speak to larger issues in our communities and in our greater humanity.

“People had told me for years, when there’s a biopic about Bayard Rustin, you have to play it. I guess I’ve been preparing to play this man for a very long time. I felt like I had every ounce of tools and life experience and humanity and curiosity to play him right now in my career.”

– Colman Domingo

The role of Mister in The Color Purple is a different story, however. “When they did the musical on Broadway, I always thought that I was Broadway alt—like no one would ever really think of me for a legitimate singing role because I did character singing. So I just thought that it was never a story I would tell,” Domingo muses. “I would go see every version of The Color Purple, with LaChanze, with Cynthia Erivo, and I would ball my eyes out and get wrapped up in the story again. I love the film. I’ve watched it 50 times. So when I got a call to meet with Blitz about it, I thought, Wow, okay. And we just talked about the character. We talked about what has been done with the character, and then we talked about what we were curious about, about the character.”

“When I got the offer, Oprah said to me, ‘You were always my Mister. I thought, It’s Colman, because he has access to the things that we need for this Mister.’ And for me, I started to understand, because I was very curious about the Mister that was broken. The fact that hurt people, hurt people. He’s just not out the box, just coming whooping for no reason,” Domingo explains. “I wanted to understand his humanity and the fact that he was under a system of oppression, of not feeling like a man in his world. And so the only way he could is by putting someone else down.”

“[In ‘The Color Purple] I wanted to help investigate a redemption story from [Mista], because I think that is actually human.”

Colman Domingo

“I wanted to really help investigate a redemption story from him, because I think that is actually human,” Domingo continues. “And that’s why in the book, in many ways, [Celie] forgives. Like, who forgives their oppressor?”

Domingo’s ability to play the hero and the villain is part of his alluring repertoire. When he auditioned for Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Domingo tried out for the role of the more violent character Frank Hunt but was cast instead as Joseph Rivers, the loving father. “I had to rethink that, because I’d read the script. I’d read the book, but I was focusing on Frank,” Domingo recalls, “so I had to refocus. And I think what I loved about it is that I understood Joseph in such a way, that he’s such a blue-collar everyday man like I think essentially I am, and [whom] I know. I was raised by those men. They’re just trying to put food on the table and make sure their girls get what they need. And, you know, they’re there. They’ll be right at the school to fight somebody. They would cut [you] in a minute.”

“Their baseline is so grounded,” Domingo continues. “And I think that maybe that’s something I hope that I always have, because I think that’s the sense of who I am in the world. I’m always telling people I’m from West Philly. What does that mean to people? I don’t know. But for me, it means I’m from working-class people, people who are very simple. What you see is what you get.”

Domingo is also revealing more of the places and communities that shaped his character with a new series on AMC, You Are Here, where he visits the cities, people and places that helped define the man behind the actor.

For Domingo, his art aligns with his sense of community, and he recounts sage advice he received from one of the greatest actors of our time. “Denzel Washington told me this: He said, ‘Colman, for a long time, as a young artist, you really sweat for the awards. And then after you have them all, you think about how that feels. You usually just want more awards.’ But he said it took him a while to realize it’s not about the award, it’s about the reward.”

The reward is Domingo’s purpose: creating community, being a mirror to society through his acting, and providing opportunities for others. Domingo says Washington emphasizes a collaborative spirit, and that’s what has made the legendary actor a masterful thinker. “It’s about what you’ve given to that production—how you made that better, how you made it stronger. What did you give of yourself? And it’s so powerful,” says the Rustin star, who embodies that ethos, as well.

Emil Wilbekin is an award-winning journalist who writes for Time, The New York Times, Vogue, Architectural Digest, and The Cut. He is the founder of Native Son, a platform created to inspire and empower Black queer men.