Delroy Lindo: I Think Of 'Da 5 Bloods' As 'A Love Story'

Jun 13, 2020
Originally published on June 15, 2020 12:20 pm

Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee's new film, follows five friends who shed blood, sweat, and tears together in the 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War — and who return, after 50 years, to bring home the body of a fallen friend, and perhaps a treasure buried with him.

But is the treasure true riches, just reparations, or a curse?

Actor Delroy Lindo stars in Da 5 Bloods. He says it was a tough film to make. "When we wrapped in Saigon. I was aware of being quite fatigued emotionally, psychologically, somewhat physically, but I was not necessarily aware of that while we were filming."


Interview Highlights

On Lindo's character, Paul, wearing a MAGA hat

I didn't want to do it, but I said to Spike, why can't we make Paul, you know, an archconservative, an extreme conservative without going there, without my being a Trumpite? And he thought about it for a while. He called me back three days later and said he really needed Paul to be a Trumpite. And at that point, I read the script an additional two times, and I came to realize it's just one component of this man.

On Paul and what he's been carrying around for 50 years

I will say to you that that is part of the reason that I cast the vote that I cast, that Paul cast the votes that he cast. And during those 50 years, I have struggled. Now, let me just be clear what I'm saying, I am speaking as Paul. I struggle with a litany of betrayals and losses. One of the most significant betrayals is by the United States of America. When I came home from Vietnam after having volunteered — I was not drafted. I volunteered for three tours in Vietnam out of a love and sense of duty — coming back and being reviled and rejected constitutes for Paul a huge betrayal.

Then there is the loss of my wife. Then there is the loss of my son — and by loss of my son, what I mean is our relationship, as you see in the film, is fractious. There's love there, but it's very, very fractious. And here comes this individual in 2015 who says, I can make it better. And Paul needs a win. I need to believe what this man is saying, and that is what causes Paul to become that MAGA hat-wearing person.

On working with Spike Lee

Every time that I have worked with Spike, he is prepared to the max. He is detail-oriented so that when he shows up to begin work, and even in the rehearsal processes prior to filming, there is a clarity of vision, a clarity of purpose, which I find jibes with my own clarity of purpose on each of the projects that we've worked on. Coming to this project, there was that same attention to detail, that same passion, that same irrepressibility in service of the work. That was like oxygen for me. Beyond a breath of fresh air, it was like oxygen, in terms of once again being in the trenches with Spike and making this work.

On the timeliness of the film

... what I hope there is a an enhanced recognition of, as a result of seeing this film, is these men, their contributions, their courage and their love of America, and their love of country in context of the presentation of their humanity. - Delroy Lindo

It always seemed like a profoundly important film from the standpoint of presenting this story through the lens of the African American soldier's experience, which does not happen for the most part. But you are right. The events of the last two, three weeks have made it even more acutely, timelier than it ever could have otherwise been.

On his hopes for the film's audiences

This may seem like a very elementary thing to say, but in my mind it is not. I hope that they have an enhanced regard for these men in their humanity, because when I think about how we are presented in this film, and the dearth of stories through the lens of the black experience, what this film is doing in my mind is serving as a historical corrective.

So what I hope there is a an enhanced recognition of, as a result of seeing this film, is these men, their contributions, their courage and their love of America, and their love of country in context of the presentation of their humanity. Because a lack of recognition of our humanity is exactly the reason, one of the main reasons why the country is experiencing the turmoil that it is experiencing right now. So I hope in this film there's a recognition of: These men are human beings, courageous human beings, loving human beings. Certainly, problematical human beings with faults and foibles and pettinesses, but who also love deeply. Because I think of this film as a love story.

This story was edited for radio by Sophia Boyd and D. Parvaz, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Da 5 Bloods" - Spike Lee's new film - follows five friends who shed blood, sweat and tears together in the 1st Infantry Division in the war in Vietnam. They'll return after 50 years to bring home the body of a fallen friend and maybe a treasure buried with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: (As Stormin' Norman) We've been dying for this country from the very get, hoping one day, they give us our rightful place. I say the USA owe us. We repossess this gold for every single black boot that never made it home. For every brother and sister stolen from mother African to Jamestown, Va., way back in 1619...

