Acting Up

It comes down to choice, with Da’Vine Joy Randolph

Episode 3

As we head into Oscars weekend, Black Hollywood has much to be proud of in 2024.  Danielle Brooks, Sterling K. Brown, Colman Domingo, Jeffrey Wright, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph all earned nominations.  On this episode of Acting Up, Cortney Wills chats with Best Supporting Actress nominee Da’Vine Joy Randolph about her role as Mary Lamb in “The Holdovers.”   Da’Vine also shares the wisdom she gained on a path through Yale, to roles in “The Idol” and “Dolemite is My Name” and as the voice of Mama Luna from “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” and Sheila B in “Trolls World Tour.” The Academy Awards airs Sunday, March 10th, at 7 p.m. ET/4p.m. PT

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 24: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, winner of the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role award for ‘The Holdovers’ poses in the press room during the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on February 24, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Full Transcript Below:

Cortney Wills: Hello, and welcome to Acting Up, the podcast that dives deep into the world of TV and film that highlights our people, our culture, and our stories. I’m your host, Cortney Wills, Entertainment Director at theGrio, and today we’re sitting down with Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Da’Vine is having quite a year thanks to her amazing portrayal of Mary Lamb in “The Holdovers.”

She also played Mahalia Jackson in “Rustin”, but right now she’s getting a ton of attention for that Holdovers role where she earned a nod for Best Supporting Actress. I caught up with a 37-year-old beauty a couple months back. Before all of the awards hubbub had started but I held on to this conversation because something told me, we’d be wanting to talk about her come Oscar season and here we are. She’s up for Best Supporting Actress and she’s not the only beautiful Black talent in that category Danielle Brooks Also scored a nod for her role as Sophia in The Color Purple.

Da’Vine is one of those actors that right when you meet them, you know there is just something special. I remember the first time I sat down with her back in, gosh, what was it? It must have been 2019 when she was Lady Reed in Dolomite Is My Name. And I wrote an editorial back then saying, I think we are witnessing a star being born.

And boy, was I right. She is so dynamic. She’s able to play so many different kinds of characters. Some of the roles that you might not realize she was behind was, she was Sheila B in “Trolls World Tour,” which my kids love. She was Rosalyn in the “United States versus Billie Holiday.” And she also voiced Mama Luna in “Puss in Boots, The Last Wish.”

So I’m a fan because of her more dramatic and comedy roles, my kids are fans because they love her voice and the characters that she’s portrayed in animated projects. And I’m so excited to catch up with her to find out how she’s handling all of this attention. what it feels like to finally be recognized for work that she’s been putting in for a long time.

This is an actor’s actor. She’s not someone you’re going to read about a ton in the headlines, but you’re going to read a lot about her art. She’s a Yale grad and here’s what she had to say.

Hi, Da’Vine. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Hi, nice to meet you. 

Cortney Wills: You know, I actually met you, when you did “Dolemite is my Name” and we had a really great conversation and I remember telling you, but also like my colleagues at the time, like, oh my gosh, I just met this. And she is so amazing. I like, can’t wait to see where her career is going to go. Like, I, I just remember having that very, overwhelming vision of what I thought you were about to do in this industry. And it’s been just a few years since then. And so far, I mean, My gosh, did you not disappoint every role that I see you in? I just love it. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.

Cortney Wills: You’re welcome. Gosh, I have so many things that I want to talk to you about. But obviously, the holdovers and your performance in it is something that I cannot wait to share with my listeners and our audience. I thought that it was like watching just a masterclass. in acting. Did you, when you first saw that script, what was it about that character that you felt you could bring something special to?

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Well, I think for me, in looking at the script, the first thing that I noticed was that, there was actual stuff for me to do and stuff on the page. You know, oftentimes I have to be having ongoing conversations with the creatives of how we can potentially fill out this role more, not for the sake of more lines, but to be authentic, to be accurate, to have, you know, a fully realized multi-complex character.

And so the biggest thing I think that I immediately noticed that I was like, “Oh, they’ve already created stuff for her to do. I don’t have to come in and a fight,” not a fight, but you know what I mean? And I don’t want to come in in that manner. And yeah, it was, it was… It was a blast. I mean, I don’t know.

