Da 5 Bloods’ Delroy Lindo leads Spike Lee’s all-star cast as Paul, a MAGA hat-wearing member in a quartet of Black Vietnam veterans. Decades after the war, the men reunite for a mission to exhume the remains of Stormin’ Norman, the 5th Blood played by Chadwick Boseman, and locate their missing gold. The mission tests every man, but none more than Paul. Lindo gives a masterful performance in Spike Lee’s sweeping epic of avarice and forgiveness.
We spoke with Lindo about how movie theaters are the missing ingredient of Da 5 Bloods experience, his decades-long relationship with Spike Lee, Chadwick Boseman’s wife Taylor Simone Ledward’s powerful reaction to a pivotal scene between the actors, and why Lindo “desperately” needs to speak with Steve McQueen about the Small Axe anthology.
The Film Stage: I was hoping come award season people could finally see Da 5 Bloods in a theater because it’s just so designed for that experience, you know?
Delroy Lindo: Oh yeah, I agree with you 3,000%. This film needs to be seen on a big screen. The physical terrain is really majestic.
Will you talk about your long relationship with Spike Lee and how it led to you playing Paul?
I met Spike on Malcolm X. I auditioned and was given the part of West Indian Archie. One of the elements that I’ve always treasured working with Spike is that I feel that he trusts me as an actor. The fact that he called me after Malcolm X the following summer and said I’m doing this film Crooklyn and I want you to play the part of Woody, that was such an incredible affirmation. It was the first time that anybody called and just offered me a part. He didn’t say I want to come and audition. The fact that he just offered me Woody Carmichael and that he offered me Rodney in Clockers was profoundly affirming and confidence boosting. The fact that they are very different parts, which de facto was a way of Spike saying to me, “I trust you, you have the ability to play that range of parts.” A very foundational aspect of the trust that he has placed in me, that he has historically placed in me, and therefore I can have confidence going into a Spike Lee joint that my director is on my side, in my corner, wants me to be there and feel that I can contribute and maybe even elevate the material. To say that is special does not really describe the feeling that I have. Maybe it’s similar to how Robert De Niro feels working with Martin Scorsese. I don’t know, but it’s very special and I cherish it, man, I cherish it.
All of those elements were brought to bear 25 years later. He calls me and says, “Hey, man, I’m doing this film and I want you to come be part of it, I’d like you to consider playing this part.” Which just happens to be a fantastic part!
Will you talk about filming your “salt in the vaseline” monologue?
We had been working for five and a half weeks. I was steeped in work at that point. I was connected inside the work and connected to Paul. So the morning we shot that scene, I didn’t say to myself, “Oh, I’m ready to do this.” It wasn’t like an inner conversation that I had with myself. But I was ready. I knew how I wanted to approach that monologue. I worked on it in such a way that I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, and as we did the first couple takes, the only thing that Spike said to me was after the first take, he said, “Man, I need you to keep moving.” I had come through the underbrush and I stopped and looked around and I started talking. And he said, “No, when you come through, just keep moving and keep talking.” That’s the only thing he said to me. We then proceeded to do multiple takes of the scene and I felt grounded in it. I just felt really grounded in the work, so much so that I was adding small improvisational things in the dialogue. Generally, I said what was written in the script. But the fact that in certain moments I was inspired to add certain things, which Spike then included, he didn’t say don’t do that. He embraced what I was doing, which led me to know that I was on the right track, I was on the right path inside of the work. One does not in the moment stop and say, “Oh, this is going well.” That’s not how it works, but I felt good. I felt grounded. I knew that I was giving the director something he can use in the editing room.
In that speech, Paul talks about choosing when to die. He’s come to terms with reality, but he’s also fighting against it. And it was eerie rewatching the movie after the Trump-sanctioned Capitol riot, because he’s slowly accepting his new reality but fighting it too. And just like Paul, gold is all Trump has left. The parallels are uncanny with Paul being a Trump supporter.
