Thursday, February 28, 2013

In Character: Delroy Lindo

It says something of an actor who can capture the angst of Spike Lee, the vernacular of David Mamet, the humility of Lasse Hallström and the badassery of, well, anyone. But that’s Delroy Lindo. Made famous by delivering three stellar performances in Spike Lee films, Lindo has subtly been adding weight to “bigger” names for the better part of 20 years. Possessed with an undeniable charm, the ability to flex sudden terror, and a smile that can play as so many things, Lindo is one of the finest actors to have been involved in Spike Lee’s troupe. And any other troupe, for that matter.

Five Essential Roles
Crooklyn (1994)
Woody Carmichael
Since Crooklyn’s release in 1994, Spike Lee has maintained that it is, and will remain, the most autobiographical film of his career. Lee’s father was a carefree jazz musician with a blasé attitude. Lee’s mother was a strict disciplinarian who kept her five children in line, and battled her husband often on his relaxed parenting methods. To bring these people to life, Lee very wisely casted Alfre Woodard (perfect as Lee’s mother’s screen persona) and Delroy Lindo as the father figure.

Lindo’s performance is best summed up during an extended argument that he and Woodard have one evening. The argument starts slow, and concerns Woody’s inability to monitor his expenses. But then it slowly, organically, horrifically grows into a screaming match of wit and stubborn confidence. It’s one of the better feats of both Lindo and Woodard’s respective careers, and that is certainly saying something.

Clockers (1995)
Rodney Little
Rodney Little, perhaps better than any other performance on this list, is a perfect summation of everything Delroy Lindo can bring to a performance. As the drug lord of a small section of Brooklyn, Rodney is the type of guy who ropes you in young, and before long, has you slinging and risking your life. He elects to hold up in one of his front business while the kids are out earning him cash money. He does this through gentle manipulation, which naturally grows to fierce determination. When Rodney asks you to do something, he isn’t asking, he’s telling in the kindest way possible. Kind though he may be, there’s no debating what will happen if you cross him. The screenshot I’ve used to highlight Lindo’s performance here is the most ferocious scene of the actor’s career. From smooth operator to hardened criminal, within a matter of seconds.

Get Shorty (1995)
Bo Catlett
I love the hell out of Get Shorty. I love its farcical tone, its relaxed attitude toward violence, John Travolta’s confident slyness – just everything. And indeed, Lindo only adds to my appreciation of the movie. Playing a suave drug dealer who’s more concerned about keeping his white carpet spotless than anything else, Lindo brings his signature effortless charm to a movie chock full of it. There’s one very minor scene in Get Shorty that I absolutely adore. It’s the first time Travolta and Lindo meet. Lindo and his partner enter Gene Hackman’s office and sit across a desk from Travolta. At one point, Travolta mockingly asks Lindo, “Okay, am I talking to you, or I am talking to him, because this is getting confusing.”

Lindo smiles bright, stares right at Travolta and says, “You can talk to me.” It’s a smile and line delivery that says everything about Bo Catlett. On one hand, he’s pissed by Travolta’s purposeful arrogance, but on the other, Lindo smiles as if to say, “Damn, I kind of like this guy.” A brief but perfect moment.

The Cider House Rules (1999)
Arthur Rose
There’s really no need to mention this, but, for the record, I loathe The Cider House Rules. Its sentimentality, its uneven acting, its general attitude – just not a film for me. A glimmer of hope? Delroy Lindo. This is a tricky argument, because I detest how this film handles acts committed by Lindo’s character, but I love the way Lindo plays it. Right now, I consider Lindo’s restrained, forgiving Arthur Rose to be a very worthy performance by a tremendous actor. With a better script, it could’ve been an Oscar worthy performance by a tremendous actor. As always, Lindo does what he can with the script, and for that, I value the actor even more. But damn, there was more to flesh out here.

Heist (2001)
Bobby Blane
Mamet speak ain’t an easy thing. There’s a cadence, a rhythm, a vibe to it that would (and should) intimidate most actors. Few players are ballsy enough to take Mamet’s words on, some succeed gloriously, others fail miserably. I’ll gladly place Lindo in the former category, as his Bobby Blane is one of my all time favorite Mamet characters. Blane doesn’t have a big Mamet moment (say, in the way Baldwin or Pacino do in Glengarry Glen Ross), but that’s hardly an issue. Instead, he turns Blane into an everyday badass who talks the talk and walks the walks to utter perfection. In the film, he plays right hand man to Gene Hackman’s Joe Moore. He knows exactly when to push his friend, when to back off, and precisely how to rattle cages in the most effective way possible.

“You know why the chicken crossed the road? Because the road crossed the chicken.”


The Best of the Best
Malcolm X (1992)
West Indian Archie
Full disclosure: I had a difficult time choosing whether Lindo’s fierce work in Clockers was better than his slice of bravado in Malcolm X. Both are flawless performances, for very different reasons. And while I uphold the notion that Clockers gives Lindo the opportunity to tap into every one of his skills, there’s something about West Indian Archie that has never escaped my mind. As a sly Harlem gangster always looking to make good on a hustle, Archie was the man responsible for teaching Malcolm X (who was then Malcolm Little) the ropes. He taught him how to dress, how to move, how to do drugs, steal, and live like a gangster. It’s clear from the first moment they meet, that Archie considers Malcolm a surrogate son. He takes him under his wing, and they take to the streets like kings.

Now, because of the copious amounts of liquor drunk and cocaine inhaled, when Malcolm and Archie have a falling out over a bit of money, Archie won’t relent that he’s lost. But in a scene that captures the best of a Lindo transformation, we watch as a friendship is shattered within seconds. (Watch the movie again, and you’ll see that Malcolm is right, and Archie did owe him money.)