What did I bring? I, I respect and revere all the characters that I play because I understand how priceless, invaluable it is to have this opportunity. my biggest thing that I’m always potentially griping on is just, quality. So to have been able to create this role at this level of filmmakers and creatives with the likes of Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne, I was so overjoyed that the world, the critics, the elite as well, you know, would see this role being done.

This is the lane that I want to, in regards to the quality of work, I feel like I’ve been putting in the years, so that this space, right, because I feel like there’s only a few women in this industry that get this opportunity thus far, the Darajis, the Violas, they got I may be forgetting other people, but off the top of my head, that’s four women. That’s insane to me. so I’m grateful to be able to portray a beautiful character at this level of platform. 

Cortney Wills: Yes. And I think the character was so beautiful. And what struck me most about her was just, it was the authenticity. And I felt like. You know, she, aside from her very specific journey and kind of struggle that she was in, she was just so representative for me of so many Black women that I know.

 Sometimes the Black woman that I feel like, but just the, the, you have no idea what’s going on in here and what I’m still out here having to do and doing, and sometimes making it look like I’m not right, like fighting these enormous. battles and I saw her strength and her vulnerability. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Quietly.

Cortney Wills: Yes. Yes. And it was empowering in a way. It was very empowering for me, to see that. And I think also like what you were saying about getting to this place where this is kind of the caliber and quality of work that you now have the opportunity to do is huge and it’s not common. it’s really not supposed to happen, right?

Like by the rules of. How this game has been played for such a long time. It should take you a lot longer and you, you know, might have had to do a whole bunch more of maybe not up to, to par roles to get these opportunities. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: From the very beginning of my, listen, I started off as a classically trained opera singer. This wasn’t even supposed to be my lane. Right. When I then did get into this art form, I only had a little bit of time. It was my junior year, I transferred majors. I then had essentially one year to begin to start learning acting. I was very fortunate to work with the dean. He then signed me up and put in applications for me for, graduate school.

Yale was my first audition. I say this to say I was a baby. I knew nothing of acting. And when I went, yeah, I was my first one. But of all of them, I went to them, you know, when you do the final callback and you have the interview and they’re like, you know, what are you looking to get out of this program?

And I said to them, “I want to have a skill set. In which I have the ability to portray, for example, Juliet and Romeo and Juliet. And no matter what I physically look like, you believe me based off of my skill.” Every school made a comment that, ‘Okay, girl, whatever. Let, you know what I mean? Let’s stick to, August Wilson, whatever.’

Yeah. Yale was the only one that was like, “Absolutely. And that’s exactly what we’re about.” Then when I was in school, as it was told to me, every two weeks, every Friday on the dot, I would go into my dean’s office and be like, listen, this is the standard that I want, because I was the only Black female in my class.

This is a standard that I want. There was only other one other girl, and she was from Puerto Rico. So that was it. Of females, that was it. And we had two Black guys. So I have always, if that makes sense, that’s why I’m sharing it, to say I’ve always been very aware of, and I used to be crying in his office being like, I don’t want to be the Pine Sol lady, I don’t want to, you know what I mean, like a cartoon, a stereotype, that scared me. It scared me, especially, I’ll take it another step further, being a curvy Black woman, that then was somehow, some way of, then I won’t be taken seriously, or I’m only the, in comedic roles, or the joke. I am the subject of the joke.

No. So, since the very beginning, and I appreciate you saying this, since school, I’ve been on this, right? Then when I get out into the real world, and they did, the school prepared me, I will say that. Then I get out into the real world, I’m still being very clear when I’m interviewing with agencies.

“Listen. You may think I’m that girl based on how I look. I’m not that girl. This is who I am. Instead, if you’re with it, cool, we can rock. If not, there’s no problem. We’re not a good fit for each other.” And so then I ended up going to the agency that I was with. And we, from the beginning, I was very, very strategic and every single role, you know, sometimes I think in the beginning of people’s.

For readers, they’re like, okay, well, ‘let’s just put our feet in all the pools and all the water and then we will,’ so I think maybe, I don’t know, but perhaps why it’s… this transition that you’re speaking about this, hopefully legacy that I’m creating is happening at the rate that it is. It’s because literally since learning the craft, I was adamant about these particulars and I feel like in very recent, but formidably so in this project, without a fight and having to break down doors and explain… listen, this is the thing. No one’s going to understand what it is to be a Black woman than a Black woman. So until I have an Ava DuVernay type experience or another, you know what I mean, Black female director, I’m gonna have to explain, educate them. I have no problem with that. What was cool about Alexander is, he was like, I don’t know. And I’m not trying to pretend like I do know. Let’s figure this out together. Walk me through it. Like, for example, he really wanted me He wanted, in his mind, he had saw a moment where he really wanted to see Mary in rollers, just as an example.

