Interview: Delroy Lindo

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One can never anticipate how audiences will respond. One of the lessons that I’ve learned over the years is to that no matter what my feeling or opinion might be about a given film, once you give it to the audience, they own it.

(Delroy Lindo).

The son of Jamaican immigrants to England, Delroy Lindo was born in London on November 18, 1952. He began acting at the age of five when appeared in a Nativity pageant. As a teenager, he moved with his mother to Toronto till they migrated to San Francisco where he would study acting at the American Conservatory Theater.

He made an unremarkable big screen debut in 1976 in Find the Lady, followed by a couple of other bit roles in Voice of the Fugitive and More American Graffiti before he abandoned Hollywood for Broadway where he earned a Tony nomination for his work in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

After ten years on the stage, he returned to cinema where he immediately blossomed, delivering memorable performances to critical acclaim in such flicks as The Cider House Rules, Malcolm X, Romeo Must Die, Get Shorty, Crooklyn, Clockers, Heist, Ransom, Domino and Lackawanna Blues. Here, he talks about his latest outing in Wondrous Oblivion, a cross-cultural drama, set in London in the Sixties, where he plays the patriarch of a Jamaican family which meets with resistance when it integrates a working-class white neighborhood.

BSN: I guess my first question is why did it take you so long to make a movie in your native England?
DL: I never got asked before. [chuckles] That’s the simple answer. Until relatively recently, a lot of people didn’t realize that I was from England.

BSN: So how did you get this gig?
DL: To hear the director [Paul Morrison] tell it, it was kind of a fluke. He happened to be speaking with the casting director [Joan McCann] who I guess had seen my work in Malcolm X and knew that I had an authentic Jamaican accent. And then she happened to be looking on the web and saw that I was from England. I think that’s how it came about.

BSN: You came to this country as a teenager, so I guess you have pretty deep roots both here and in Britain.
DL: Exactly, but in terms of my commercial career, for all intents and purposes, I have been identified as an African-American actor. And the bottom line is that’s where all my work has been. So, it doesn’t surprise me that that would be the case.

BSN: What attracted you to Wondrous Oblivion?
DL: What interested me in this story, frankly, was the presence of the Caribbean family. As originally written, my family in the cast was written as Bajan, from Barbados. When the director sent me the script, I called him and said, “Look, it’s a charming, interesting story, but there are two things I have to talk you about. One is that I am of Jamaican extraction. So, do you have an issue with making my character and his family Jamaican? And secondly, to be really candid with you, while I think your story is wonderful, my interest is in exploring the presence of the Jamaican family.�

BSN: Why was that?
DL: Because, although there may be some, I was not aware of virtually any feature films that dealt specifically with the Caribbean presence during that period of English history.

BSN: Since one of my parents is from Barbados, the other from St. Croix, I have to ask you why you would feel uncomfortable portraying a Bajan?
DL: No, no, no, not at all. I would not be uncomfortable playing a Bajan whatsoever. But clearly, were I too portray a Bajan person, I would have to work very diligently on the accent, whereas a Jamaican accent comes much more naturally to me. But honestly, I was being selfish in order to speak in this style because it would be much easier for me, and it would be a man that I would understand more readily. I’d have to work harder on mastering the technical aspects of a Bajan accent. So, it had nothing to do with being uncomfortable playing a Bajan, and had everything to do with the fact that my heritage was Jamaican. Before we go on, I want to ask you something. Did the film have an extra resonance for you, because of your own Caribbean background?

BSN: Yes, it definitely resonated with me because I felt it reflected certain aspects of my West Indian upbringing. And I was touched by… wait, how did I lose control of this interview? I’m supposed to be asking the questions. Let’s see, did your British-Jamaican heritage play a role in your taking the part?
DL: Yes, I also really wanted to be a part of this film on this level obviously because of my mom, and her whole generation of Jamaican people who were in England during the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, and caught so much hell. As I said, very few stories reflected that period of their history. So, I really wanted to be a part of this film as an honor to my mom.

BSN: Did you play cricket like your character does in the film?
DL: I did play cricket as a young person, though my sport of choice was soccer.

BSN: One of the things I really liked about the film was the depth of your character. He wasn’t just a recognizable archetype. For instance it was totally unexpected when Dennis gets involved with the next-door neighbor.
DL: I have to tell you that part of my attraction to doing this film was the romance with Mrs. Wiseman. What I mean is the fact that I was interacting with a female in that manner. I think I’ve only kissed a woman on screen only once or twice before in my whole career. So, the prospect of exploring that side of myself as a man interested me, because I’ve very, very rarely had an opportunity to do that on film.

BSN: One thing I liked about this movie is the richness of the relationships across color lines. The British have a knack for this. Films like Secrets and Lies, A Fond Kiss, Bend It Like Beckham, and My Beautiful Launderette immediately come to mind.
DL: That’s truly interesting, because I was very curious as to how the film would translate for Amercian audiences, because the film felt very British to me.

BSN: How has it done elsewhere?
DL: The film seems to have resonated with Caribbean audiences. I was in Jamaica, and a gentleman stopped me on the beach in Kingston who said that the film had been a smash hit in Kingston. He said that members of his generation had responded, because it reflected what their experience had been in England during that period. And this brother stopped me on the street in London saying that folks over there had had the same reaction to the picture because it spoke to the black British Caribbean experience. So, should Caribbean people become aware of this film, I think that they will respond to it for that reason.

BSN: I think that the importance of this film rests with your character’s complexity, his being fully fleshed-out, not just a familiar stereotype.
DL: That was not going to happen, man. I was not going to let that happen. I have no control what happens in the editing room, but in terms of the work that was done, the family, we were all very intent on fleshing these characters out, and presenting them accordingly. It was a piece of work that I would have wanted my mom to be really proud of. I would have wanted her to recognize that man, to know that man, and to feel for that man. So, the happy-go-lucky, smiley darky, un-unh, that wasn’t going to happen.

BSN: Well, you certainly succeeded, since your character, Dennis, definitely dominates the picture as the protagonist.
DL: It’s very interesting to hear you say that because when I saw the film it was clear to me that David [played by Sam Smith] is the protagonist. Sometimes I lose objectivity and I lose perspective when I’m working on a project. So, it’s very interesting to hear you say that, and I’m glad for that, quite frankly.

BSN: How do you think the American audience is going to respond to Wondrous Oblivion?
DL: One can never anticipate how audiences will respond. One of the lessons that I’ve learned over the years is to that no matter what my feeling or opinion might be about a given film, once you give it to the audience, they own it.

BSN: How’s your TV show, Kidnapped, doing?
DL: That has been cancelled. I’ll be finished with that in the middle of November.

BSN: So, what’s on the horizon for you?
DL: I’ll be directing a play in March, but other than that I’m not sure.

BSN: I have to ask you the Jimmy Bayan question. Where in L.A. do you live?
DL: I live in Northern California.

BSN: Why don’t you live in L.A.?
DL: I never could get my head around Los Angeles. I’m better off being outside of L.A.

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