Birth of a Nation’s Colman Domingo

Not to brag, Potatoheads, but we’ve met a fair share of celebrities at this point. We like to think we can keep our cool, but there are some actors whose talent simply blows us away. Take Colman Domingo. Obie Award winner, Tony-nominated musical actor, celebrated dancer, Olivier-nominee for The Scottsboro Boys, star of Fear the Walking Dead – is there anything this guy can’t do? You’ve also seen him in Spike Lee’s Passing Strange and more recently in Selma. We couldn’t wait to sit down with the acclaimed actor to catch up before his newest and (arguably) most impressive project yet – the highly anticipated film, Birth of a Nation (out in theaters today). Read on to hear from Domingo about his go-to workouts, why every vote matters, and what advice he would give to his younger self…

From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day? 

I start my day with lemon water and strong cup of coffee, which I follow up with a juice or a protein smoothie, then a light lunch with a great salad, hopefully a delicious vegan sandwich treat from Blossom, and then a dinner with a beautiful cocktail. However, truly ideal would be an all day brunch with friends at The Soho House! I love the food and the variety of the brunch there!

How do you start your day? What’s your go-to breakfast?

My ideal day starts with a little quiet time to myself. I like to take a moment and look out of the window onto whatever city I am currently in. Then I read a bit of news on my phone and catch up with emails. Right before I go to the gym, I make myself an all vegetable juice or a protein smoothie, and then I sweat for two hours in the gym. Although, that changes when I’m in London, because I love a traditional English Breakfast, and I have to have it!

What was it like to be involved in Birth of A Nation, which is such an important film? How did you feel when you found out you got the role? 

I believe that in our current political and socio-economic climate, which revolves a lot around juxtapositions, it is important to remember our history as a nation, in order to not repeat it. Being a part of bringing Nat Turner’s rebellion story to light was deeply moving, for it has largely escaped being told. I am incredibly excited and immensely proud of what we have accomplished. Birth of A Nation‘s creator Nate Parker and I were both in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer and we have been supporters and admirers of each other’s work for awhile. When I was doing Athol Fugard’s The Blood Knot in New York, Nate came and saw me in it and that was when he first mentioned that he is working on a Nat Turner project. Four years later, we were shooting the film.

The film premiered at Sundance and was later bought by Fox Searchlight Pictures for $17.5 million – which is the largest deal of the festival to date. Were you surprised by how well-received the film was? 

I honestly knew that I was a part of something special from the get go, so it was truly validating to see that a lot of other people got just how special Birth of A Nation is.

What’s the biggest discovery you’ve made throughout this experience? 

It might sound strange, but one of the biggest transcendent moments had to do with being on a plantation in Georgia where we were shooting. We shot it in the spring, so the weather was true to the season, yet I couldn’t shake the heavy feeling of trauma and I immediately understood the reason. That place was filled with history of people of color like myself, people who did not have any choices because they were property and treated as such for generations. Merely being there was oppressive in a sense of what that place represented, yet it was liberating to comprehend it and come to terms with the enormity of that weight. I discovered my immense sense of pride being a descendant of slaves.

How are you similar to your character in the film? How are you different? 

The character that I portray, Hark Turner, is an infinitely courageous man whose resistance is quiet at first, yet his rage blossoms like a spectacular volcano. I think I am similar to Hark in a way that I have a long leash when it comes to retribution, yet when I am finished, I am done.

Is there an issue you feel most passionately about right now? What is it and why? 

We are living in incredibly tumultuous times right now, and it is not easy for anyone. Our nation was founded on democracy and the issue I feel most passionately about is making your voice heard. It is simple. Exercise your right as an American, and vote. Every voice counts. Our humanity depends on it.

What advice would you give your younger self? 

I would tell my younger self to keep doing what he is doing, in all his randomness, eagerness and saying yes to life. It is he who got me here, after all!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? The worst?

My mother told me when I was young to, “Travel to far away places and to go to the theater!” Can’t beat that as the best advice! The worst advice was from my Aunt Jeanette who said to me with a watchful eye as I was moving to San Francisco,”Don’t try anything new!”

What are your other favorite cities for food? What restaurants do you go to in each? 

I absolutely adore London and all of its gastronomical offerings; I particularly enjoy Sunday roast at The Hawksmoor, and for dessert, their sticky toffee pudding with a flat white on the side. I also love Mexico’s Baja California and frequent both Misión 19 in Tijuana and Finca Altozano in the Valle de Guadalupe region, both of which are under Javier Placencia’s incomparable lead!

What are some of your go-to-workouts?

I like to sweat a lot! I like the Versa Climber in my gym, as it gives me the shot of energy for the day, as well as core work.

Are there any personal grooming products you can’t live without?

I was just in LA and discovered Diptyque. (I know I’m a bit late!) I was getting a candle for my friend as a house gift and walked out with a fragrance for myself. It’s called Olene, and I like it very much! Also, since I’ve been rocking a turn of the century mustache, I need my Layrite Original Pomade to keep my tips curled.

If you could host a dinner party with any five people living or dead who would you have over?

James Baldwin, Kim Dickens, Prince, Queen Hatshepsut and Anna Wintour.

In the same vein as what’s the new black in fashion, what’s the new potato for you right now?

The new potato for me is the country of Mexico! Its culture and cuisine are so unique and wonderful. I shoot my TV show, Fear The Walking Dead in Baja Norte, but I have explored Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara and Mexico City and I am truly in love with it; I have been telling everyone I know to visit and allow themselves to fall in love with that country!

Have you read our interview with Colman’s Birth of A Nation co-star Aja Naomi King? Also read our interview with his Fear The Walking Dead co-star, Kim Dickens. Do you love Mexican food as much as Colman? Click here to the most authentic Mexican restaurants in NYC.  

*Colman Domingo, photographed at Blue Smoke in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann. Styled by Raúl Aktanov.