Although set in 1970s Harlem, ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ showcases a beautiful love story and a race against the clock that calls upon modern-day racial tension and a broken judicial system.
If Beale Street Could Talk follows newly pregnant Tish as she strives to save her beautifully passionate and charming relationship with fiancé Alonzo Hunt, nicknamed Fonny. The two have always dreamed of spending their life together, but their plans are put on hold when Fonny is arrested and held accountable for a crime he did not commit.
The Knockturnal sat down with star Colman Domingo to gain more insight into the film.
The Knockturnal: Where and how did you find out you were doing this part?
Colman Domingo: Oh man. Oh wow, that’s a great question. I’ll just tell you this. I first auditioned for a smaller role in the film actually and they asked me to put myself on tape and I did it, and within 24 hours my manager said they really loved it and they’re sending it to Barry. And then the next day, so within 36 hours, I got an offer, but they said the offer was for a different role. I said, “Oh what role?” And they’re like Joseph. And I was, gobsmacked. … First of all, I didn’t know I was ready to play a role like this. I think that the idea of playing the father of two girls, 19 and 22 years old, I just, I don’t know, suddenly I was looking into a complex dad role, and I was really actually happy. Suddenly, I saw it so clearly you know? I was just beyond excited. And also when I found out that same day that Regina King would play my wife. And I thought it was an embarrassment of riches. I thought she was one of the most compelling actresses working, and I’ve been such a fan of hers. The thing that Barry said that Regina said was, she just wants to dance with me. And I thought, “What a beautiful thing to say,” because that’s what we eventually had done, I think in this film. There was a great dance, a great partnership with our characters with how we support Kiki Layne and Stephan James.
The Knockturnal: You mentioned Barry Jenkins. Talk about working with him and what was that experience like?
Colman Domingo: Oh man. Barry is probably one of the most gentle, graceful orchestrators. And I say that because I think that there’s a musicality in his head that we’re unaware of. You can tell by his gestures and the way that he guides a room that he’s listening to the music of the scene and what he’s building. The color palette. He feels everything he makes … It’s honestly one of the most gentle and calm sets that I’ve been on in a long time. Where it’s not led by personalities … It’s led by being gentle and graceful and trusting his actors and his collaborators. There’s no ego in the room. So, it was one of the most gentle experiences that I’ve had in my career, and to see it up on screen and to recognize that that’s exactly what we were doing. It echoes exactly what the set was like. You know what I mean? Because sometimes you see a film and you’re like “Oh well that feels different than the way it was.” This feels, all that sensuality, all that love, all that care was exactly what was down on set by Barry.
The Knockturnal: In the film you played the ultimate Dad, or a Dad we can all aspire to be. Where did you draw that inspiration from?
Colman Domingo: I drew it from my step-father who had a third-grade education, who found it hard with just being an ordinary guy. Also, my brother Rick. But also, men have so much love and sympathy that I don’t think we get to see and I knew that I haven’t seen that. And I knew these men, I had an incredible opportunity to show this. He was very simple, he was a provider and a supporter, but had so much humanity and soul … [the audience] would feel like, “Oh wow, I want to be in that family. I wish you were my dad.” What a great compliment, a father who is understanding, who’s not harsh. We haven’t seen these depictions when it comes to the black male. We always see the guy that’s down and out … beat down.
The Knockturnal: The bond your character has with his family is beautiful. Talk about that message in the film and why we should all receive that.
Colman Domingo: Oh wow, I think there’s some incredible messages there. I think Baldwin just was very interesting in the bonds of brotherhood. I think the bonds of brotherhood are probably even stronger than the bonds of man and woman. Think about, how do you really care and taking care of each other. My character Joseph, pretty much fathers his daughter’s boyfriend in many ways. He says, “What is the definition of family? It extends beyond your blood.” It’s about honoring each other’s everything, give it all you have when it comes down to it. So I think that there are so many examinations with your father and daughter relationship with all that understanding and all that empowerment. The fact that think I am speaking for my character I think he is definitely a feminist … It’s the way that he looks at his young daughter making children for herself in the world, it’s a part of that. So you can’t deny that or challenge it. There’s another examination of the male, female relationship. Let’s say with my character and Regina King, my wife, is that they have such an equal partnership. While my character stays home, nurturing with his daughter who is having a rough time, Regina King, Sharon, is on a plane to Puerto Rico to handle business.
The Knockturnal: I love that, it leads to my next question actually, I love the scene between you and Fonny’s father in the bar. Talk about that bond of friendship … uplifting each other.
Colman Domingo: First of all working with Michael Beach is a dream come true. He’s such an incredible actor who has so much depth and spirit and laughter. Well you see these two men — one is so lost in the world, with his place in the world, with his being a father and … Michael Beach’s Frank, has regrets on how he’s fathered or how he’s been a husband. And his brother is trying to help carry his burden, his quote-unquote brother, me, Joseph. And I think that it really shows I’m in this with you, we’ll do it together, you don’t have to walk this alone, we’ll carry this burden. But we’re gonna do what we need to do to provide for our children and I’m gonna do it with you. You’re not by yourself, so I think that that’s such an important scene for me. That’s one of the first scenes, actually, that I did. But I knew that it had so much weight and meaning and message to see and also to see black men … honestly I think that we know in our culture that we usually see harsher depictions and being hardened and not loving or gentle and that was a great opportunity to see these two brothers to feel so much deep, deep love for each other, so much love and I think it just pours off the screen because I know that I wanted my character to lean into Frank and to basically say, “I’ve got your back, and you don’t have to do this alone.” So I think that those are such incredible messages to see and to witness and to bear what we are. That is the truth of who we are. We can be tender with another, we can be even more longing and exceptional with one another, we can elevate one another.
The Knockturnal: The film is so poignant. It speaks to what’s happening in the world and in life and what we are going through right now. If you had to pick one person to see the film who would it be and why?
Colman Domingo: Oh my god, if I would pick one person to see this film and why. That’s a tough question, I can’t believe you asked that question. There’s one person I would like to but … I think if 45 could see this film … I think that we need more examples of love and tenderness and caring and also see the humanity of people. I think what Barry and what James our cinematographer, view at times, when they hold the frame on Stephan James’ beautiful face, those eyes … and stare into those eyes, you cannot doubt the other’s humanity. He’s letting you bear witness to it. He holds onto a frame, probably a little longer that makes it uncomfortable in a way, but the purpose is undeniable, another’s humanity. I would like, whether it’s Number 45 or others who have been challenged to see themselves in someone else, here’s your opportunity.
The film hits theaters this Friday, December 14.