Delroy Lindo has graced screens big and small for years, a fascinating actor who is always a welcome face in such notable genre movies like Congo, Ransom, Get Shorty, and Gone in Sixty Seconds. His credits include celebrated films from Malcolm X to The Cider House Rules and voice work in the beloved Pixar movie, Up. In recent years, Lindo has also earned praise for his work in television, most recently as Adrian Boseman on the CBS All Access series, The Good Fight.
Last year, Lindo reteamed with Academy Award winner Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods, a drama in which four African-American veterans of the Vietnam War reunite for a journey to complete a mission and keep a promise made many years before. Lindo stars as Paul, a man whose life has been defined by the trauma and horrors of the war. Paul’s reunion with his old friends is disrupted by the arrival of his son, David, who is desperate to connect with the father who has always kept him at arm’s length.
This week, Spike Lee and Da 5 Bloods won the top prizes from the National Board of Review, and Delroy Lindo’s intense and captivating performance has earned the attention of many critics groups already. He shares the screen with a perfect ensemble of supporting actors including Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Chadwick Boseman.
Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with Lindo about getting to know his character for Da 5 Bloods, the challenge of portraying trauma onscreen, and the joyous mood on set.
Karen Peterson/We Live Entertainment: How did you approach this film differently than how you’ve approached so many of the other projects that you’ve done?
Delroy Lindo: It wasn’t different, actually. I’m not being smart. It was similar inasmuch as there’s the reading of the text, there’s trying to come to an understanding of what the text means, what it’s about, what the story is. And in this case, because I was playing a Vet, there was the process of doing research. One always does that. The work I was doing prior to Bloods was playing a lawyer. And similarly, I sought out one of the top lawyers in New York, and I spent time with him to get a feel for that world. And with this I sought out vets who had specific experience with PTSD. That was a major part because that was a major part of what Paul is struggling with.
And then there was the process of reading literature. I reread a book called Bloods by a man named Wallace Terry. And Bloods is a book containing verbatim accounts by African-American vets of their experiences in Vietnam. I read a number of other books. I looked at film. All of those components started to give me a foundation for a jumping off point for the work, and attempting to marry all those things, to fuse all those things in service of the story.
KP: Spike Lee chose to use the same actors for the flashbacks to the war scenes. Did that help you be able to tap in more to the emotions that you’re feeling in the present-day scenes?
DL: Yes, yes. And yes. Because even though one was not necessarily aware of it at the time — going back into those flashback scenes and revisiting as our present day selves — what those experiences were. And in my case, specifically the experiences with Norm, played by Chadwick Boseman, sharpened the whole notion of recalling him, of what he meant to me, to us, and made more clear the desire, the need to come to terms with what happened.
And I want to stress that I am saying that to you now because I’m having to answer your question and deconstruct it for myself. At the time, it was less verbally articulated, but it was emotionally articulated. And the way that it was emotionally articulated was in terms of the presence that one had inside those particular scenes.
KP: There’s a lot of playfulness before the group goes into the jungle. What was it like filming those scenes with your cast mates? It seemed like you guys were having so much fun.
DL: We were having fun. We were having fun and that was because we were connecting so strongly off screen. And that made it easier to create those dynamics on screen. I’ve told various of your colleagues that the bond that we created — Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isaiah Whitlock, Jr, Jonathan Majors, and Chadwick even though Chadwick came along much later — the bond that in particular the four of us created was organic, because we were just sharing and commuting so much off screen.
And I’m not being coy right now, but I’m remembering something that happened that was hilarious. And we all shared… There were moments like that, you know? (laughs) And it was a moment. (laughs) I’m sorry, I can’t tell you what it was! But that kind of hilarity fed directly into the the general overall dynamics of who we were together. And there were just all kinds of moments that we shared that were rich, that informed that bond that you as an audience see, watching the film.
KP: How did the experience of getting to know Paul and then putting him on screen impact you personally?
DL: You know, I love Paul! I swear to God, I love Paul. I love what Paul has given me. And I say that without an ounce of… I’m really being genuine. I love Paul. And I love… (pause) I started to say I love his struggle, and that’s not quite accurate. But I’m thinking about one of the last scenes while I’m speaking to my son, when Otis has given my son the letter, and then you see me speaking the words that are in the letter, which is a certain kind of… a certain kind of, I don’t know, redemptive? I hate those descriptive words because they don’t really capture it, but there’s a there’s a certain kind of peace. There’s an awareness of what I had done, and the havoc that I have wrought in my son’s life. And there’s also an attempt, a genuine attempt, to say I’m sorry for what I have done. A genuine “I’m sorry, man” — Excuse my French — “I fucked up. I fucked up, man. And it wasn’t your fault. And I’m sorry, and I love you.”
That is redemptive. And that does, perhaps, put a capper, a beautiful capper on Paul’s journey. And again, I wasn’t thinking about this when I was filming. I was not. But not everybody gets to do that. Not everybody gets to do that in life, for God’s sake. But in relationship to the trauma that Paul has gone through, it’s a gift in that moment to be able to say I’m sorry to my son in that particular way.
So I’m saying all that to say that when I look at the arc of the journey, I really appreciate it. I appreciate it. And taking a half a step back now as an actor, having had that experience of playing Paul, and to see how audiences have responded, and on many levels understand Paul, or at least accept Paul for all of his warts, all of his failings is yet another gift to me, as a creative worker.
We would like to thank Delroy Lindo for speaking with us.
Da 5 Bloods is streaming globally on Netflix.