OMG, he was in the stage show, Bye Bye Birdie!” I scream with frenzy to myself as I scan over Cole Doman’s resume after viewing his performance in the thoughtful coming-of-age film, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party. Yours truly was also in Bye Bye Birdie!
When I was fifteen, I auditioned for a summer stock troupe, Kenley Players, in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I landed the part of a Sweet Apple, Ohio kid—joining the supporting cast of dancers and singers—and the stars Gene Barry and Totie Fields. Now I know you youngsters have no idea who these iconic entertainers were, so Google ’em!
My god, doing the show was a blast, but demanding. It was then that I decided not to pursue an acting career. Lordie, actors work hard! I tip my hat to Cole Doman.
His portrayal of Henry Gamble is honest and poignant. A native of Philly, Cole started acting as a kid. Now living in Chicago (but by the time you read this, Cole’s new home will be Los Angeles), he graduated from the School at Steppenwolf, and received his BFA from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. In 2014, The Chicago Tribune named him one of the 10 Hot Faces of Chicago Theatre.
Cole’s wholesome apple pie looks have been on display in the television series Shameless
and American Gods. He’s presently on location with the film, Midnights at the Sad Captain. The young thespian generously supports Broadway Cares and he’s participated in the Chicago AIDS Run & Walk.
Ms. Ruby is in Chicago visiting TPAN (Test Positive Aware Network), an all-encompassing AIDS organization, which was founded by seventeen gay guys in 1989. Next month, don’t miss their annual event, Barlesque—a strip-a-thon for businesses (read more about it). The proceeds support AIDS services.
One evening, Cole takes me to Big Star for fish tacos. Afterwards, we walk across the street to Blue Line and have a dirty vodka martini, his favorite.
Ruby Comer: [Biting into my fish taco] You know, I like the name Cole. Were you named after anyone?
Cole Doman: I was named after Nat King Cole. My mom was a huge fan. His music was a big part of my childhood, along with listening to cast recordings of Cabaret and Rent and a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber, too.
Your mom has excellent taste! Love Nat and his daughter, Natalie, too, who passed way too quickly.
[A fan as well, Cole nods in agreement.] My mom used to be an actress, so theater was always part of my childhood. My sister and I are both actors now, and we did our first professional show together called Peter Pan & Wendy at the Prince Music Theatre. I was nine; she was ten.
Did your mom influence you to pursue acting?
My mom has always been my hero. I look at anything she does with serious admiration and awe. Her energy and charisma light up any room she’s in. Who wouldn’t want to be like her?
Indeed. You have an uber mom there….
She’s my biggest fan, Ruby, but also keeps me grounded. She understands the discipline involved [in acting]. She challenges me—which is a gift.
You two have a special relationship, how lovely. I’m curious, what do you do in your spare time, Cole?
I love shopping for and sporting eighties and nineties vintage clothing.
Eighties and nineties….vintage??! Lordie Lu, that makes me feel ancient! Vintage to me means fifties or sixties—oy! [He smiles.] Say, how did you first hear about the epidemic?
When my mother was working as an actress in New York City in the 1980s, she lost a lot of loved ones to the disease. It was a large part of my mother’s life and so she was vocal about it while I was growing up. [He looks down for a moment.] For me the epidemic means loss.
Tell me what spurred you to participate in Chicago’s AIDS Run & Walk?
I have a few friends who are HIV-positive and I wanted to help them and serve my community, and so I got a bunch of friends together to walk.
(I applaud.) When did you first get tested?
I was around eighteen. Oh, Ruby, I was incredibly anxious, even though I knew what the results were going to be. It takes courage [to get tested], but everyone needs to do it.
Have you always played safe?
Yes, definitely! [He answers abruptly, his baby blues wide-eyed.]
[Walking across the street to Blue Line, the sun sets, there’s streaks of neon pink blazing the sky.] Earlier you told me you were single. When you date, how do you bring up the issue of STDs?
Honestly, I don’t date often. But it’s something that always needs to be addressed. Living as a queer person today, it’s not something that can be ignored. We don’t have the luxury of not knowing.
You said a mouthful, boy! Have you ever dated anyone who was HIV-positive?
No, but it’s not a deal breaker for me.
Now your character, Henry, was raised Evangelical Christian. What religion were you brought up?
Although I was raised Catholic, I wouldn’t identify myself as a Christian today, but I’m very open to spirituality.
Me too. Went to parochial school but don’t profess any religion now. What was your favorite scene to shoot in Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party?
It was the opening scene with [actor] Joe Keery. It was also the scene I was the most nervous to shoot. [Close camera work.] It was probably my longest scene in the movie, so there was a lot of room for error. Not to mention, by the end of the scene I was going to be masturbating into a sock on camera.
OMIGOSH, that’s right. I forgot about that scene….
That terrified me, but Stephen [Cone, director] and Joe made it comfortable. We had a few laughs, and got the job done—no pun intended. [He leans against the bar.] Many of us [from the cast] still stay in touch.
I’m sure you all became “family” for several weeks while you were shooting the film. Getting back to the epidemic, do you and your friends ever discuss the disease?
It’s a sensitive subject, but we’re all comfortable talking about it. Being positive becomes a huge part of a person’s identity, so it makes sense to address it. Plus, the more it’s swept under the rug, the more shame and ignorance grows.
Can you address the rise of HIV infection in your generation…?
People my age have never lived in a world without HIV and AIDS [he says quietly then adds] That’s…crazy…to…think… about, Ruby. Because of this, there are a lot of LGBTQ youths who think that it’s a controllable disease and they assume they’re less at risk. Of course, all the stats and numbers prove them wrong.
Right! It’s a myth. [I sternly say with a staccato pitch.]
Once we remove the stigma from HIV, the less likely it will be ignored. Ignorant people who don’t know the realities of the disease have placed it on the LGBTQ community. [He takes a hardy inhale.] This kind of thinking leads to self-destruction within our community and helps spread the disease. [He takes a sip of his drink.] Ruby, these people need to be made aware! Let’s you and I spread awareness together…. [We clink our glasses together in a toast.]
I’ll hold you to that toast, Cole!
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].