Actor Delroy Lindo was honored Thursday night with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award for his contributions to film over the years and, most recently, for his work in Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods.”
“Da 5 Bloods” tells the story of four African-American Vietnam War veterans struggling with their past ghosts and demons as they return to Vietnam to search for the remains of their fallen squad leader and the fortune he helped them hide. Lindo plays Paul, a traumatized war veteran haunted by the past that he is reopening.
“In my opinion, and the opinion of many people, (Lindo’s) performance was one of the best — if not the best — performance of 2020,” said Roger Durling, executive director of SBIFF. “Staring directly at the camera, he delivers an unforgettable monologue, daring you to look away, and you cannot.
“Delroy Lindo is a giant of cinema, television and theater. A true original.”
Lindo said that delivering the monologue took weeks of preparation, and he committed the words to memory so that he did not fumble when it was time to shoot the scene.
“I had a few weeks to prepare myself. Anytime I was on set and I had a break from filming, I would go off and work on the monologue so by the morning that we did that scene I felt that I was as ready as I could be,” he told Anne Thompson, moderator and Indiewire’s editor-at-large.
Lindo said he talked to two of his cousins and other Vietnam veterans to use their experiences to stitch together and create the character of Paul.
While it was a very challenging role to play a Vietnam veteran wrestling with PTSD and tormented by his past, Lindo said he felt tremendous support from director Lee that allowed him to really get into character. Lindo and Lee have worked together on various films dating back to 1992, when Lindo played West Indian Archie in Lee’s “Malcolm X.”
“This journey that I had been on with Spike, that culminates with this work at this time, I cannot say enough how safe I felt,” Lindo said. “I felt safe enough to commit in that way.”
Lindo said that the entire cast of “Da 5 Bloods” shared a special bond that “does not come along every day,” and that it was “foundational” in allowing the actors to really commit to the work with a “level of safety and freedom.”
While Lindo said he did not feel heroic himself for playing the role of Paul, there were a couple of scenes where he got to watch his colleagues perform, and they were “extraordinarily heroic.”
Lindo was not always a film actor, after studying at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. He was a theater actor in New York for 10 years.
“I had this thought and notion that if I worked in the theater … that I would hopefully be challenged to do different kinds of parts, I would do a different range of work,” he said. “Thankfully, I think that is what enabled me to take on different kinds of roles in front of the camera.”
A lot of Lindo’s acting skills he credits to his experience as a theater performer. He described his experience playing Herald Loomis in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” on Broadway. After a monologue in the second act, he said he was speaking to an audience member who told him that she could “feel” him all the way in the back of the theater where she was sitting.
“What that said to me, that I have since taken into my work for the camera, is that if you feel it, if you genuinely are experiencing an emotion, then that will transmit to the audience,” he said. “She said, ‘It wasn’t so much what you were saying; it was what you were conveying.’ That was a lesson that I tried to take with me with whatever work.”
He also credits his ability to immerse himself in whatever role he is playing to his work in the theater and his training as a theater actor.
“In the 10 years essentially that I worked as a theater actor, I developed for myself an ethic — a way of working that I stick to,” he said. “I bring that ethic developed in the theater to my work for the camera.”
Lindo talked about the various ways he prepares for a character. When preparing to play the role of Rodney in Richard Price’s 1995 film “Clockers,” Lindo found out that Rodney’s character was based on a real person. Lindo asked Price to introduce him to the person who inspired the character, and Lindo hung out with the person for about three weeks.
“I was talking to him, observing him, watching him, just trying to take in everything about who this man was and what made this man tick and why he did what he did,” Lindo said. “All of those things were really valuable for me.”
When preparing to play Satchel Paige, one of the most famous and successful baseball players in the Negro League who ended up making it to Major League Baseball, in Kevin Sullivan’s “Soul of the Game,” Lindo said he took pitching lessons on the mound and even dance lessons to perfect Paige’s stance.
“I wanted to be balletic enough to represent Satchel as best as I could,” he said.
With a portfolio that ranges from theater to film, comedy to drama, historical fiction to action, Lindo is known for diving into his characters and delivering unforgettable performances.
“The way that he can effortlessly inhabit the characters, the authority with which he delivers his lines, and the impact that he leaves on the project, whether you remember the story or not, you definitely remember Delroy,” said Terence Blanchard, composer for “Da 5 Bloods,” who presented Lindo with the award. “It was an incredibly moving experience on (‘Da 5 Bloods’), which proved to be in my mind one of the richest opportunities of Delroy’s career.
“He sank his teeth into this incredibly complex character, brought to the table decades of acquired skill, and he ultimately executed one of the most beautiful performances of the year.”