Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Next Best Picture Podcast – Interview With “New Moon” Directors and Writers, Colman & Raul Domingo

Known for his Emmy-winning work on “Euphoria,” and films like “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Zola,” Colman Domingo took on a new role with the animated short film “New Moon.” Adapting a segment from his one-man show “A Boy and His Soul,” Colman and his husband Raul set out to bring the words of Colman’s mother to life. “I’m very much a mama’s boy,” Colman says. “For me, this is a testament to my mother’s imagination.”

In “New Moon,” Colman narrates the story of J.J., a young boy who is hearing about a special ritual from his mother. “I remember that moment so very well, of her teaching me about the New Moon and this ritual that I’ve had for years. The moment you see the New Moon, you just hold your hand wide open, hold your purse open, and whatever you’re seeking, it will come to you.” It’s a joyous expression of love and positivity between a mother and son, all brought to life with surreal animation by French directors Jérémie Balais and Jeff Le Bars.

If “New Moon” manages to score a nomination for Best Animated Short, the pair would be the first LGBT couple nominated in the same year. On what it was like to work together, Raul describes, “We see the best in each other. And I think we always encourage the best in each other. Because out there you can just step out, and you’ll be just ripped to shreds for whatever and however and whomever.” For the film, Raul and Colman co-wrote the screenplay, while Colman played all of the parts, and Raul directed him for the rotoscope. “I trust his critical eye,” Colman says of Raul. “And so we already trust each other somewhat creatively. He holds me accountable.”

In a recent conversation with Daniel Howat from Next Best Picture, Colman and Raul Domingo shared the heart behind their animated short film, memories of Colman’s mother, and what they hope the legacy of this work will be.

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This interview was edited for length and clarity.

I loved “New Moon.” It feels so personal and joyous. Of course, this is one of the stories from your play “A Boy and His Soul.” that you wrote, Colman, and performed a number of years ago. Why was this the story that you all pulled out to make this short?

Colman Domingo: This story has always been sort of the centerpiece, I think, of the whole show. We were sitting around at the top of the pandemic, and people were marching for George Floyd’s murder. We were just at home thinking of creative ways to put some joy and light into the world. Honestly, I think that’s what we do as artists, and we feel like that’s our job. That’s our calling. And Raul came up with this idea of adapting this short story in particular because he said it was so magical. It was doing all the things that we wanted to do and put out into the world, whether it’s images about black women or young black boys, it’s about love, it’s about inspiration, it’s for everybody.

It’s for people who love their mamas, people who need some hope in the world. They find it in music or through their imagination to overcome circumstances. So this one did everything I wanted to do, and Raul took the lead with that and really made it and wrote that adaptation of it. Because I saw it as a solo story, I saw it the way I performed it. And Raul thought it lives in a certain way, and I said, “Go ahead, take a stab at it.” And he did beautifully.

And then it’s a beautiful journey, how we found these incredible animators who wanted to work with us just by researching work out there in the world. And they had such a great point of view on it. I don’t know if it’s because they were French or something, and they were just curious about it or have a respect for soul music and families and these people. They learned to love our story as much as we love it and how it lives in us in a way.

Raul Domingo: The interesting thing about Jeff (Le Bars) and Jérémie (Balais), they were so open and how they went into creating. They stayed open, and they asked a lot of questions all the time. And, you know, Colman and I feel that we are so prepared all the time. So it was quite easy for us to equip someone to walk into a story and understand it and also to recreate it in a way from the ground up. Because this is very different from the stage play because it’s animation, and there are so many things that happen that are imaginative, and they’re sweeping, and they’re-

Colman Domingo: Flowers blooming.

Raul Domingo: Yeah, the rapid growth of plants and the way that they’re able to defy gravity, truly. That’s where all four of us connected in such a beautiful way because we were able to understand that it needed to be something magical before we even started. I think Colman and I were always really inspired by (Hayao) Miyazaki’s movies and understanding how there’s just so much magic, and then it always brings you back to reality. There is a message of bettering the world and giving more love to each other and to the world.

Colman Domingo: Yeah, Miyazaki, as you said, it’s very generous. It’s an offering that was what our intention was with this short. It was because we wanted to put something into the world for people to hold on to. Whether it’s their music, their heart, the records of their family, or people who are no longer with us, but you can still move forward, you know. That’s what our thinking was.

You started to answer the next question that I had, and I’d love to hear more. Why animation? Why did you see this story as needing to be an animated short?

