Da’Vine Joy Randolph Doesn’t Let Anything Get Her Down

Da'Vine Joy Randolph wearing a purple dress
Courtesy of Tomas Herold.

“I’m nomadic,” Da’Vine Joy Randolph tells me within moments of greeting each other on our Zoom call. “I have my own version of Marie Kondo. Three suitcases? You’re good.” The actress regales me with the story of how, since filming the Oscar-nominated ’70s romp Dolemite Is My Name with Eddie Murphy in 2019, she’s been on the road, traveling from Los Angeles to New York to film High Fidelity, to the Dominican Republic to shoot her latest flick, The Lost City, and then to Boston for the upcoming Alexander Payne drama, The Holdovers, with Paul Giamatti.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Randolph says that while her parents were very supportive, she never imagined herself being an actress as a child. “I knew that I wanted to be of service to people in some way, shape or form, and do something that made people feel good or better,” she says. Eventually, after being told she could sing and graduating from Temple University, she decided to move from Philadelphia to New Haven, where she graduated from the Yale School of Drama with an MFA. When it came time to showcase her talents and secure an agent, the actress wasn’t sure how things would pan out. “I just had this distorted view of what marketability and branding was,” she says. “And if I’m being really honest with you, how I looked, the color of my skin, the texture of my hair—I thought that wasn’t going to be marketable to the industry.”

But when she started working in pilot season in 2012—which meant traveling to L.A. to audition for series after series—she booked the lead role of Oda Mae Brown in Ghost: The Musical within just two months. When the show made its way from the West End to Broadway, Randolph was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Soon after, she began acting on television. The transition from the stage wasn’t difficult for Randolph, who has one tip she tells every theater actor shifting into on-camera acting. “It is the same exact thing. When you’re doing a multicam sitcom, you have an audience right there,” she says. “When you go into single cam, whether it’s TV or film, all you gotta do to adjust is that you think of the camera as another person, another character, another role in the room. The camera is another person, so you talk accordingly.”

Randolph won parts on popular television series from This is Us to Empire, but things really changed when she was cast alongside Zoë Kravitz on the Hulu reboot of High Fidelity, which aired for just one season in 2020. As Cherise, the record store clerk who sometimes got on her friends’ nerves with her high-energy antics, Randolph became a recognizable force. And if you’re one of the loyal fans still perplexed at Hulu’s unanticipated cancellation of the show, you’re not alone. “I don’t think anyone knows. I don’t think Zoë [Kravitz] even knows, we talked about it,” Randolph says. “The only thing that I would remotely think could possibly be the reason was that it literally aired right as Covid hit.”

Now that she’s appearing opposite Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in The Lost City, as Beth, the publicist who begins the search for Bullock’s romance novelist character when she becomes kidnapped by an evil venture capitalist (played by Daniel Radcliffe), Randolph is letting herself enjoy the ride, and taking a few tips from her co-star along the way. “Working with Sandra Bullock, not even because of who she is to the world, but who she is as a human being,” Randolph says. “Alongside her talent, kindness is in her heart and she looks out for women. She would educate me on things or be like, You know, moving forward, this is how you negotiate your contract to get this.’” The actress also says that the director would sometimes switch up the scenes on the actors at the last minute to get the most authentic takes, letting the stars film on a real Navy boat three miles off the coast of the Dominican Republic while everyone else watched on land. “To have that experience and to be on such a large-scale project, it really just blew it out of the water for me,” Randolph says.

Up next, Randolph will also star alongside Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, and Adrienne Warren in Rustin, a biopic about Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights activist who played an instrumental role in organizing the March on Washington in 1963. Randolph will play Mahalia Jackson, an icon who soundtracked the movement. “I like keeping people on their toes,” the buoyant actress says. “Now that I'm producing, I think of writers and the sensitivity and love they put into each individual character. It's my job to bring that character's idiosyncrasies to life and not generalize or stereotype. It’s exciting for me to bounce all over the place and flex my muscles.”