Delroy Lindo pushed himself to play a tightly wound Vietnam vet — and Trump fan
The role of a man feeling rejected by his country reunites the longtime actor with Spike Lee for the fourth time.
In Spike Lee’s searing war drama “Da 5 Bloods” (premiering Friday on Netflix), four African-American veterans return to Vietnam to find their squad leader’s remains and bring him home for a hero’s burial — and while they’re at it, they’re going to try to find a stash of buried gold as well. It’s “The Deer Hunter” meets “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” and it marks the fourth time Delroy Lindo has worked with Lee, after “Crooklyn,” “Malcolm X” and “Clockers.”
Lindo’s Paul is the putative alpha male of the group — but every day is a battle with PTSD, every day is a struggle.
“One of the fundamental elements of this man is the depth of the pain he feels having been rejected by his country in light of the contribution he made,” said Lindo in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “Paul volunteered to go to Vietnam. He was not drafted. And so the rejection, and being reviled when he returned to America, is very much in keeping with stories I heard from [Vietnam] vets when I was researching the part.”
When Paul meets up with his Vietnam brothers (Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters and Isiah Whitlock Jr.), they’re thrilled to see him — and stunned to learn he voted for Trump and even wears a “Make America Great Again” hat.
“That feeling of being forgotten and kicked to the curb leads directly to a feeling of disconnection from society, from self, and a disenfranchisement and that goes directly to the heart of why certain individuals could cast the vote they cast in 2016. And certainly for me that contributed to why I as Paul would cast that vote in 2016. And I can tell you that’s completely opposite to the vote I cast in 2016.
“It was a process to get my head around, ‘Not only did I cast that vote but I gotta wear the hat too?’ But once I went through the process of the betrayal and the loss and feeling forgotten … I understood it and I could empathize. So the physical act of putting the hat on was less difficult — not easy, but less difficult than it might have been.”
In a career spanning the aforementioned Lee films as well as “Get Shorty,” “The Cider House Rules,” “Ransom” and “The Last Castle,” as well as prolific stage work, Lindo delivers arguably his richest and most impressive performance as the troubled Paul. There are scenes in which Paul delivers straight-to-camera monologues that surely covered pages of the script, as Paul unleashes the full fury of his pain and tries to exorcise his demons.
“This is a Shakespearean character,” said Lindo. “This is a large, tragic, dramatic character, and that attracted the hell out of me as an actor. There were so many things to explore that were incredibly attractive to me as an actor. When I played Harold Loomis in [August Wilson’s] ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,’ I had a very similar experience. When I read the script, when I read the last page of that play, I said to myself, ‘I have got to do this play. It is my destiny to do this play.’ I feel [the same] with this movie.”
The 67-year-old Lindo plays Paul in real time, and in the intense and brutal flashback sequences featuring Chadwick Boseman as the squad leader Norman. You can feel the draining weight of the effort and sweat that had to go into the performance.
“We had a little party when we wrapped in Saigon,” said Lindo, “and I remember being at the party and I was talking to some people and I was fatigued. I was emotionally and psychologically fatigued. And that speaks to the journey we had all been on.
“The prep … in terms of the emotional depths and breadth of this man, the ups and downs and peaks and valleys, specifically, to use your term ‘tightly wound,’ at times popping off inappropriately in a completely over-the-top manner, is a direct component of PTSD. I spoke with two cousins of mine who are Vietnam vets, they both struggled with PTSD. … One went to Vietnam at 19, inside of a week he was in the jungle fighting. Nineteen years old. He talked to me at length specifically about the PTSD component. I talked to [six] other veterans … and they shared and they shared and they shared and they shared. They were gifting me with all of this information.”
When you think of the great Vietnam films, there is little or no representation of the black soldier’s experience, even though the African-American population was overrepresented in the war.
“And that goes right to the heart of the importance of this film,” said Lindo. “This is a film shown through the lens of the black experience, and that makes it a historical corrective to all the films in which we have been marginalized or expurgated altogether.”