Raul Domingo: When I first experienced Colman’s play back in 2005 in San Francisco, there was such a beautiful feeling to it. And in the way that I remember it 18 years ago, I remember it very cinematically. But then, at the same time, it’s the tools that he gives you as a performer, the tools that he gives to the viewer, the theater almost falls away. And that’s what the tone became. And so understanding that, how you see this particular piece and that evocative memory as a child, I think it becomes something so magical that it only lives in the animation space.

Colman Domingo: The solo show was very pared down. With the first production, it really was just me on a stage. There was some background, but I didn’t even enter that space, really. It was just my storytelling and what you imagine from the story. And the beautiful thing is Raul started to put into words what I possibly imagined. What did the world like in the mind of a child?

I wanted to ask about a couple of specific moments that really stuck out to me. There are lots of amazing ones. “Let God see you’re open for change.” Such a gorgeous line. I’m assuming those are your mom’s real words.

Colman Domingo: It’s funny because, with this short story in particular, they’re all my mother’s words. Every single one of them. I did not have to create too much around it. These were actual things my mother said to me, you know. “Let God see that you’re open for change.” And this is just a young boy and his mom on a summer’s evening just listening to music. And the things I remember about my mother at that time of her life it was very difficult. It was before my stepfather was really, truly involved, And it was just a moment of my mother being a single mother of three kids. She was doing housework as well and things like that.

I think she put a lot of energy into her children. She was like, “I want you to dream bigger than me. I want you to do things that I may not have been able to afford or do.” And so every single night when my mother said, “I want you to go to the theater like the white folks.” She wanted me to do things that she believed she didn’t have access to. So she was pouring out her love to me and my imagination and my dreams and saying I can do anything. And so that’s why for me, this is a testament to my mother’s imagination.

I remember that moment so very well, of her teaching me about the New Moon and this ritual that I’ve had for years. And what I love about that ritual is that now with this film, other people- my mother lives on because other people have this ritual as well. It’s something so simple that anyone can do it. Anyone can afford it. The moment you see the New Moon, you just hold your hand wide open, hold your purse open, and whatever you’re seeking, it will come to you. So I think that’s a very hopeful message. I think I’m a very positive human being, and I owe a lot of it to my mother. My mother set me up to believe that this world was good, and it was good for me, you know? And so I think that I’m a lucky person in that way because I believe in luck and I believe in magic. And so does Raul.

Raul Domingo: And that was the most inspiring thing, knowing Colman and his mom, how they interacted, what their relationship was, things that she taught him. This is so inspiring to know- we actually know this straight from her, but also, now, it can go and live out in the world.

What has that focus on positivity, that belief in positivity- that’s a great way to phrase it because so much in this world is so negative. But how do you feel that has guided you throughout your life as you’ve kept these lessons from your mom?

Colman Domingo: I owe and attribute success, love, and friendship so much to my mother. I’m very much a mama’s boy. And my mother and I really dreamed together, and that’s the biggest gift. We didn’t have a lot of money or anything, but we had a lot of dreams. And my mother told me she used to always dream of going to France when she was a kid. I had an opportunity as an actor to go to France, and the first thing I did was save my money after getting paid, and I brought my mother to France.

My dreams- aw, I’m getting emotional. My dreams are also your dreams. You poured your dreams into me, and I give them back to you. And so I think that it’s just the way I’ve navigated these 53 years. But it seems to have been working. And so in times of darkness and hard times and really, especially during the pandemic, I think I really doubled down on, “What can I do to put something positive in the world? What can I do to make a difference?” What can I do to help people continue to dream?” And I think this is part of it, to be honest. We created this in two years of the pandemic, and it’s just about- I want you to keep dreaming. I want you to keep going because I want to keep going because that’s all we have. Right? I don’t think I have a choice.

I think it’s just ingrained in me. My mother poured it so deeply into me. That’s me walking around in the world. I am a Pollyanna. (laughs)

That’s amazing. Another moment I wanted to ask about is the very last moment. The deep exhale at the end of this piece. Tell me about that moment. Why is that the way this piece ends?

Colman Domingo: I would say two things. At first, I didn’t understand when the animators were really pushing for this big sigh, this exhale. And Raul and I, we had a couple of conversations about it. Raul directed me and directed the rotoscope work, and I thought about “ma,” the Japanese thought about “ma,” which is that space where everything happens and nothing happens at the same time. But there’s something happening.

