Colman Domingo shared this week what former President Barack Obama told him about his Rustin character’s influence on modern-day politics.

“President Barack Obama told me backstage when we were in D.C., ‘You know Colman, there would be no Barack Obama if there was no Bayard Rustin,’” Domingo recalled during an appearance on Today‘s Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist.

Rustin, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, tells the story of civil rights organizer and activist Bayard Rustin, who planned the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

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President Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. The film, released on Netflix in November 2023, takes place during the weeks leading up to the historic march and explores Rustin’s identity as a gay Black man.

On the news podcast, Domingo said people in his circle had been talking about him playing Rustin “for years.”

“Every so often someone would say, ‘Hey, when there’s a biopic about Bayard Rustin, this has to be you,’” he said.

Domingo added that he loves the way the film turned into a “personal” and “intimate character study” of Rustin’s humanity: “He was joyful. He was spirited. He loved to sing. He loved to dance. He loved to have cocktails.”

“I’ve always been exactly who I was as an openly gay man in this industry from the very beginning,” Domingo continued. “I trust that the universe sees me the way I see myself, without limitation, and that’s something Bayard did.”

As his roles in Rustin and this year’s The Color Purple skyrocket Domingo’s visibility, the actor says the success can sometimes feel “overwhelming.”

“I didn’t even know that this could happen for me,” he said. “I actually didn’t know. I just wanted to do good work. And then I’m suddenly in this space where all the lights are brightly shining on me. It sort of takes my breath away when I think about it, honestly. I don’t know if I could dream this big. I almost feel like it’s too much. Because it feels so incredible, in a way that I never imagined.”

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