A Conversation
Hollywood 2024 Issue

Colman Domingo on Fame and Style: “I Like to Look Like a Big Flirt at All Times. I Flirt All Day Long.”

The Oscar nominee also talks Rustin, those MCU rumors, and his time in…the circus?
Pedro Pascal in a Tom Ford Tom Ford Charvet shirt and tie and John Lobb boots laughing behind the scenes with Colman...
Photograph by Landon Nordeman; styled by George Cortina.

“I really want to be a Bond villain,” says Colman Domingo. As recently as a year ago, a role like that may have been a pipe dream. But now, after decades of toiling in supporting roles, Domingo has officially landed a spot on Hollywood’s A-List. The week after our conversation, he’ll make history as the first Afro-Latino man to be nominated for a best-actor Oscar (for playing the titular role in Rustin) and only the second out gay man to be nominated for playing a gay character.

“I’m overjoyed,” he says. “I feel like it’s settling in my body that now I have this moniker for the rest of my life—that I’m attached to this organization that I respect, that I’ve been a member of. Especially in the leading-man category, that’s extraordinary.” Shortly after his nomination, Domingo had the chance to commune with best-actor Oscar winner Denzel Washington. “He just gave me some beautiful words of wisdom that I think I’ll keep for myself,” says Domingo. “I know he has been down this road. It’s life changing and life altering. I know it’s a tremendous responsibility and I’m representing many people. I want to not take this lightly. I was really happy that we had a beautiful afternoon to just sit.”

A week before his historic nomination, Domingo seemed content to simply sit in the moment and enjoy the spotlight. “I’m having the limelight put on me now after working for longer than you’ve been on this planet,” he told me. “I’m old as fuck.” Naturally, I attempt to push back, but he stops me. “No, but it’s true. I’ve been working for 33 years. For me to have this time now, it is because people have caught up with what I actually do.”


What is it that Domingo does? Well, everything. He’s a Tony nominee (for The Scottsboro Boys) and an Emmy winner (for Euphoria); he cowrote the book to the Broadway musical Summer, starring a pre-Oscar Ariana DeBose; he was the first actor from the Walking Dead franchise to direct an episode of the series. Days after his nomination, Variety announced that Domingo will portray legendary crooner Nat King Cole in a movie musical he’s directing based on a script he cowrote.

“I am old school,” he says. “That’s what these old school actors did. Bette Davis, Clark Gable. James Stewart. They did everything. They were all triple threats in many ways. They were groomed that way. That’s how old I am. I’m part of that generation.” 

We’re thrilled to have Domingo as part of our 2024 Hollywood issue

Vanity Fair: How does it feel to be the unofficial best-dressed man in Hollywood?

Colman Domingo: That is the coolest thing. It’s funny, because I think I’ve always understood my own style. Working with my stylists, Wayman and Micah, we’ve always crafted story. No matter how I was dressing—because I’m always dressing—people are noticing it more now. I usually thought that people went for the noisier, louder [outfits], wearing bells and whistles and everything. I’m a bit more understated—masculine cuts, tailoring. I love classic things that reference, like, Teddy Pendergrass. I love 1970s Italian cuts because I’m tall and lean. I have nice long legs. I like high-waisted [pants]. I like to feel sexy and playful. I like to look like a big flirt at all times. I flirt all day long.

Some movie stars try to stay away from the limelight, but you seem to relish being in the spotlight.

There’s a part of me that’s built for this, that understands how to be the party. I know how to throw a party. Natasha Lyonne and I threw one on New Year’s Eve, which was crazy. I’m also somebody who lives in the suburbs—in a very quiet suburb [of Los Angeles]—and I have a very peaceful, quiet existence. It’s like my own island, and it feels like a spa retreat. I need a place to retreat because I’m a bit of a cat, but then I know how to be a dog too. It may be odd to people, but I think of myself as a shyer person that has reformed. I used to be very shy. I was shy up until college.

A lot of queer people are shy when they’re younger because they feel they can’t fully express themselves.

I was insecure about everything—I don’t think even about being queer. I was insecure about being tall, my nose, my body—I was very skinny. At some point you make agreements and you’re like, Well, this is mine. I guess if I don’t love it, nobody else will. And so I started to take steps to love it and understand what I’m working with. And I think that that’s where you find all that inner light and inner beauty. And then I think you become, I guess, more beautiful.

Photograph by Landon Nordeman; styled by George Cortina.

You’ve had such a long and varied career. How did you evolve as an artist?

I think I’m a feeling person, and that has been my strength and my superpower. I didn’t learn any of the things that I’m doing by going to school for them. I went to school to be a journalist. I’m curious about people, and I want to figure things out. I think acting, writing, and directing are all doing the same thing. I think we’re really in service to story.

