Lorraine Toussaint is a seriously accomplished actress and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
This weekend, she stars in TV One‘s made-for-TV-movie Runaway Island as Naomi Holloway, which premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. She’ll also star in the new FOX series Rosewood, premiering September 23, right before Empire.
But you may most recently know Lorraine from her role as Vee, the psycho mother figure to a bunch of inmates in the Netflix hit Orange Is The New Black. We spoke with her about her recent projects, the role of women in the entertainment industry, and, yes, even OITNB.
Read our interview with Lorraine Toussaint below.
GlobalGrind: The premiere of Runaway Island is this weekend. Based on the storyline, there appears to be a lot of emotion, drama, and layers to this movie. This seems to be another example of TV giving feature films a run for their money. As a seasoned actress, to what extent do you agree?
Lorraine Toussaint: I think that we’ve got a sort of smorgasbord of outlets for programming, and that’s wonderful in many ways and it’s tricky in other ways. I love the fact that we have the technology now to be able to make movies in ways that don’t cost what it used to cost. I mean, we can make really good-looking films fairly inexpensively. And that’s a wonderful thing, because there’s so many wonderful stories and indies that we see coming out of this whole new movement in American film. I had a wonderful time with TV One and they’re new to this genre, and so there were some kinks to be worked out. I’m not sure sometimes that people in television are willing to give the time it needs to do these films and so there are times where we were rushing to get in and get out and that’s always challenging, but at the end of the day, I’ve seen it and it’s quite wonderful. The product is terrific, thanks to Dianne Houston and an extraordinary cast of actors and a really diligent crew, but there is a learning curve to making movies. I applaud all of the different wonderful venues and I support the maturing of these venues in this genre.
You’re noted for often playing the role of strong females. Do you look for roles that have a little bit of Lorraine in them and resonate with you personally?
I think that automatically happens, only because I’m perceiving the world through the lens of Lorraine, so everything is a bit skewed toward Lorraine, which is not a bad thing. Lorraine has, I think, excellent taste and a sense of responsibility when it comes to choosing roles. I choose them fairly responsibly, I think, and I certainly commit 150 percent once I do choose, so I would say that they have a lot of Lorraine. Now, the interesting part of that is then, Lorraine is pretty multifaceted. So we can go on and on choosing roles and almost never repeat. That’s the good news.
You’re working during—and are effectively a part of—somewhat of a revolution in the television and film industry. As a veteran in this discipline, how are Netflix and the like changing the landscape for media consumers and is it for the worse or better?
For the worse or the better, I think only history will determine that, really. With any major shift of course comes another level of responsibility and so I think they were awfully smart, those Netflix people. It’s very interesting to me to really clearly see how Netflix has gotten at the front of the line, the leader of the pack, and now everyone’s trying to catch up. Netflix always knew that we are addictive personalities. I think we took it to another level, unfortunately, with reality TV – instead of us being voyeurs, now it’s taken it to yet another level of voyeurism and indulgence and feeding our innate capacity for addiction, which exists in every single one of us. And they have taken that and taken it to the bank, so it’s fascinating. Is it helpful, is it hurtful? I don’t know.
There was a significant amount of dialogue and storyline related to Vee in (Orange Is The New Black) and the impact she had on the dynamic of the inmates, even though you were not in the third season. Is that foreshadowing? Will you reprise the role?
Not that I’m aware of, not at this moment. I’m happy to be involved in a lovely show for FOX called Rosewood and I’m really quite happy there, they’re lovely people and it looks like this is going to be my new family. And if this show does what I suspect it’s going to do, I’m going to be here for quite a while. So Vee will continue to sleep; she can be awake, lord knows, now that we have awakened the sleeping dragon, now she’s not sleeping as deeply as she was before. So anything is possible, but for the moment I’m really loving this show that I’m doing and (costar) Morris Chestnut is just so lovely inside and out. That’s my primary focus right now.
You’ve worked with Ava DuVernay a couple of times now. What is it about her process, from your observation, that creates such powerful stories?
