Colman Domingo Pays Tribute to Louis Gossett Jr. : ‘There Would Be No Me, if There Was No Him’

Colman Domingo is an Emmy winner, as well as Academy Award and Tony-nominated actor, playwright and director. Domingo and Gossett Jr. co-starred in 2023’s “The Color Purple,” one of the late Oscar winner’s final films.

There is a moment that our wunderkind director Blitz Bazawule set up for the great Louis Gossett Jr. and me that is one of my most memorable cinematic moments of my entire career. It is a moment created just for our offering of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.”

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The moment of legacy between two characters are shared as the world of the film and its women have evolved past these two broken and harmful humans that are steeped in generational trauma. It is a silent moment. Blitz saw something in one of our rehearsals and leaned into it. He allowed for us to tap into something that only we as Black men can understand but may never be able to give words to. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s camera lingered on us for longer than usual. Blitz didn’t put a clock on it, he gave so much room until my character Mister, couldn’t take it anymore.

So much being said, so much left unsaid. Just the depth of Lou and I staring straight into each other’s souls and bringing generations of Black men with us in that room. Our families. The history of slavery and its effects on the Black family. The women have left the Easter dinner table — and left no crumbs — as liberation took hold in that hot Georgia home. In our eyes I felt horror, fear, trauma, pain, hurt, rage and regret.

THE COLOR PURPLE, director Blitz Bazawule (standing) with clockwise from left: Louis Gossett Jr., H.E.R., Jon Batiste, Taraji P. Henson, Colman Domingo, Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Corey Hawkins, on set, 2023. ph: Eli Ade / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
Blitz Bazawule (standing) directs the cast of The Color Purple” with Louis Gossett Jr. (far left) and Colman Domingo (far right).

The first day that I met Mr. Gossett, I said “Thank you.” Those were the words I wanted to say. Because I knew that there would be no me, if there was no him. And other giants like him. I always looked to him and James Earl Jones and Glynn Turman and Roscoe Lee Browne and Paul Winfield and Morgan Freeman and Sidney Poitier. Men who came from the theater, like me, who gave such dignity to heroes and villains. Every character had grace in some way shape or form.

I did a workshop years ago of a musical version of “An Officer and a Gentleman.” I had seen the film a few times and I was desperate to find the Sgt. Foley in me. Lou had given so much prowess to define this character for a generation, including the first Oscar win for a Black actor in the supporting category, that I learned to divorce myself of any interpretation of a legendary actor such as he, because no artist can live up to something so detailed and nuanced and truly their own making.

Lou and I had many moments off screen just chatting about life and art, and he constantly would talk about the responsibility of youth. To get involved and make this world better. He was a teacher and a humanitarian. He wore Kente cloth and sat with a walking stick. He would ask me after a take, with all the humility in the world, “Was that okay?” I looked at him and said, “Anything you give us is a gift.” And I meant that. He brought years of experience, intelligence, with good humor, light and love to our set. I felt a kinship with him. I called him “Daddy” the entire time, since he was Ole Mista and I was his son.

When he wrapped, I kissed his hands twice. I asked Fantasia to sing a song of thank you. He told us, “Knock ‘em dead, now.” He had tears in his eyes. I couldn’t thank him enough for all that he had given. He ran his race for us. It is up to us to “Knock ‘em dead, now.”

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