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As season two spirals downwards, the actor speaks to Esquire about absent fathers, dancing with scene partner Zendaya and why everyone just wants to be loved
Colman Domingo has known a lot of guys like Ali: the wise-cracking but docile Narcotics Anonymous sponsor he plays on Euphoria, who is somewhere between a saviour and a father figure to Zendaya’s Rue. “Men who weren’t there for their families, and then later in life realised they made choices other than the obvious choice,” he says. “One being my natural father.”
As season two of the HBO series edges toward Rue’s rock bottom, Ali attempts to save her from making the same mistakes he did by pushing those closest to her away. The showdown between them in episode three holds up a mirror to how far Rue has fallen from their closeness during the Christmas special episode, as well as showing us a darker side to Ali as we see a flash of violence from him. On Zoom earlier this month, Domingo spoke to Esquire about the downward spiral this season takes, dancing with his scene partner Zendaya, and the men he’s known like Ali.
Tensions are high between Rue and Ali in this week’s episode, do you think the two-hander Christmas special set up what has come since?
I love that people are re-watching the special episode now because there’s a lot of foundation for season two. Ali is telling her that the disease of addiction will change you and turn you into someone that you don’t even recognise. He’s like, ‘learn from me, I know the road where this ends. You’re going to do things that are violent and hurtful, and you’re gonna wear people down.’
How do you see their dynamic, because Ali tells her in this episode that he’s “not some fucking parent you treat like shit”, but there is a paternal element to their relationship, right?
Whether it’s a surrogate father figure that Rue needs or a surrogate daughter figure that Ali is searching for, I like the idea he would like to be continuing that relationship with the two daughters he’s estranged from, and that is why he’s investing so much in Rue. Anytime we see Ali there is bit of relief. He is someone Rue can depend on and who she knows has no other motive but her wellness.
Everybody wants the same thing: everybody wants love, everybody wants to be seen, and I think that’s ultimately what the show is about.
Rue hits a sore spot by bringing up his daughters, why does that get to him so much?
I think the she understands what’s underneath [him] and went for where it hurts. She didn’t want to hear a speech, she didn’t want to hear bright, good, healthy things. The addict looks for the jugular, and she uses his pain and trauma as a weapon.
When she says “What are you going to do Ali, hit me?” he looks horrified, but is there a moment where you can see responding with violence has crossed his mind?
There’s a moment in the special when I’m telling the story about how I hit my wife in the past, and [series creator] Sam Levinson asked to see that little bit of darkness behind Ali’s eyes, so you know he’s capable doing terrible things like everybody else. I think [in this episode that] for a moment he forgets that she’s still a kid; he believed that they were on an even playing field. It just pulled that capacity to be violent right out of him.
What was it like filming an emotion scene like with Zendaya?
I remember we did that [scene] a few times and I did make [Zendaya] jump because I reached out and grabbed her in a way that we don’t do with each other. In the special episode we have such a tender moment of holding hands and being so open, and now she took it to the darkest place I feel like I can rip that suitcase out of [her] hand and shake [her]. Z and I have so much trust with each other, we sort of dance together. She’s so easy to work with because I think she comes from a deep place of empathy.
Ali reminds me of a lot of men I know who weren’t there for their families
There’s a lot more darkness in this season, has that weighed on you?
I know a lot of people who have suffered with this disease and I’m very interested in going to the depths [of addiction] because it’s so human. Thankfully I’ve never been addicted to anything, but I can understand how human it is to want to escape or soothe some pain. Sam Levinson has written complex, broken characters that you really want to root for. Everybody wants the same thing: everybody wants love, everybody wants to be seen, and I think that’s ultimately what the show is about.
Are there men you have known in your life that have inspired how you play Ali?
Ali reminds me of a lot of men I know who weren’t there for their families. For whatever reason they were doing drugs, or out in the streets, or having too much sex, you name it. I grew up in a very nuclear household: my mom, my stepfather, and my siblings. My own father was too busy out doing his own thing. I remember seeing my dad at a friend’s house a few years before he passed. He didn’t have much to say, he just held my hand. I could see that there was so much regret that he wasn’t in my life, that whatever I had become as a man was not because of him. It’s an honour to play men who are ordinary human beings trying to do good and trying to get better.
‘Euphoria’ continues on Sky Atlantic