What did the beginning of your career look like?

I went to Temple University. I had 20 credits to go, but I was struggling because I had to work while I was in school and it was overwhelming. I was going to take a semester off and go back, but my mind wasn’t clear. My best friend, Guy Talley, moved to San Francisco after he graduated. It was three guys living in a studio apartment in San Francisco in the Tenderloin. It was a very lively area. He said to me, “Hey, come out here for a while.” I said, “And do what?” He said, “Come and live. It’s fun.” And I thought, Well, I’m kind of untethered to Philadelphia, so I’ll go try it for a month or so. I was living there for 10 years. That’s where I became an actor. That’s where I became an artist.

How did you spend your decade in San Francisco?

Some of my first jobs were in Shakespeare productions at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. American Conservatory Theater. Berkeley Rep was my home theater. But I was also in the circus.

The circus?

I was in a circus called Make*A*Circus, an offshoot of the Pickle Family Circus. It was a political children’s circus, inspiring the next generation of voters. It was dope. I played the evil salamander monster that was sowing seeds of disinformation and shit like that. This was when I was 23 or so. I saw it in the trades one day. “Auditions for circus performers: If you have no experience, at least a willingness to try.” That’s all I’ve ever had. I was skinny and active and weird, and I’m like, Great. I went and auditioned for it. They taught me skills like aerial web, so I can climb up that long rope. Six-foot-tall stilts. Clowning, gymnastics. I used to do all that. I feel like when I tell people I was in the circus, they’re like, Oh, now it makes sense. I have the heart of a clown, and I want to keep the heart of a clown in everything that I do.

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Having that many different talents can sometimes be a detriment as an actor, when the industry can’t easily define them or put them into a box.

That’s why my career looks the way it does. I know that my career is very unique. It doesn’t look like anyone else’s. I don’t know anyone white or Black or other who has a career like mine. If you look at If Beale Street Could Talk to Zola to Ma Rainey to Rustin to Fear the Walking Dead to The Color Purple, it’s all very bespoke. I know that a lot of times we are availed to do certain things. Once you’re known for certain things, you stay in that lane, in a way. That’s your bag. Don’t mess up your bag. I’ve had the liberty to never stay in the bag because I’ve always been just a little under.

Speaking of bags, Sam Levinson is apparently working on season three of Euphoria. What can you say about it?

I’m in it [laughs]. What I know is that we will have a season three. It will be challenging in the most beautiful way. I always think that Sam is examining hope and faith, especially when it comes to people who are struggling and trying to find their way. I know Sam Levinson and his heart, and I know he’s one of the kindest human beings that I know.

I know the Euphoria cast has been through a lot this year, with the loss of Angus Cloud and producer Kevin Turen. How did you all get through that?

It was absolutely terrible because we felt like we lost one to the disease. And I’m sure it affected not only the creation of season three, because [Angus] was going to be a very strong part of it, but it’s…I don’t know. We came together as a cast many times to grieve, to mourn, to laugh and enjoy all the things we know about Angus.

He was a wild one. I love him. He was a wild little brother. He was just sweet and funny and warm and odd at the same time. And I love people like that. If you’re not a little off, I have no business with you. You got to be a little off to be up in my life. He was all those things. And then we lost Kevin, one of our producers. So we’ve had some losses. I know that Sam is conscious of that, and so I think it really helps to reexamine the work. We need to always not just ride on our laurels of, ‘Oh, we’ve had a hit show. We’ve won Emmys,’ stuff like that. But he’s always wanting to redefine and say, ‘Why are we doing this? Why? Like really.’ And I think it’s a great question. Why exactly are we doing this?

There are rumors swirling about you regarding a certain Marvel character.

I know what you’re going to ask. You’re going to talk about the MCU. It’s funny how people are online talking about this. And the moment it started happening, literally, I think I was on my couch. And I was like, What rumor? Who? Where’s this coming from? I just didn’t think about it. The next day I woke up, it’s everywhere.

So, is there any truth to the rumor about you potentially stepping into the role of Kang the Conqueror?

You know, listen. My team has had conversations with Marvel about some aspect of the MCU for years. Do I know this to be true or not? I actually don’t know. I feel like my team doesn’t bring me something unless it’s real. So I don’t know. I could be in conversation, but I’m not sure. I would welcome a conversation around it. Whatever they’re working out with Jonathan [Majors] and his legacy in the MCU, I feel like I just have to be in my own lane, whatever that is. There’s hearsay, there’s conversations, but I’m not even sure because I feel like nothing comes to me until something’s real. But I’d be down with it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For fashion and beauty details, go to VF.com/credits.