Lynn Whitfield is an icon in film, television, and the stage. Known for her incredible beauty and poise, the Louisiana-born actress has played strong female characters showing her depth and range for over 40 years. The veteran actress, a graduate of Howard University, continues to reintroduce herself to newer and younger audiences with no signs of slowing down.
From her breakthrough performance as the iconic Josephine Baker to Lady Mae Greenleaf on the hit OWN series, “Greenleaf,” Lynn Whitfield is a woman unafraid to play strong, flawed, and powerful women. The Emmy award-winning actress joins Comedian Lil Rel Howery, John Cena, Yvonne Orji, and Meredith Haner in the new Hulu comedy, “Vacation Friends.”
“Vacation Friends” is a raw and irreverent comedy. Strait-laced Marcus and Emily (Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji) are befriended by wild, thrill-seeking partiers Ron and Kyla (John Cena, Meredith Hagner) at a resort in Mexico. Living in the moment, the usually level-headed couple lets loose to enjoy a week of uninhibited fun and debauchery with their new “vacation friends.” However, months after their walk on the wild side, Marcus and Emily are horrified when Ron and Kyla show up uninvited at their wedding, creating chaos and proving that what happens on vacation doesn’t necessarily stay on vacation. Lynn Whitfield plays Emily’s mother, Suzanne, in the comedy.
The Chicago Defender spoke with the living legend about her career, her new film, “Vacation Friends”, and what’s next for her in the future.
Chicago Defender: Ms. Whitfield, you have done what so many actors aspire to do, which is to enjoy longevity. How have you been able to curate a career with so many versatile performances?
Lynn Whitfield: I think what is most important to me is that I find the humanity and every character I play. The good, bad, ugly. The mistakes, the victories, and the complexities. Just as every person has a specific fingerprint, they have these textures; the hills and valleys of their personalities. I think what keeps me fresh. Is the quest over and over again to find those truths. It’s also show business and entertainment, so people have to enjoy the journey. That’s what I always try to do, which allows me to be introduced to new audiences. I love it.
I think longevity has to do with the audiences staying connected to the characters that I play. That’s so important to me because I want audiences to understand the character, whether you love or hate them, I want you to be engaged and connected with the character itself, not Lynn Whitfield but the character coming that’s coming through me. So I think my longevity is because people continue to care about the characters that I’m playing.
Chicago Defender: How do you choose the characters that you play?
Lynn Whitfield: I wish I were always the one choosing, but it isn’t always that way. When I read a character, and I can see what is there and see what I can add to create to complete a picture, make it more entertaining or bring more depth to it, that’s when I know it’s the right role. When I look at a character, I look to see their humanity and how I can make the character serviceable to the story and the audience. It’s a process mentally, intellectually, and emotionally.
Chicago Defender: “Vacation Friends” is such an irreverent comedy. What drew you to your character, Suzanne, the mother of the bride?
Lynn Whitfield: It’s not so much the experience of the mother herself, but “Vacation Friends” explores the idea that we may be different than who we have set ourselves up to be. We may have more to us than meets the eye. I think that’s important for people to look at, especially now. Where and how do we find joy?
And as a parent, I think it’s always important for parents to remember that their grown children have a right to be who they are. It’s not always about meeting the expectations of the parents. Parents simply want their children to blossom into the most they can do.
That’s the underlying theme of the story, and it’s delightful and irreverent, and I found that to be so much fun, especially amid a pandemic, to be a part of a story like that.
Chicago Defender: Well, you are the mother of a grown daughter. What type of mother of the bride do you think you would be?
Lynn Whitfield: Of course, I would want everything to be beautiful. Beauty and authenticity are very important to me. My goal would be to allow her to express her union with someone the way she wants to and for me to help bring that vision forward and stay out of the way.
Chicago Defender: You mentioned in a previous interview that you are speaking in your own voice at this particular time in your life. What do you see yourself doing now, and how are you approaching your creative life differently as we come out of a global pandemic?
Lynn Whitfield: I’m still figuring it out, but in terms of my creativity, I’ve always had a passion for design, both with clothing and interiors. I’m working on my own apparel now. I’m finding ways to speak as myself through social media, designs, and other platforms. This time, it’s about Lynn Whitfield’s ideas or designs, not any characters I’ve played. Those characters have spoken, and it’s my time now. I don’t know why this is what I’m feeling at this point in my life, but I’m grateful for it. It keeps me excited and keeps a bit of freshness about everything.
I don’t ever think I’ve felt like I have arrived. I’m still arriving, and there are so many things I still want to do.
Chicago Defender: Ms. Whitfield, thank you so much for speaking with the Chicago Defender. Continued success to you.
Lynn Whitfield: It was my pleasure. People need The Chicago Defender, especially now. The world needs to hear the truth and stay connected—much respect for that.
“Vacation Friends” starring Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji, and John Cena, is streaming on Hulu.
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanders20 and @DanieSandersOfficial.