[Laughs.] I’m gonna take a slight exception! In as much as I’m gonna defend Paul, even though Paul got that MAGA hat on etc, because… maybe it’s semantics. Maybe it’s just semantics. But it’s not, because this dude at 1600 Black Lives Matter Plaza is completely unhinged! He’s a lunatic. I want to say, all kidding aside, what I want to say in defense of Paul is that certainly you have the absolute right to analyze and respond to what you’re seeing from Paul, in whatever way you see fit. What I will tell you, from my point of view being inside of it: everything that I’m saying, when I’m talking to the camera, is my truth. There’s things that I believe to be the reality that I am reacting to, responding to. Does that make sense? You’re not the first person to say I was unhinged. But no I wasn’t at all! I am speaking from my truth. One has to do that in order to believe what one is saying in order to convey to the audience whatever it is that one wants to convey. I understand why you’re saying that, but I was speaking from my truth, man, as I see it at that point in my journey. I’ll tell you something else. I had no idea that audiences would respond to the monologue in a way they responded. I had no clue that I had no clue, I just did my job. But it’s been rewarding and affirming that so many people have made mention of that moment.
One of the most powerful parts for me was Paul being forgiven from Norman. Will you talk about how important it is for Paul?
It’s the beginning, middle, and the end of everything that I have been roiled with, tormented by, violated by since that thing happened with Norm back in Vietnam. It’s really interesting to talk to journalists about the work retrospectively because the things I’m saying are certainly not things that I thought about consciously when I was making the work. But certainly there are things that I am aware of when I’m reading the text and I’m working on it. It’s profoundly redemptive. It’s the end of Paul’s torment because obviously, we know what happens very soon after. Paul doesn’t know when he lands in Vietnam he’s at the beginning of making this journey. It’s what I have to come to terms with. It’s a parallel reality. On the one hand, it’s everything that Paul has wanted, even though he didn’t know that’s what he wanted. It’s everything that Paul needed––the resolution of the event with Norm and Norm gives me exactly what I need: forgiveness.
There’s that component, narratively, and then the parallel component inside the work. Chadwick Boseman and I were working together and we’re making really rewarding work. A few weeks after we shot, Chadwick’s wife Taylor said something to me about her reaction to the scene. [Sighs.] I don’t have the words, but basically she said something to me to let me know how the scene had impacted her. And all I can tell you, Josh, is that when one gets that kind of affirmation, those kinds of deeply positive responses to one’s work––she’s talking about the work Chadwick and I did together––that’s why I went to acting school! That’s exactly why I went to acting school. Not for the fame and the money. Of course, one has to make a living, but one went to acting school because one wanted to have an impact on one’s fellow human beings. Film has done that, other work that I have done has done that, but this film, this moment. The existence of Paul in my life, and existence of Paul for audiences, and Chadwick’s wife being impacted… what’s the word? Synchronicity of the whole thing. The affirming synchronicity of all of it.
Have you seen any of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology? I read your mom was part of the Windrush generation that established those communities depicted in the anthology. I’m wondering what your thoughts are about the movies and how they relate to your experience.
I’m gonna give you an answer that may not be very satisfying for you. I read that Steve McQueen said he needed to make the film and understand himself. I understand that. Having seen all five, I desperately, desperately, desperately want to have a conversation with Steve McQueen, who I do not know, who I have never met. I want to know from him how the making of those films have contributed to his understanding of himself. That’s my response. I understand that I’m not really getting into talking about how I specifically reacted to the film. Clearly, it’s very important work in terms of the extent to which they speak to the offspring of the Windrush generation. But I’m curious as hell to have a conversation with Steve McQueen. How did this help you understand yourself? And what is next for you in your journey? I know that, for my journey, something that’s been really important for me is I’ve been working on a screenplay about my mom’s experiences in the U.K. and my experiences. I understood watching his films, I didn’t need to watch his films to know this, but watching them just affirmed for me how important the telling of that particular history is.
Da 5 Bloods is now on Netflix.