Colman Domingo has been busy. The born-and-raised West Philadelphian and Temple alum acts on TV (Fear the Walking Dead, Euphoria), in films (If Beale Street Could Talk, Selma), and on stage (Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys, Passing Strange — he was in the Spike Lee film, too).
In August, he filmed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, and producer Denzel Washington in Pittsburgh. Last month, he was in Chicago filming Jordan Peele’s Candyman — while commuting to People’s Light in Malvern.
Here in the Philly 'burbs, he’s the director for Dot, a play he wrote about a West Philly family of grown children reckoning with their mom, who is living with Alzheimer’s. Also, he recently founded a production company.
A few weeks shy of his 50th birthday, Domingo took a break — but not really — to talk about an actor-playwright-director-producer’s life.
Tell us about this play of yours, “Dot.”
I wrote it in 2015. It premiered in 2016 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville at the Humana Festival, then went to the Vineyard Theatre off-Broadway. Since, there have been 11 productions around the country.
The play raises questions about Alzheimer’s and family and the dark comedy that goes with it. The family is trying to fight for each other’s humanity — and their own humanity.
Is the “Dot” family your family?
It is not autobiographical, but when people watch it, they naturally assume it’s my family. One character is based on my sister, and the character of Shelly is based on four different female friends of mine, who were all dealing with mothers with long-term illnesses at the same time.
How does your hometown figure into your work?
All my plays are Philadelphia-based plays. I liken myself to Athol Fugard or August Wilson, who stick with one community: There’s always a story there. Philadelphia has such complex and colorful characters I’d love to see interact with each other.
At Temple, you studied journalism, not acting.
Yes, but I took an acting class as an elective. My drama teacher pulled me aside and told me he thought this was a gift of mine. I was very impressionable. No one ever tells you that you have a gift. After that, I took another class, at Walnut Street Theatre.
After graduation, I moved to San Francisco and transitioned to become an actor and a playwright. The roots of my career are in the San Francisco Bay area.
Your resume is packed, but a recent bio described you as a “rising star.”
It makes me laugh. I’ve been doing this work for 30 years now. People are like, “Why aren’t you on the cover of magazines? You do more than anyone else in the industry.”
I could sit and question it, but I think it’s most important for me to get up and go to work.
Denzel Washington told me, “It’s not about the awards. It’s about the reward.” He said it took him a long time to understand that.
How do you see yourself, as an actor?
I’m one of those elusive actors, a character actor who is unrecognizable from role to role. People tell me I look familiar. “Don’t I know you?”
That’s part of my strength, but also part of my narrative. People feel they haven’t seen me enough.
How did you decide to direct your own work?
This is my first time directing my work on a major stage. With Dot, for the first time, like any painter or musician, I wanted to complete my picture, to say this is what my intention is, to express the full intention of the play as a writer-director.
And now, you’re a producer, too.
People think production companies are ego-based projects. It’s never been that way for me. I’m a rare breed in this industry in that I’m very happy creating work for others. I just like to see it out in the world.
People like to ask me which career do I prefer. I say all of it.
My company is Edith Productions, after my mother, which is an expression of my love for her. She was such a great mentor. She told me I could do anything. So, not only is her name tattooed on my arm, it’s out there in the world.
So, what’s next?
Dot has been adapted into a TV series called West Philly Baby for AMC, who just attached some really wonderful actors to it.
I’m also developing a half-hour comedy called Peaches about an all-female kickball league in Atlanta, Ga., and am in development for a TV series about cocktail culture for AMC.
Dustin Lance Black and I are working on a film about [civil- and gay-rights leader] Bayard Rustin. That is a role that I’m looking forward to playing, to bring Rustin to light in the world. Rustin is an incredible American hero. [Black is the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk.]
Any chance you’ll be working soon with your former schoolmate, Will Smith?
We had gym class and science together [at Overbrook]. But we have never worked together. The last time I saw him, I was working as a waiter on City Line Avenue, in 1990, right before I left town.
Through Oct. 20 at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern
Information: 610-644-3500 or peopleslight.org