Performer Da'Vine Joy Randolph grew up in Philadelphia and studied musical theater in school. This led to a Tony-nominated performance in the musical Ghost, in which she played Oda Mae Brown.
She landed television roles in ABC's Selfie and the TBS show People of Earth. She has voiced Netflix's The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show since 2015. Her latest endeavor is a new web series from Hulu, High Fidelity, that premiered on Feb. 14; it is based on the film of the same name.
Her standout performance in the Netflix movie Dolemite Is My Name, as Lady Reed, has had critics praising her name and it has brought her new roles in upcoming films such as Kajillionaire and The Last Shift.
Before giving a talk back at the Chicago Humanities Festival, Randolph stopped to sit down and discuss her life.
Windy City Times: First off, talk about your name.
Da'Vine Joy Randolph: I have a two-name first name. I don't have a middle name. It took my parents seven years to have kids. I am the oldest. Seven is a significant number, so I was a divine joy to be birthed. No pressure…
WCT: You graduated from Yale. Did you always want to be an actress?
DJR: No. I went to Temple University. I am a classically trained opera singer. I got kicked out of school. Because of credits, my mom said, "You are an actor now!" It was under the same umbrella of credits so I could graduate, then eventually go to Yale.
WCT: You performed in the musical Hair?
DJR: I did! That was a really important project for me. I didn't want to sing after being kicked out of school. The topic of being free and being true to yourself helped me more than I knew. It was healing for me. It allowed me to rebuild myself as a performer. I learned to stand up for myself and love myself, both personally and within my career.
Thank you for bringing that up. I don't think I would have been able to go to Yale if I hadn't had that production under my belt.
WCT: Were you around Whoopi Goldberg when you played her role in Ghost the Musical?
DJR: No. I think she was going to be involved, then it didn't happen. We didn't get to personally connect on it.
WCT: You have been in Chicago before, to film Fox's Empire?
DJR: Yes. I filmed all throughout season four. I also did [the movie] Office Christmas Party here.
WCT: Did working on Empire lead you to working on the upcoming Billie Holiday project with Lee Daniels?
DJR: No; that's completely unrelated. Funnily enough, I thought that's what happened for Dolemite, because the executive director Craig Brewer on Empire was the director for Dolemite. There was no correlation whatsoever.
I even auditioned for Precious when I was much younger, at Temple. Daniels is from Philadelphia like me, but even with Empire we never personally linked.
WCT: Filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore was either gay or bisexual. Why do you think this wasn't addressed in the movie Dolemite Is My Name?
DJR: Interesting, isn't it? Titus Burgess' character is a real person, too. I was aware of it as well, when I did research. Ultimately I wanted to know Lady Reed's role: Was she a beard, or something more? I think it was a mix of both. It was a true partnership and they really loved each other. He could do his thing and mess around with another guy. They had some sort of agreement.
WCT: Talk about your character in Hulu's High Fidelity.
DJR: I play Cherise, who is a Brooklyn native. It's based off of the cult movie that was headed by John Cusack and Jack Black. It has been turned into a series with Zoe Kravitz playing the Cusack role; I'm playing the Jack Black part.
We have taken something with two white males and put two Black women in it instead. It's cool to see how much of it does work. Many things didn't have to be altered, which is a bigger topic. Love is love and music is music. We are all just human beings at the end of the day.
Sometimes heterosexual, white males get certain opportunities that seem only exclusive to them. This was a huge drawing factor to me that Hulu and Disney were open to flipping that idea.
Cherise is a local, so we are dealing with gentrification. It's a trio of friends set in New York. We have released an album on vinyl and I sing on it. I recorded a Stevie Wonder song that I sing on the show and soundtrack.
WCT: Are there LGBT characters in High Fidelity?
DJR: Oh, yeaheveryone is living! In fact, one of her five heartbreaks is a woman. That's the whole premise: As Zoe Kravitz's character, Rob, is getting older, she's trying to figure things out. She wants to settle down and goes over five relationships to see what happened. She hopes she can learn from it and have the love that she wants.
The character of Simon, even in the movie, is a gay man. He's the same in the series.
WCT: I had a feeling you would be a friend to the LGBT community before I even met you.
DJR: One of my gay friends in New York designed costumes for the queens of RuPaul's Drag Race. I stayed with him on his La-Z-Boy and the butt pads were my pillows. The drag queens would come in, just like the Netflix show AJ and the Queen, to pick up their gowns. I would write out their receipt. We would all watch RuPaul's Drag Race together. This was just before I did Ghost.
WCT: What are you doing next?
DJR: I just finished filming The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, with Lee Daniels. I start filming next month on Showtime's On Becoming a God in Central Florida, with Kirsten Dunst, on the second season.
I am hoping for a movie this summer and then, hopefully, a second season for High Fidelity!