Bad Boy Delroy Lindo – Son of South London

| November 20, 2011

Actor Delroy Lindo

Actor Delroy Lindon, the star of Get Shorty, Malcolm X and Clockers hails from South London. This might shock those who assumed he came from South Central. But while the accent clearly emanates from the other side of the Atlantic, the Tony nominee’s language gives his origins away.

“Tremendous”, “brilliant”, “bloke” — it’s not the vocab of your average American. But then again, Delroy Lindo is anything but average. For a man whose on-screen career has seen him murdered by James Gondalfini, outsmarted by Nicholas Cage, and blown up by John Travolta, it’s strange to learn that Lindo didn’t get into acting to work with Hollywood’s finest. “My first love’s the theatre,” he rasps, before explaining his transition to the screen. “I did a play on Broadway in 1988 — Joe Turner’s Come And Gone — and Spike Lee saw it and really liked my performance. Then, a year later, Spike asked me to come down and audition for Do The Right Thing. And I said I wasn’t interested because I didn’t like the part I was offered! — So I declined, but — thank God — Spike didn’t forget me and now we’ve made three films together.

Of the movies he’s made with Lee, Lindo regards Malcolm X as a career highlight. “It’s a film I’m really proud of, he purrs. “For reasons I’ve never understood, it’s rather under-rated, and yet the performances are excellent and Spike’s direction is incredible. And I’m proud of the way Spike fought for his film — he really had to go toe-to-toe with the execs to preserve the integrity of his movie.”

Integrity’s something Delroy Lindo knows a lot about. While his early career saw him play his share of savages and heavies, he’s now careful to steer clear of the parts traditionally held over for black performers. “I’ve turned down a lot of offers to play the black buddy who gets killed to let his white friend shoot a lot of other black people,” says the man who dreams of playing Marcus Garvey. “I don’t want to further stereotypes. But what really matters to me is the part and the performance — if a role speaks to me, that’s when I go to work.”

Lindo’s work has taken him to the four corners of the Earth. It also brought him back to London to make the Windrush drama Wondrous Oblivion. “There are so few films about the experiences of the Windrush generation,” says Lindo with regard to why he took a role in the low-budget affair. “ The opportunity to present a snapshot of what it was like for people from the Caribbean to live in England in the 1950s really interested me.” And how had London changed since he left the city? “It’s changed enormously. London felt like a much more cosmopolitan city than when I used to live there. It’s now this pulsating, culturally-rich, international metropolis.”

International and culturally-rich also neatly sum up Lindo’s career which has seen him work with giants like Gene Hackman and John Travolta and no-nonsense auteurs such as David Mamet. “Oh, David,” he sighs, the memories of Mamet’s crime movie Heist clearly still painful. “David is very definitely David — he’s very strongly who he is and has very specific ideas about how his work should be performed. To work with him is a journey — it’s a endless process of negotiation.”

As for how tough these negotiations were, Lindo spins a story of the sort of discussions you more normally associate with the UN. “My final scene in Heist is a fantastic moment in a coffee shop with Gene Hackman — it’s just incredible. Well, Mamet wanted to break that scene up — he wanted to shoot the beginning at the coffee shop counter and, at a certain point, he wanted to take the action outside. Gene and I kept going on and on at David, trying to convince him to let us play the scene at the counter. And so we really, really… well, let’s just say it took some time to convince him, but thank God we did because it’s the sort of scene you spend your career hoping to play.”

Listening to Lindo talk, it’s apparent that he has a high regard for actors — it’s quite something to hear such a tough guy describe John Travolta as “a lovely bloke.” However, he saves his kindest words for a performer on a very different stage. “Thierry Henry is extraordinary,” he enthuses. “I remember watching him in the World Cup in France, and then he wasn’t anything like the footballer he is today. To see him over the last couple of seasons, it’s like he’s turned into a different human being. And seeing him on the field every week is like watching an artist at work.”

So there you have it — Delroy Lindo, born in Lewisham, made in America, big Thierry Henry fan.

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