There’s something for you. It’s a gift; it’s a gesture; it’s something. And it does live in that space of “ma,” which is, I’m just holding my hands open, and we’re taking a collective sigh or breath. I think it’s whatever people interpret. I think it could be to say (deep breath), end of the story, or it’s a new beginning. We exhale the story. We take a collective breath. We did this together. Right. I think it says a lot.

Raul Domingo: I think the collective breath is actually because you’re watching Colman as J.J.. You’re watching Colman as his mother. You are watching Colman as Colman, as a storyteller. And I think in the 11 minutes of the film, you really identify so much with all of the characters that you become sort of connected to them. And on a very basic, very profound level. So understandably, after you see all of that and the beautiful imagery and everything that this man tells us, you take a collective breath. And the breath that the viewer takes with the storyteller is where the storyteller actually hands the story to the viewers. And that’s where you see a circle of life kind of a thing, where his mom, Colman’s mom, gave it to Colman, and then Colman gives it to you. So it’s a very subtle but very conscious thing. It’s very connected to the live performance, too.

Well, I want to ask about the two of you working together on this project. Not all happy marriages make for a happy, creative partnership. (laughs) But it seems to have worked out here. I don’t want to get too much into your personal life here, but it seems to have worked out!

Colman Domingo: (laughs) Okay, let’s see!

Why were you two the perfect partners for this project specifically? Tell me about working together on this project.

Colman Domingo: I love working with Raul. We’ve worked together for a very long time. We started informally working together, and I trust him. He’s a great dramaturg and a great editor, a great mind. And so we’re always passing scripts, read this, give me notes because he’s the one who will be very honest with me. He’ll even just say things like, “I think we should keep writing.” And I’ll know that I don’t have it yet. But I trust him. I trust his critical eye. And so we already trust each other somewhat creatively. He holds me accountable. He’ll also just argue with me.

It’s about the work and what you’re trying to accomplish with your work. It’s not personal. Even when he’s directing me, I know I could be a pain in the butt because the rotoscope takes so many hours. And the animators would send back storyboards, and Raul, where you were, in New York or whatever. We’re shooting my other series in Austin. And then Raul would have a bag of things and lighting equipment. He’d go, “Okay, ready to rotoscope?” I’m so tired. And then you have to direct me and make sure it was exactly right and got me together. But I trust him, and I know he wants the best for me.

Raul Domingo: I think, in essence, our relationship is based on the fact that we always seem not to sound like a Pollyanna, but we see the best in each other. And I think we always encourage the best in each other. Because out there, you can just step out, and you’ll be just ripped to shreds for whatever and however and whomever.

And if we are able to give this to each other, we are able to understand the world is a better place. And maybe that’s where we operate from. So where my interrogation always comes from in the creative process is that as a creator, as an artist, you know when you have reached Nirvana, so to speak. You hit that point, that sweet spot, where everything that you wanted to say is enough. And that’s how we collaborate all the time. So it’s just something that’s very natural to us.

Well, before I let you go, Colman, you have so many incredible projects coming up. First of all, do you need a nap? Are you tired?

Colman Domingo: (laughs) You know, it’s funny. People always ask me, “Oh my god, you’re constantly working.” Yeah, but I go to bed at a decent time. I get up and go work out. I make sure I have time for myself to go walk in the garden. I make sure that I live my life as well. So then, when I’m working and doing all these things, I’m fully present. I’m fully there, wherever I am. Like, I was just the voiceover for “The Color Purple.” I got in the car, got back here, and I’m fully present with you. Then I’m gonna get in the car and go back to Beverly Hills. I’m going to do a fitting and then go to dinner. But you know, I’m present wherever I am, you know? And then I sleep really hard after that. (Laughs)

Well-deserved! Well, we’re so looking forward to “The Color Purple,” “Rustin,” and everything else you’ve got coming up. On a personal note, thank you for this short again. As a dad of little ones, I just love stories of parents, like beautiful stories of parenthood, which I feel like we don’t always get that often.

Colman Domingo: We get the blaming for the parents’ story, right?

Yeah, which is some people’s valid experiences. But, you know, I just appreciate hearing the way you talk about how your mother dreamt with you. That’s really beautiful. And something that I’ll carry into parenthood with me. So I just appreciate you saying that for sure.

Colman Domingo: Man, thank you. That means the world to me.

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howathttps://nextbestpicture.com
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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