Q and A: Loretta Devine: In Her Own Lane
The long and illustrious career of Loretta Devine continues to ride the wave as she keeps her plate full of interesting and enlightening roles as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces and voices.
Audiences have had the pleasure of being first introduced to Devine in the breakout Broadway original production of Dreamgirls as Lorrell Robinson. a fictional character who was one third of the iconic group The Supremes.
A native of Houston, Texas, she prides herself on the importance not only of following her passion as an actress and singer, but as an educator. In 1971, Devine acquired her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Houston and a Master of Fine Arts and Theater from Brandeis University.
Nearly four decades later, her roles in feature films include Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher’s Wife, Down in the Delta, Dreamgirls, For Colored Girls, along with a string of television roles including ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, The Client List on Lifetime and her current role as Cynthia Carmichael on NBC’s The Carmichael Show — which enters its third season. Her repertoire of work is endless, earning her three NAACP Image Awards — two for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture and one for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
Her recent role in the independent film Chapter & Verse as Ms. Maddy, directed by Jamal Joseph and co-written by Daniel Beaty, is a prolific film that tells the story of S. Lance Ingram (Daniel Beaty), a former gang leader who becomes a significant role model to Ms. Maddy’s grandson, after being released from prison.
The Chicago Defender talked with Ms. Devine about her role in Chapter & Verse and how she’s maintained consistently staying visible in her profession.
What drew you to this role in Chapter & Verse?
I had saw Daniel Beaty perform a couple of one-man shows in L.A. I didn’t know him personally, but I knew him from his work. He contacted me and said he would really love if I looked at the film. I was so excited by the writing in the film and the relationship the two characters had. I fell absolutely in love with him when I started working with him. We’re still close and friends now, we text each other often. He’s such a brilliant actor, writer and person. The script I felt was unique in that the movie has so many twists and turns. I’m raising a grandson that is to be initiated into a gang, and I’m not aware of it and I’m trying to learn how to handle the internet to learn more.
This man (S. Lance Ingram) comes into my life and becomes my son in a lot of ways. The movie has a kind of romantic feel to it, but they become the best of friends and in a way, he saves her life because he saves her grandson.
Over the years, we’ve seen you take over so many different forms as an actress. Where does this stem from on how you determine which roles can be tackled as opposed to those you prefer not to choose.
They kind of come to you. I must say, I try to do as much stuff as I can. Being an actor, you always feel that every time you work may be your last time working. I worked so long but the feelings I get is basically the same. Many times, the work comes from people who have seen your work before. I’ve done so many indie films that were by new writers or by filmmakers who produced Dirty Laundry, which turned out to be a great film.
I was blessed to play Cece on Being Mary Jane because of Salim Akil. Sometimes, because I’ve worked with people before who know your work, they’ll offer you roles and you get the chance to say ‘yes’ or “no,” but I love to say “yes.”
This is a wonderful time for African-American actors and actresses with more available roles on the small screens and big screens along with streaming platforms. Do you believe that this is one of the more fruitful times in Hollywood?
They are calling it the ‘Golden Age’ right now because we can say we have 18 shows on television and we have all the leading ladies. I think the young Black actresses that are coming up now that are so blessed to be leading ladies and to star in so many types of shows. Anika Noni Rose (The Quad), along with Kerry Washington, Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson and Octavius Spencer — it just goes on and on.
When I first landed in Hollywood, that availability was only available through films that were totally Black films. Now, it’s becoming the norm. We have such a huge pool of talent.
I work with a bunch of New York actors doing stage plays, and they are incredible. I think the world has so much to look forward to and the internet is changing everything.
Who influenced you coming up as an actress and how are you paying it forward as someone who can help the next wave of young actors?
I do master classes for Wendy Raquel for the Amazing Grace Conservatory in Los Angeles. You can give back in different ways. You can be charitable with your money and give back that way in funding. Some of the programs that different organizations do — I do a lot of that. I also do a lot of things for different charities. To me, continuing to work is part of what you do for the talent that comes behind you because they believe that there is longevity in it and they can make a living in it, and it’s something viable for their families. I hope that we use more American Black men and women in the roles that are coming up for us.
Who has influenced you?
I’m influenced by everyone who has come up in both film and music — Cicely Tyson, Dianne Carroll, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson and Gladys Knight. All the women who were shown to us were great influences besides your mom, your sisters and the women in your community.
What has been some of the challenges you’ve faced coming up in the business?
I don’t feel like that I’ve ever been blocked from things. It all depends on how you did it, because I came through the educational system. Once you get your education, you’re entitled, and I think it helps a lot on how you go about in getting work. In thinking that, I felt that’s why I’ve always worked.
How do you create balance for yourself? Obviously, you remain working and active and you remain busy. How do you decompress?
I’m overbooked. I’m doing much too much. Sometimes my husband is worried about me. But in this business, it’s either feast or famine — you’re either doing everything or you’re doing nothing. There’s all these hobbies that I enjoy doing — I make evening gowns, knit, crochet, and I also make jewelry. I love to read, and these are things that bring me joy easily.
At 67, Devine is enjoying the ride as the voice of Hallie in the children’s animation series Hallie the Hippo, as well as the release of Where Children Play on the Urban Movie Channel. In select cities, Chapter & Verse is currently playing at theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.