February 23, 2024

Colman Domingo is having a banner year thanks to acclaimed performances in “Rustin” and “The Color Purple,” the latter of which opened to a triumphant $18 million on Christmas Day. But things were considerably different for the actor back in 2014. Despite being a Tony nominee for “The Scottsboro Boys,” Domingo couldn’t get his screen acting career off the ground. He recently told The New York Times he was stuck auditioning for “under-fives,” roles that only offered him a just line or two of dialogue.

Domingo figured one of these “under-five” roles might lead to a bigger break, and the most promising of them was for a bit part on an episode of “Boardwalk Empire.” The HBO drama series was looking for an actor to play the maître d’ at a Black-owned nightclub. Domingo wore a tuxedo to the callback audition and apparently impressed producers by singing and tap dancing. He later got a call from his agent.

Per The Times: “His agent began that call by saying that everyone on ‘Boardwalk Empire’ had loved his audition. This is the one that’s going to change it up for me, Domingo thought. This is the one that’s going to finally be my big break. There was just one problem, his agent said. After the callback, a historical researcher on the show reminded producers that the maître d’s in those nightclubs were typically light-skinned, and Domingo was not. ‘Boardwalk Empire’ had passed.”

“That’s when I lost my mind,” Domingo said, adding that he told his agent: “I can’t take it anymore, I think this is going to kill me.”

What a difference a decade makes. Domingo has won an Emmy for “Euphoria” and has starred in major Oscar contenders such as “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018) and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020). He’s back in the Oscar conversation with Netflix’s “Rustin,” which could earn him his first nomination for best actor. He revealed to The Times that he is now an “offer-only” actor, a decision he made after realizing that in order to have the stature of a leading man he’d have to stop going through the hurtful audition process.

“I became an actor that was ‘offer-only’ probably sooner than the industry thought I should have,” Domingo said. “But I decided I have a body of work. You can go and look at it, you can ask other directors about me, and you can make me the offer or not.”

“Rustin” is now available to stream on Netflix. “The Color Purple” is playing in theaters nationwide from Warner Bros.

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