West Indian Archie is indeed a memorable pusher, but like most characters in Malcolm X, Lindo is given a chance to reinvent himself later in the picture. In a scene of utter devastation, Malcolm X (now in all his X angst and glory) visits Archie in his shitty Bronx apartment. When he enters the room, Archie is hunched over in a chair, barely able to form a sentence. Years of drugs and booze and crime have worn him down, and here’s what’s left. The moment these two share together is one of the best, most delicate touches in a film that’s as wildly unpredictable as the man it’s titled after. Two actors at the top of their game, holding one another and bidding farewell. That’s acting.

Other Notable Roles
In The Chicago Code
Congo (1995)
Broken Arrow (1996)
Ransom (1996)
A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
The Last Castle (2001)
Dominio (2005)
Lackawanna Blues (2005)
Kidnapped (2006-2007)
The Chicago Code (2011)

Previous installments of In Character include:
Steve Buscemi
John Cazale
Don Cheadle
Patricia Clarkson
Cliff Curtis
Jeff Daniels
Viola Davis
the Cast of Django Unchained
Michael Clarke Duncan
Chiwetel Ejiofor
William Fichtner
Ralph Fiennes
Brendan Gleeson
Bruce Greenwood
Philip Baker Hall
Woody Harrelson
John Hawkes
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Richard Jenkins
Erland Josephson
Elias Koteas
Heath Ledger
the Cast of Lincoln
William H. Macy
Margo Martindale
Christopher McDonald
Alfred Molina
David Morse
Emily Mortimer
Gary Oldman
Jason Patric
Guy Pearce
Kevin Pollak
Joe Pantoliano
John C. Reilly
Sam Rockwell
Campbell Scott
Michael Shannon
David Strathairn
Tilda Swinton
Danny Trejo
Stanley Tucci
Emily Watson
Shea Whigham
Ray Winstone
Jeffrey Wright
Steve Zahn


  1. Great post Alex! I definitely remember Mr. Lindo in his supporting roles, though I haven't seen a lot of his work. The Cider House Rules is quite heartbreaking, I remembered him in that one the most. I love your 'In Character' posts, looking forward to who you'll highlight next :D

    1. Thanks! He's SO heartbreaking in Cider House Rules. I'm not a fan of that film, but he kills it there.

      Thanks so much for your kind comments about the series. Really glad you enjoy it!

  2. Delroy Lindo. Great fucking actor. Heist was on TV this morning. The scenes he had with Gene Hackman are brilliant. It was as if he got to play a role where he can be an equal to Hackman and be the badass.

    1. Hell yeah man. I fucking love Heist. He made Mamet's words sing so well. Hope Mamet casts him again someday.

  3. Awesome name, awesome actor! Sadly, "Gone in 60 Seconds" comes to my mind first when I think of Lindo. Remember him in "The Core"? Goofy sci-fi flick but his character was great. You know an actor is good when he can make a movie like that better.

    1. You're right, he does have an awesome name! Ha. I barely remember The Core, but I do remember liking him in it. He's pretty good in Gone in 60 Seconds too, no doubt.

  4. It's nice to see his performances in Malcolm X and The Cider House Rules on here. The rest I haven't seen, which always happens with these posts. ;)

    I need to check out Crooklyn and Clockers soon.

    1. Cool that you've seen some of them though! Beyond his performance in Crooklyn, there's not much motivating me to recommend that film. Pretty average. Clockers is great though.

  5. I don't remember the movie Cider House Rules very well ... saw it many years ago. But I do remember Lindo and what he did to his daughter. :-( It must've been the most memorable part of the movie.

    Just curious, why did you deplore the way the film handled the situation with Lindo and his daughter? As I said, I don't remember it well, but if you talk about it I'm sure it will jog my memory.

    1. His character arc is definitely the most memorable part of Cider House Rules. Actually, I'd argue it's the only real worthy part of the film.

      I think the film handles the daughter situation with a VERY blasé attitude.


      "I know you got your daughter pregnant, Arthur."
      "You don't know nothin' about it."
      "Ho could you do that?"
      (Arthur storms off)

      And that's about as confrontational as it gets. The entire fucking crew knows he's raping his daughter, but everyone's kind of like "meh" about it. But, hey, it's okay, because she kills him, so all's right in the world. Yeah, I really don't like that movie.

    2. Thanks -- I don't recall specifics, but it does resonate with what I remember about that movie.

      Possible Spoilers

      I think I remember having the sense that the tragedy of the incest and the girl's pregnancy was just tacked onto the story to give the protagonist (the Tobey Maguire kid) a reason to change his views about performing abortions, which I guess was supposed to be a big part of *his* character arc. Really did *not* work for me.

    3. Yep, me either. But I'm not much a Hallström fan to begin with. I do enjoy My Life as a Dog, but his American features are far too sentimental for me. He does seem to be cashing in on the Nicholas Sparks market so... more power to him.

  6. I would have picked the Clockers role because he dominates that movie in the best way possible. Lindo is the type of actor that typically plays low key, so watching him exert his will on everyone is incredible. That said, the Malcolm X character is also great and really anchors that section of the movie. It's nice to see some love for Get Shorty, which is a fun movie. Lindo's deadpan delivery of "You don't know me, you only think you do" is pitch-perfect, and the whole performance is good fun.

    1. It really was a toss up for me, but I hope people get that I think he is equally good in both films, and for such different reasons.

      Clockers flexes his full intensity while Malcolm X conveys his bravado and tenderness. A great actor all around.