I said, “Alex, you gotta pick a very specific point in which she’s gonna have rollers in her hair. And that moment must be when she’s alone in the privacy of her own room.” He was like, ‘no, it’d be cute maybe if she’s like, making breakfast.’ I said, ” We don’t roll like that,” but you know, what I appreciate it is he listened. ‘Well, why explain that to me?’ It wasn’t, ‘you’re wearing them. So keep it moving.’ You know what I mean? And I respect him for that. I’m not expecting people to know my culture, but if you care enough about the project and about me, Then, then we can really create something.

So that, in regards to the script, and even in speaking with him, that I realized, oh, okay, this man’s gonna allow me to take up space and allow this character to take up space and do her thing. 

Cortney Wills: Gosh, thank you so much for sharing that with me. And that, I mean, now that you say all that, like, of course, like, it seems like it was intentional.

And there are very few actors, period, let alone Black women, let alone curvy Black women, let alone a certain tone of Black woman that even gets whether they want to or not to be that intentional and then have the chops to back it up. And I think that combination with you, at least for me as a critic, is what has been just so truly, like, gratifying to watch and, I definitely want to talk about..

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Thank You.

Cortney Wills: Yes. And I want to talk more about “The Holdovers,” but I will say when you said, you know, what you hope will be a legacy for you as someone that’s just been following you, you know, for this, what so far I think is going to end up being a short part of your long career, that legacy is there because I distinctly remember a project, “The idol” that was like, she’s in it, so I’m going to give it a shot. And then when it was a little iffy and wonky, I was like, I’m staying with it, because if nothing else, I believe there is something here that made her want to do this. And the performance. I thought from you on that project was impeccable.

And it was one of the things that kept coming back, but that is a bit of legacy being able for you to now be the cosign to a critic that consumes a ton of stuff. All day long. There are very few people that I, I could say that about, like I, I just know there has to be something about it that is good or relevant.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Or I wouldn’t have did it for no reason. 

Cortney Wills: Yes!

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Exactly. Exactly. And you know, it’s, I’ll say this, it all comes down to choice. And you gotta have balls or you gotta have ovaries, as we should actually say, because. It’s going to take strategy. It takes the willingness and the confidence to believe in yourself and your goals to stand your ground.

It’s a lot of no’s. There’s a lot of things that I’ve turned down because of the sake of that all money is not good money for me. So when I know what my end goal is, that was what made, I think, I think anyone can do it, but I do think the skill set helped, right? And that, to be honest, helped me have a wee bit more confidence in that regard, but really it came down to choice. Even when my team would be like, ‘come on, this, you know what I mean? They’re throwing money at us, or this is a no-brainer.’ This is not an alignment of the things that I want. 

The other thing I would say is, you know, I take so much time in looking at the script, the roles. The reason why I did “The Idol” is because, for me personally, I try to keep it as diverse as possible. The people that I look up to are predominantly white women in regards to the opportunity that they get to portray. Let me be very clear in that. And what I notice is range. They’ll go from one end to come over here, right? So at the time that I was filming “Rustin” as Mahalian full church garb, I literally got a call for “On The Come Up,” and I was like, this can’t be, anymore, I just, it goes off in my head. Then I’m like, I literally looked at what I was wearing and I was like, ‘Absolutely, that’s absolutely the next thing I need to do. Right.’ And so it’s a thing where, you know, you gotta just, you gotta stay true to yourself and be clear on what it is that you want to go for.

And don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise, because then when it hits, it hits. And so for, I know that was a moment for me where I was like, I don’t want people to start getting comfortable where they feel like they’ve got me pegged. Let’s shake it up. But based off of my conversations with the director, I knew, ‘Oh, this is an actor’s director. This man is intelligent.’ And I knew, I can’t speak for the whole show But I knew when it came to me and Destiny and my relationship with Sam and my relationship Abel and Lily It was on top. You see what i’m saying? Yeah, it wasn’t gonna be no foolishness I can’t control all the other factors if anything felt as though first of all I’ll say this real quick, If anything was disrespectful the same way you knew that you were like, I know she must be here for a reason. You also know I wouldn’t have been there if there was no foolishness going on.

