Blake DeLong, a Dallas native, is a rising star on Broadway, Netflix, Amazon, network TV and the big screen.
A few years ago, New York City-based director Danya Taymor called DeLong one afternoon and asked, “Ready to be in a Spike Lee joint?”
But this was, of course, after years of bartending, babysitting and boring bank jobs.
DeLong grew up in Dallas, in a pleasant, upper-middle class home, he says, with supportive, inspirational parents who set the work ethic bar high.
He regularly starred in Lake Highlands plays and musicals and at some point was in a band (he murmurs the latter). Everyone, including his parents, assumed he would study theater arts at the University of Texas.
Instead, he majored in history and only participated recreationally in Austin community theater.
“It might be the only time ever parents were baffled and disappointed that their kid didn’t go to college and study theater,” he says.
But DeLong wasn't a fool with dreams — he was simply scared and understood how tough it would be to make acting his profession.
While earning this higher education in history, DeLong starred in a short feature film directed by graduate school filmmaker and screenwriter Matt Muir.
After the feeling of success from that film — and an entire group of faculty members willing to pay for his tuition if he promised to continue studying performing arts in grad school — DeLong was officially bit with the acting bug.
With little savings, resources or contacts, he moved to New York City, where he secured an agent and began traveling all over the country for monthlong local production runs.
When he would return to New York, he would tend bar, babysit and suffer one rejection after another. A buddy helped him acquire a job in a bank cubicle, servicing customers by telephone, but after he’d met the day’s quotas, he would surf the net and email friends.
When they fired him, he says he cried like a baby.
"I had never been so humiliated, dejected, despondent," he says. "Here I’m a 30-year-old dude with ambitions to act — a calling, I thought. And I am bawling to my mom on the phone because I just got canned from a telemarketing gig."
He just might be the world's biggest loser. Or so he spent the night believing.
But the next day he decidedly was not such a loser, because his agent called to announce he landed a spot in a commercial. He would appear in the spot alongside Ozzy Osbourne and Justin Bieber. Oh, and it would premiere during the 2011 Super Bowl. Beats phone banks and diaper changes.
DeLong resolved right then to be an actor. There would be no thoughts of going home and no plan B.
DeLong’s next role was in Off Broadway's unexpectedly popular musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. That led to a few more roles before Off-Broadway’s Othello, in which DeLong performed alongside Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo — who played Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oscar-nominated Selma.
In 2011's We Need to Talk About Kevin, DeLong played alongside Tilda Swinton, who DeLong says, is “freakishly nice” and if someone as amazing and talented and cool as Swinton is nice to a newcomer, that's proof that “no one has an excuse to be an asshole."
This year, at the Sundance Film Festival, DeLong appeared in two features: Sister Aimee and Late Night — both movies address gender issues in eras far removed from one another (one's a period piece).
DeLong will also appear in the upcoming Netflix series When They See Us, a series about The Central Park Five, about the 1989 Central Park jogger case. He calls the job one of the greatest honors of his life.
A pattern has been developing. After he married a fiery, socially active woman from Spain, he says she opened his eyes to societal ills he'd never considered while growing up in his affluent white Dallas subdivision. He began using social media platforms to speak up about racial and socioeconomic injustice, gender issues and more.
Simultaneously he was securing — perhaps attracting — roles in productions focused on gender, politics, race, civil rights — that sort of stuff.
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He laughs at the idea of being in a position where he could pick and choose roles, and he would not turn down a big box-office-busting super hero flick, but, yes, he was connecting with these meaningful, timely, provocative portrayals.
It was a seminal one about which he stood in his Brooklyn home, speaking to the stage director Taymor.
He says Spike Lee wanted to adapt her production of playwright Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over as a film, which would become an Amazon Prime exclusive. And Taymor wanted DeLong in it.
"Yes, please," he says.