From stage to screen, Carl Lumbly is an actor respected for his steadfast talent, versatility and class. His prolific career includes over 50 credits in television, film and the theatre and extensive critical acclaim.
He portrayed CIA agent ‘Marcus Dixon,’ the gentle, mild-mannered field partner to agent ‘Sydney Bristow’ (Jennifer Garner) on ABC’s fast-paced drama series, “Alias,” for five seasons. More recently, he had a recurring role on the TNT cop drama, “Southland,” where he played an old-school, no-nonsense LAPD Captain.
Lumbly has most recently landed a role in the ensemble cast of A&E’s upcoming suspense series “The Returned.” The show focuses on a small town that is turned upside down when several local people, who have long been presumed dead, suddenly reappear, bringing them into positive and detrimental consequences. Lumbly plays ‘Pastor Leon Wright,’ a kindly, perceptive man and minister of the local church.
For the stage, Lumbly is currently starring in the San Francisco Playhouse’s Regional Premiere of “Tree,” by Julie Hebert and directed by Jon Tracy. “Tree” is the story of three generations divided by race, culture and time. Performances will run January 20 – March 7, 2015.
In 2003, Lumbly starred Off-Broadway at Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre in the Pershing Square Signature Center in “stop. reset,” directed by Regina Taylor. “stop. reset.” tells the story of ‘Alex Ames’ (Lumbly), the owner of Chicago’s oldest African-American book publishing company. As e-books begin to outsell printed copies, ‘Ames’ must question his employees to determine who is still relevant in a rapidly changing world.
Earlier in 2003, Lumbly starred in the San Francisco Playhouse’s West Coast Premiere of the raucous comedy, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” directed by Bill English. Carl played drug and parole counselor ‘Ralph D.,’ the role Chris Rock played on Broadway in 2011.
Lumbly previously starred in the San Francisco Playhouse’s production of “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train,” also directed by Bill English. In an article on notable theater performances of 2007, The San Francisco Bay Guardian proclaimed, “There was Alias’s Carl Lumbly, skipping rope like a welterweight throughout his opening monologue…a world-class actor….the moments when Lumbly’s upbeat, ever-hopeful death-row sociopath played unlikely mentor to a young neophyte out of his depth were truly prime time.” For his remarkable performance, he was honored with a San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for Best Performance by an Actor. Lumbly was also featured in the 2010 San Francisco Playhouse production of Cormac McCarthy’s “Sunset Limited.”
He also starred in the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s (LHT) production of British playwright Joe Penhall’s comedy drama “Blue/Orange” in San Francisco. He portrayed an enigmatic psychiatric patient who claimed to be the son of an African dictator – a story that becomes more and more unnervingly plausible as the play progresses. The production ran from February 5 through March 18, 2012.
Lumbly was born in Minnesota, the son of Jamaican immigrants. His father was an avid reader, which inspired Lumbly’s early appreciation for literature. After graduating from Macalester College with a degree in English, he landed a job writing for the Associated Press in Minneapolis. He also supplemented his income by doing freelance writing assignments for various periodicals and magazines.
While on assignment for a story on Dudley Rigg’s Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre, Lumbly attended a public audition and was handed an audition card. “I thought it would be a great perspective from which to write the story,” he says. After a three-week audition process, the company offered Lumbly a coveted spot in its cast. He stayed for two years doing improvisational comedy flavored with political satire. “It was a good fit for me,” he says. “I liked the ‘something from nothingness’ of it. Sometimes it was actually clever and funny, sometimes not…but it always attempted to address something.”
Lumbly moved to San Francisco intending to continue his work as a journalist for Associated Press. Just two days after arriving in San Francisco, he came across a newspaper ad seeking “two black actors for South African political plays.” He went to the audition and met the other actor already cast — an unknown Danny Glover. Lumbly landed the part and toured with Glover in productions of Athol Fugard’s “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” and “The Island.”
The plays brought Lumbly to Los Angeles, where he signed with an agent, followed by a move to New York. He landed his first significant on-screen role in a movie-of-the-week, “Cagney and Lacey,” which turned into the hit series. Lumbly starred as ‘Detective Mark Petrie’ for the show’s seven-year run. It was on this show where he met and married the acclaimed actress, Vonetta McGee.
Lumbly has earned a variety of awards and nominations for his work. His versatility spans a range of characters, from his NAACP Image Award-nominated work in TNT’s “Buffalo Soldiers,” produced by Danny Glover, to a wealthy, black entrepreneur in “Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Wedding,” starring opposite Halle Berry. Then there was “M.A.N.T.I.S.” in which Lumbly played an independently wealthy paraplegic scientist/crimefighter, which marked the first black superhero on series television. He starred in the Showtime telefilm “Just a Dream,” directed by Danny Glover, about a 12-year-old doctor’s son and his unlikely relationship with a rodeo cowboy/auto mechanic (Lumbly).
Lumbly’s extensive feature credits include his role opposite Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Men of Honor,” portraying the father of the first black diver in U.S. Navy history. In “Everybody’s All-American” with Jessica Lange and Dennis Quaid, Lumbly starred as a former football player affected by the segregated South. Other film credits include “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “South Central,” “Pacific Heights,” “To Sleep With Anger,” “The Bedroom Window,” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” and “Caveman.” More recently, he starred as ‘Sam Nujoma’ in “Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation.” Written and directed by Charles Burnett, the film was based on the autobiography of Sam Nujoma, first President of Namibia and former President of SWAPO (South West African People’s Organization), and also stars Danny Glover.
For television, Lumbly starred in the telefilms “Color of Friendship” (directed by Kevin Hooks), “Little Richard,” “On Promised Land,” “The Ditchdigger’s Daughters,” “Nightjohn” and more recently “Sounder,” ABC’s telefilm remake of the 1972 classic. “Sounder” tells the story of a 1930s sharecropper family trying to survive under devastatingly difficult circumstances.
Of his critically-acclaimed performance in “Sounder,” the Houston Chronicle stated, “Carl Lumbly plays ‘Father’, and his performance is a stunner: Dignity and anguish come together to touch your heart.” According to director Kevin Hooks (one of the stars of the original film), Lumbly is “one of the most underrated actors out there.” Hooks also believes that Lumbly is “the epitome of sensitivity and compassion as an artist, and it spills over into the characters he’s playing.”
He has also made numerous guest-starring appearances on such series as “The West Wing,” “ER,” “The X-Files” and “L.A. Law.”
Lumbly also starred as the voice of action hero ‘J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter,’ in the Cartoon Network’s animated series “Justice League.” The series followed the adventures of the greatest superhero team of all time.
Lumbly works out regularly to keep in shape for his demanding roles. In his free time, he enjoys writing, as well as working in his garden, running, playing basketball and doggedly lowering his handicap in golf.