I love working with Ava because I love working with empowered women in this industry. I’m an advocate for women’s stories. I think we’re moving into the era of the women and exciting films, exciting television is where we’re already seeing it. This change does not sort of ostensibly come about; it comes about because there are far more women behind the camera, in studios, in positions of power in this industry. I love working with Ava because she is extraordinarily smart and passionate, really committed, committed to telling our stories, to telling stories from the diaspora and as a woman of color, that is music to my ears. Ava just has to call and then I say yes before I even know what I’m saying yes to because I trust her vision, I trust her taste, her sensibility, and her commitment to change, to being part of the solution on this planet. These are the things that make my work purposeful, and the older I get in this business the more I am committed to purposeful work. Even Vee was highly purposeful. That dreadful little woman, I think, served this planet in obvious and not so obvious ways.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask the same about Jenji Kohan. Also, Ava DuVernay and Jenji Kohan are both notably celebrated females in the industry. Do you find a stark difference about the way in which women and men choose to tell stories?
I think we tell our own stories best. And we’ve seen male-dominated stories from primarily male points of view and often White male points of view, because that’s just who has been dominating the business and running the business and making the decisions of what stories get told, how, and by whom and in what ways and from what perspective. I don’t think it’s malicious; I think it’s just human nature. And now that we have women and women of color the landscape is just broader now and gloriously so, and gratefully so, because this tapestry that we’re a part of deserves time on-screen, our stories are deserving of being told. So the more and more diversity we see behind the scenes, the more diversity we see appearing on the screen. It’s a must in this new world that’s emerging. I think anything short of that will die; it will just wither on the vine and die because this industry requires new blood, new thoughts, new points of view, new perceptions that reflect an exponentially changing world.
You’ve amassed a significant amount of critical acclaim over the course of your career. Does that at all change how you operate professionally or the roles you choose now?
I think maybe it does affect a little bit – it makes me more humble within my own skin because I’m now aware that it’s quite possibly, if I’m offered a role, there’s a certain expectation of excellence that I’d like to hope accompanies my name and an expectation of professionalism, because I can’t have one without the other. When I walk onto a set, that’s church for me, that’s holy ground and everyone there are these are angels that are working for the good of humanity, all of us, in the trenches. The people that I work with, the actors and the crew and all of the people that bring their extraordinary skill and talent and humor and willingness and goodness to create this product which sometimes I want to stop and pinch myself and say, ‘Oh my god, what are we doing? We’re playing make-believe for a living, all of us.’ But it’s more than that. It keeps me humble because I know people expect something from me and it also allows me to challenge myself, because no matter what they think they know what they’re hiring, I always want them to be pleasantly surprised by getting more than they originally thought they were bringing to the table. I want to give more.
Tell us a little more about your character in Rosewood.
I’m so happy that I’m also breaking out of the procedural roles I’ve in many ways come to be known for. I think Vee was a really wonderful breakout because I would think that there are people in the business who didn’t think I could necessarily play a psychopath. In this role I’m playing “just a mother” and I put that in quotes because a huge part of Lorraine is “just a mother” and it’s one of the parts of myself that I revel in, so to get to play a mom to these grown children and all of the promise that this show holds for this character in this context in this format is within this procedural that Morris is so generously and beautifully leading, it’s really wonderful. I love the idea of playing this woman who’s in the midst of a midlife crisis. As we meet her, she’s just about to retire from being a school principal for 26 years and is now lost. I’m always this strong pillar of the community in some aspect or another; I’m the boss, I boss people around. It’s wonderful to play somebody who’s maybe a little bit lost and doesn’t know what’s next and isn’t particularly comfortable or confident in her own skin anymore. She’s really about reinventing herself at this age and wanting to mother her two children who no longer need a mother, but trying to make up for lost time, which is impossible. So she’s terrifically flawed and tender in her makeup. And so I’m having fun with that because it requires a very delicate touch in putting her together, there’s a bit of gossamer to her that I rather like.
You’re a busy lady right now. You’re currently in two upcoming roles, only adding to your already stacked resume. After this, what are your plans?
There’s a film I’m hoping to start called Freak Show that I’m going to find a way to shoot in September, even though I’ll be shooting Rosewood, I’m not sure how yet. That’s a really interesting character, she’s a Caribbean—I haven’t played a Caribbean, although I am Caribbean—she’s a Caribbean nanny to a young man who is gay and out at 15 in an extraordinarily homophobic community and in many ways she has been the one who’s raised this boy; it’s a coming of age story. It’s a very big-hearted story and I really am looking forward to shooting that, too. There’s a couple projects I’m producing also, so yes, mama’s busy.
PHOTO CREDIT: TvOne