SIMON: But is the treasure true riches, just reparations or a curse? "Da 5 Bloods" - now on Netflix - stars Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Chadwick Boseman. Delroy Lindo - the Tony and Screen Actors Guild Award nominated actor - joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us.

DELROY LINDO: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: This looks like a tough film physically and emotionally, was it?

LINDO: It was. When we wrapped in Saigon, I was aware of being quite fatigued emotionally, psychologically, somewhat physically. But I was not necessarily aware of that while we were filming.

SIMON: And we should note Paul, your character, wears a Make America Great Again hat for much of the film (laughter). How did you feel about putting that on?

LINDO: I didn't want to do it. I said to Spike, why can't we make Paul, you know, an arch-conservative, an extreme conservative without going there - without my being a Trumpite? And he thought about it for a while. He called me back three days later and said he really needed Paul to be a Trumpite. And at that point, I read the script an additional two times and I came to realize there's just one component of this man.

SIMON: Tell us about Paul because your character has carried around a lot for 50 years, hasn't he?

LINDO: Mm hmm. And I will say to you that that is part of the reason that I cast the vote that I cast - that Paul cast the vote that he cast. And during those 50 years, I have struggled - now, let me just be clear, when I'm saying I, I'm speaking as Paul.

SIMON: Yeah.

LINDO: Struggled with a litany of betrayals and losses. One of the most significant betrayals is by the United States of America. When I came home from Vietnam after having volunteered - I was not drafted. I volunteered for three tours in Vietnam out of the love and sense of duty. Coming back and being reviled and rejected constitutes, for Paul, a huge betrayal. Then there is the loss of my wife. Then there is the loss of my son. And by loss of my son what I mean is our relationship - as you see in the film - is fractious. There's love there but it's very, very fractious. And here comes this individual, in 2015, who says, I can make it better. And Paul needs a win. I need to believe what this man is saying. And that is what causes Paul to become that MAGA-hat-wearing person.

SIMON: This is - what? - the fourth film you've made with Spike Lee?

LINDO: It is.

SIMON: What is he like to actually work with?

LINDO: Every time that I have worked with Spike, he is prepared to the max. He is detail oriented so that when he shows up to begin the work - and even in the rehearsal processes prior to filming - there is a clarity of vision, a clarity of purpose, which I find that jives with my own clarity of purpose on each of the projects that we've worked on. Coming to this project, there was that same attention to detail, that same passion, that same irrepressibility in service of the work. That was like oxygen for me. Beyond the breath of fresh air, it was like oxygen in terms of, once again, being in the trenches with Spike and making this work.

SIMON: Much of the message of this film couldn't be timelier.

LINDO: Absolutely.

SIMON: It reminds us that although African Americans at the time were just, I believe, 10 or 11% of the population, they were 30% of the U.S. armed forces that served in Vietnam.

LINDO: Thirty-two percent actually. That's right. And fighting on the frontlines. Right.

SIMON: Yeah, exactly. It winds up being an even more important film than it must have seemed at the time.

LINDO: It always seemed like a profoundly important film from the standpoint of presenting this story through the lens of the African American soldier's experience, which does not happen for the most part. But you are right. The events of the last two, three weeks have made it even more acutely timelier than it ever could have otherwise been.

SIMON: Yeah. What do you hope - when people finish this film - they sit back and begin to think about?

LINDO: This may seem like a very elementary thing to say, but in my mind, it is not. I hope that they have an enhanced regard for these men in their humanity because when I think about how we are presented in this film and the dearth of stories through the lens of the black experience, what this film is doing - in my mind - is serving as a historical corrective. So what I hope there is an enhanced recognition of as a result of seeing this film is these men, their contributions, their courage, and their love of America and their love of country in context of the presentation of their humanity because a lack of recognition of our humanity is exactly the reason - one of the main reasons why the country is experiencing the turmoil that it is experiencing right now. So I hope in this film, there's a recognition of these men are human beings - courageous human beings, loving human beings, certainly problematical human beings with faults and foibles and pettiness but who also love deeply - because I think of this film as a love story.

SIMON: Delroy Lindo. He is in an all-star cast along with Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr., in Spike Lee's new film, "Da 5 Bloods." Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Lindo.

LINDO: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF "DA 5 BLOODS" END CREDITS THEME) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.