‘Dolemite’s’ Da’Vine Joy Randolph gets a role that reflects her truth
The Tony-nominated actress stars with Eddie Murphy in new Netflix film
There’s a moment near the end of Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name — a biopic of the late comedian Rudy Ray Moore (portrayed by Eddie Murphy) — when Hollywood newcomer Da’Vine Joy Randolph grabs Murphy, looks him in the eyes and delivers this line:
“I’m so grateful for what you did for me,” Randolph says in character as Dolemite’s Lady Reed. “Cuz I ain’t never seen nobody who looks like me up there on that big screen.”
She and Murphy did three takes to nail the scene. Randolph, a full-figured, chocolate-skinned black woman, cried every time she had to deliver that line, and Murphy held her hand while she got through them.
“She wasn’t just saying lines from the script,” said Larry Karaszewski, one of the writers of Dolemite. “She was literally saying what was in her heart to Eddie Murphy. It was totally sincere.”
However you see Dolemite Is My Name (it had a limited release in theaters on Oct. 4 and begins streaming on Netflix on Friday), here’s why that moment is important: that line is an exclamation point for Randolph’s existence in Hollywood — her representation and visibility on stage, on TV and now, in film.
“That’s my truth. When I saw that in the script, I was like, that’s it right there in a nutshell. You know what I mean? The choices. The clothing choices. The scripts I picked. It’s all in there,” Randolph said.
Her journey goes back to the beginning of the decade. In 2011, she was an aspiring actress in New York looking for a gig. To pay the bills, she worked as a nanny for two boys in Harlem. The next year, she was acting on Broadway — theater devotees know her best as the Tony-nominated actor of the Broadway production of Ghost the Musical, where she portrayed Oda Mae Brown. She also played Poundcake alongside Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie on Fox’s hit series Empire.
Randolph was recently cast in Lee Daniel’s forthcoming The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Filming begins next month in Montreal. (The role hasn’t been specified yet, but if it has anything to do with singing, she’s got that on lock, too, considering she’s also a classical singer.)
“In my career now, I wanna transcend color, and I wanna transcend size,” she said. “Even gender. I just wanna play and tell real stories.”
She’s purposeful, yes. But nothing is predetermined. An example of what catches her eye? An out-of-the-box character description like the one written for Dolemite.
“The breakdown of the character was if a man was writing a love letter to a woman. It wasn’t like, oh, fat black woman. Wild, fat black girl. Heavy-set, morbidly obese. I’ve seen everything in those breakdowns,” she said. “The amount of care and consideration in just the breakdown, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m about it. If they did that for the breakdown, what’s the script like?!’ ”
Building Lady Reed’s character was a challenge for the screenwriting team of Scott Alexander and Karaszewski.
“Everything we knew about her biographically we put in the movie! We knew she’d sang back up in New Orleans and we knew she had a son, and that was about it. So, we just took a step back and said, ‘Well, Rudy really seemed to believe in her.’ It’s like he was trying to groom her as his new star and he then kept putting her into the movie. So we just ran with that, and it gave the relationship a sweetness to the movie,” Alexander said.
“Even though we wrote the script, we attended a screening of the film and arrived 10 minutes before the movie ended. I peeked my head in and said, ‘We’re near that scene where she comes out of the house.’ I sat at the back of the theater and watched,” Karaszewski said. “It’s ridiculous to say that I tear up every single time. She’s so good!”
Dolemite has something we rarely see explored in film — the insecurity of a man and his body. That’s normally reserved for female characters, and the idea that a man was questioning his desirability appealed to Randolph.
“You don’t see me sitting in the corner crying like, ‘Nobody loves me. I can’t get a man.’ No, no, no, no. No! You see a man go through identity and the fear of having a sex scene and not feeling confident. You don’t usually see that. And then to have that man come to a black woman to seek counsel and solace,” she said. “And allow a black woman to do what she does best? It’s special. I felt like they were really onto something that I think, in all the laughs, if you really look at it, you see the deeper meaning. Eddie allowed himself to be vulnerable. It just shows that a guy has humanity.”
Starring next to one of the world’s most famous comedians in a film that will likely be her breakout moment is a lot to take in.
“You have to learn to feel comfortable in the uncomfortable ability and trust in your talent and your worth, and [know] that if you conduct yourself in a certain manner and live your life through kindness, respect, and authenticity, you will attract and be around things that are like-minded,” she said. “It may not even be something that you pray for. Like that saying, ‘God can build a dream bigger for you.’ ”
The character and that special line “was a generous gift to have in the script,” Randolph said.
“I [mean] this from the bottom of my heart, because, who knows, but this could possibly be the thing that changes the course of things in my career. I am extremely grateful and humbled by it.”