I wouldn’t have been there if there was foolishness going on. Right. How I was treated was top-tier. I was respected like a true actor. It was a great working environment for me. And so, you know, things happen. It is what it is. Rumors, blah, blah, blah, dah, dah, dah. People like all the drama. But in regards to me, I love and feel very great about the contribution that I gave to that project.

Cortney Wills: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, I mean, I think that it fits like, and it was. And it was different. And it was, even that, I thought there was depth to that character. I thought she was really the most interesting one of them all. But you’ve played a lot of great characters, and you’ve been in a lot of great projects that many that I’ve seen and, you know, knew about, and others that I’ve seen and didn’t realize you were in.

I have kids, so I didn’t know you were in “Puss in Boots 2, The Last Wish”. And “Trolls.’ 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Yeah. 

Cortney Wills: So my kids know your voice. I know your face. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: That’s so cute. That’s so adorable. 

Cortney Wills: And as you mentioned, you’re in “Rustin.” Another incredible film. That’s just out. Playing Mahalia Jackson. I mean. And like not to. Jump the gun, obviously. But like, what are we wearing to the Oscars this year? Because obviously, you know, you’re going and I think you’re probably going to get pretty dressed up. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Oh, you’re so sweet. I have no… love fashion and I, I that’s another trailblazing thing for me. If I’m completely honest with you. That I really want. I mean, thank God that we have someone like Lizzo and she’s creating such many beautiful looks and showing it on the red carpet, I would love an opportunity to be another person who’s contributing to. visuals of, you know, fashion for all sizes. So that is something that I definitely in the process, I’m very excited about.

Cortney Wills: I cannot wait to see you all through award season. You just… you are recipient of a 2023 Virtuoso Award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Yeah. Yeah. And you’re in great company there, but I mean, I just made me like so happy that obviously, everyone else is seeing, you know, what we, what we know about you. And I really think this might be the year that everybody else figures it out and sees like, wow, this woman is really bringing something to this art form. And I think that, I always wonder, especially now, like there’s multiple projects that you are working on at a time. It’s going to start being like, wait, I see her on TV, I see her on the big screen, I see her on the small screen. Oh, wait, she can sing. People figure it out. Oh, shit. She went to Yale. Like that story of their discovering someone as if it happened overnight when we know that it didn’t. And, and so that is, you know, kind of always a kick in the teeth for me, but it’s also. So I always wonder, like, where are you? 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: But you know what? Can I just say something? I had this conversation with my publicist. Because, I forget what it was, but it was like, she was like, Oh! Oh, you’re getting nominated for a breakthrough or something. And I was like, breakthrough? How do I… this was like maybe last year or two years ago. And she said something to me that I’ll never forget. And it really was such a lovely compliment, but also put things in perspective to me. And she was like, breakthrough doesn’t necessarily have to mean new or newbie on the scene. It means that you are consistently breaking through and reaching the people breaking through and shining, showing up, making an impact.

She says, so if we get breakthroughs to you, 80 years old, that’s how we’re going to roll. And so I, it really allowed me to change the perspective, but I hear you in the beginning. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. What does that mean? Did they not?’ Because also, let’s be really honest also from a business sense. If people keep thinking that I just came onto the scene, everyone loves something new and not something old.

So I’m cool with it, right? If people are continuously discovering me, then it’s great, but yes, I agree with you. If nothing else, and all of this, fanfare, and I say that because I think for me, I can’t allow myself to go there because you also know how, unpredictable and wild this industry is. And one plus one does not equal two, equals 4, 588.

So with that being said, what I hope, if nothing else, Is that this, like you said, all I want is that this will now begin to open doors for me that I didn’t have to bang down, shoot down, or kick down, and that now I can start to really do the work and get in pocket and create these characters with ease and access.

