“My rule for what I do is if I can find a way to love the person, what I have to do to be able to play them, then I have to suspend a certain kind of judgment. I grew to admire the character; poor man, trying to do it all and having a sense of himself as being above it all and being brought to earth.” Carl Lumbly on his role in “Alias” (2001-2006)
For TV audiences, actor Carl Lumbly is better known as CIA Agent Marcus Dixon, his role in the high-profile series “Alias” (2001-2006), in which he acted alongside actress Jennifer Garner. Currently, the actor is providing the voice of J’onn J’onzz/The Martian Manhunter in the now-running animated series “Justice League” (2001-?).
Embarking on his early acting career on stage, Lumbly often worked with actor Danny Glover, whom he first met at the audition for Athol Fugard’s “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” (1976) and “The Island” (1976). He later re-teamed with Glover in the movies To Sleep With Anger (1990) and the western drama Buffalo Soldiers (1997). Lumbly and Glover will also join forces in the forthcoming biopic Nujoma: Where Others Wavered (2006).
The actor, known for his commitment to the positive image of Black roles onscreen, is currently enjoying his married life with wife Vonetta McGee and their son. Admitting that he did not always have major gigs, Lumbly commented, “There are so many ‘accepted’ criteria, at least for defining your success in Los Angeles. I think you have to just establish your own criteria for yourself before you enter the town or shortly thereafter. It has to be about your personal happiness. What is it that you like about yourself that you would like to hold on to? Then be really principled about holding on to it.”
Childhood and Family:
A native Jamaican, Carl Lumbly was born on August 14, 1952, in Montego Bay. However, he grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his immigrant parents.
Inspired by his father who was an avid reader, Carl developed a special appreciation for literature and social concerns. After earning a degree in English from the Macalester College, he worked at the Associated Press in Minneapolis, wrote for several periodicals and magazines, as well as became a public relations executive for the 3M Corporation. Carl moved to San Francisco to resume his work for Associated Press but shifted gears and pursued an acting career.
As for his family life, Carl is married to Vonetta McGee, whom he first met on the set of the TV series “Cagney & Lacey” (1982). He and Vonetta also shared the screen in To Sleep With Anger (1990), playing husband and wife. The couple has a son named Brandon Lumbly (born in 1988).
Cagney & Lacey
In Minnesota, Carl Lumbly unintentionally enrolled in a public audition held by Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre, the group he was going to write about for the Associated Press. Eventually winning a coveted spot in its cast, Lumbly stayed with the company for 2 years, doing improvisational satirical comedy.
After relocating to San Francisco, he went to another audition for South African political plays and met his future acting partner, Danny Glover. They eventually got the leading roles and toured in the productions of Athol Fugard’s “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” (1976) and “The Island” (1976).
Choosing to go further in acting, Lumbly appeared as a paramedic in an episode of “Emergency” (1978) before having a movie debut in Escape From Alcatraz (1979) and a first TV movie appearance in Undercover With the KKK (1979). It brought him a more pivotal role in the sci-fi movie Lifepod (1980, as Keshah), which was ensued with the captivating starring turn in the Los Angeles Actors Theatre staging of “Eden” (1980) and in the play “The Tempest” (1981).
Fascinated by Lumbly’s performance, creators Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday cast him in the supporting part of Detective Mark Petrie in the booming TV cop drama Cagney & Lacey (1981). A year later, he reprised the role in the serial version “Cagney & Lacey” (1982-1988). On stage, he played Theseus in the musical production “The Gospel at Colonus” (1983), a role he recreated in the TV revival The Gospel at Colonus (1985).
Lumbly, who in 1984 appeared in the sci-fi fantasy movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, portrayed Bobby Seale in the court docudrama Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8 (1987, TV). He also had the turn of Narvel Blue in the romantic drama Everybody’s All-American (1988) before performing at the New York Shakespeare Festival in the stage revival of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1988). During 1989-1990, the actor made a recurring performance as murder suspect Earl Williams in the legal drama series “L.A. Law.”
In 1990, Lumbly also worked with wife Vonetta McGee and longtime partner Danny Glover in the drama To Sleep With Anger, directed and written by Charles Burnett. He continued working with McGee in the television film Brother Future (1991), where he starred as Denmark Vesey. After being cast as Dr Michael Norris in the short-lived ABC series “Going to Extremes” (1992) and making episodic performance in “Tribeca” (1993), Lumbly accepted the lead role of Dr. Miles Hawkins, a brilliant, wheelchair-bound scientist-turned-superhero, in the TV movie M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994). Soon, he reprised the scientist role in the serial version (1994).
On the small screen, the performer rejoined director Charles Burnett in The Disney Channel movie Nightjohn (1996, had the titular role of a literate slave), re-teamed with Danny Glover in the western drama Buffalo Soldiers (1997), played jazz musician Lute McNeill in Burnett’s The Wedding (1998) and appeared as Detective Mollo in the underrated Border Line (1999). After taking a break, Lumbly resurfaced on stage with the off-Broadway play “Jitney” (2000) for director August Wilson.
Subsequent to his performance as Congressman Ron Dellums in The Color of Friendship (2000, TV), Lumbly accepted the supporting role of CIA Agent Marcus Dixon, a former field partner and supervisor to agent Sydney Bristow (played by Jennifer Garner), in the international series “Alias” (2001-2006), created by J.J. Abrams. Aside from the landmark role, the actor also expanded his fame to younger audiences by providing his voice for J’onn J’onzz/The Martian Manhunter, a superhero character in the animated series “Justice League” (2001-?).
In 2006, Lumbly will carry out the titular role of the first president of Namibia and former president of the South West African People’s Organization, Sam Nujoma, in the biopic Nujoma: Where Others Wavered (2006). In the upcoming drama, he will reunite with director/screenwriter Charles Burnett and fellow actor Danny Glover.