Cortney Wills: Absolutely. And I think, I agree a hundred percent that like, you should look at that as a positive, I think, and a feeder. But of course we also know, you know, I mean, I, I feel like it was “Despicable Me,” they wanted, you know, Pharrell released “Happy” and they wanted to call him like a breakout or a new artist as if, you know, his entire career before that didn’t exist, but like, good. Like I think that it’s wild, but it also launched him even further like that you could laugh all the way to the bank with that, you know, and and so I don’t look at all… 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Or Missy Elliott. You remember when Missy Elliott performed at a Super Bowl and half of the younger generation was like, ‘Who’s she?’ Like have you noticed? Since the Super Bowl, till now, she’s getting all these awards, she just got a, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If she didn’t have that opportunity, I don’t know if those things would have happened. We love and revere her. Revere her. She’s one of my favorite artists ever, but it actually worked in her favor because you know what? There’s people out in this industry wishing they could reinvent themselves. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with strategists to try to figure out how to reinvent themselves. So if we can do it within our own bubble, just of being ahead of the game, being proactive, I’ll take it any day. 

Cortney Wills: I could talk to you forever, but I have to wrap up. I want to know, like, what are the, like, what are the chances that we see you on stage again? Like, you know, like, I would love another, another …

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: yeah, I’ll be really honest with you. To be on the theater, and it’s something I really hope that they figure out and work out, to be in a play or a musical, you are handing them your check right back, right?

Financially, it is not, it’s archaic for the, for the lack of a better word. They’re still, doing antiquated things whereas a lead, you would probably need a room to live in New York City, right? With that being said, it has to be the right project, where I’m willing to make that financial sacrifice, where I’m willing to stop in TV and film, where quite literally, in a month, make my entire salary. Do you know what I mean? 

Cortney Wills: Yeah, that’s real. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: It has to be the right project, and I know it will. And it’ll be something that I’m passionate about. I, right now, I think I’m more interested in doing a play versus a musical. Also just for the convenience of time in regards to, you know, as a limited run.

Versus a musical. Musicals don’t have limited runs. Most don’t. I don’t know how things have changed since. But, yeah, no, I would love to. And then I think that’s also what was great about this was that I was able to work with craftsmen who the writer went to Yale, Paul went to Yale, I went to Yale, and then you have a director like Alexander Payne.

So it felt like school, it felt like I was on the boards, as they say, without being on the board. So that was very exciting to me too, that I was like, yeah, more, more of this stuff. 

Cortney Wills: I love that, and I do, I love seeing you in things like that, and it almost felt like a play. Like when actors are just really in there, acting off, and there’s not a bunch of jump cuts, and re you know, it’s I mean, Paul Giamatti is such a master.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Oh no, we were doing long shots. Yeah, we were doing long, long, like the whole scene, we just no jumps. 

Cortney Wills: Yes, and that is so rare and so like yummy to consume, and Paul Giamatti is a master at that and the fact that you come in and are just, I mean, it’s just equal. I mean, it’s just equal. It’s like, it’s like watching two masters together. And I, I, I just loved seeing it. It was so delicious. I can’t wait for everyone else to see it. And I really just want to thank you for your candor today and your time and really for your commitment to carving out your own lane because, you know, I know it’s intentional and I know that you, I hope that you know that like there is an effect of that, you know, and like we are watching you and we are seeing those doors being broken down in a real way, in an authentic way. And, you’re such a, just a great time to root for. So thank you so much. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: Thank you so much. That’s very kind of you to say that. 

Cortney Wills: I know I’ll see you on the award circuit here coming up. 

Da’Vine Joy Randolph: You are a sweetheart thank you.

Cortney Wills: The 96th Academy Awards are going down this weekend. And this year we’ve got quite a few folks that we’re rooting for. Sterling K. Brown is up for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “American Fiction.” And Cord Jefferson is up for directing that piece, which is up for Best Picture. Jeffrey Wright is also nominated for the film for Best Actor.

And another one of our favorites, Coleman Domingo, is up for Best Actor for his role in “Rustin.” Danielle Brooks is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Miss Sophia in “The Color Purple.” And Da’Vine Joy Randolph is also nominated in that category for her role as Mary Lamb in “The Holdovers.”

John Batiste is up for Best Song, and we can’t wait to see him perform it. So there’s a lot to look forward to going into Hollywood. biggest night. theGrio will be there on the red carpet at the governor’s ball in the award show. So make sure you check back to for our comprehensive coverage of the Oscars.

Music Courtesy of Transitions Music Corporation