Lorraine Toussaint's Yvonne "Vee" Parker was a fan favorite on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black," before she was fatally mowed down outside the prison last season. But Toussaint, 55, (whose credits also include "Friday Night Lights," "Saving Grace" and "Any Day Now") has been one of TV's finest actresses over a long and distinguished career. This fall, she is back, co-starring in the new Fox series, "Rosewood," as the mother of a Miami pathologist (Morris Chestnut). This hybrid procedural-family drama will air Wednesdays, starting Sept. 23. Newsday's Verne Gay spoke to Toussaint last month at the TV critics' press tour in Beverly Hills; here's the longer version of their interview.
Is Vee really and truly dead and gone?
As far as I know.
But she was this incredibly memorable character. Why end her after just one season?
When I went in it, I knew it was a one-and-done, but somewhere in the middle of the season, [showrunner] Jenji Kohan may have considered carrying her further. But at the end of the day, the decision was to not . . . I don't think anyone of us anticipated her macabre popularity among viewers -- and so she's become this kind of strangely iconic marker in the life of the show.
Are you disappointed that you didn't get an Emmy nomination?
You know, it would have been lovely, but you get what you get and when you don't "get," you don't get upset. You move on.
I didn't see you in the original "Rosewood" pilot -- when do you actually appear?
We just finished a reshoot of the pilot -- I play Morris' mom . . . who is soon be a retired school principal. The show will be evenly divided between procedural and family drama. I play a woman who is quite lost as to who she is right now, with grown children who no longer need a mommy to a great extent. But Morris' character begins to recognize there may be a place in his business for his mother as support. I think it's going to be a very good show. I have a really good feeling about this one.
On ABC, and now on Fox, strong African-American leads have emerged on a number of shows -- many of them female. Is this the best of times for black actors?
It's a little like "black is the new black." In my career I have seen this wave crest three or four times, but you know you have to ride that wave when it comes.
Does this indicate a lasting change in prime-time TV?
Each step or wave heralds movement toward change, but I don't think there is any point of arrival here. But are we getting closer to where this is less of an issue? Yes, this is a very fruitful time for us, but the more important part is not just the rise of more roles, but the content of the roles themselves. They are more rounded and multidimensional -- not merely showing up in service of the lead character and not subordinate to the main story either. We're now carrying crucial aspects of the narrative. That didn't exist for the most part and it does now.
You've worked steadily for many years -- in theater, movies and on TV. Ever been a down cycle for you?
Oh, hell yes. The writers' strike [2007-08] came along, and when it ended, I didn't work for three years. When it did end, I got hit with ageism for the first time . . . "Oh, we wanted a young Lorraine Toussaint . . . " That went on for quite a number of years, where I would get "Yeah, she's good, but anyone else?" I seriously contemplated getting out of the business and went in search of something else [but] I had an interesting conversation with the universe and thought, God, let's stop messing around, and get back into this.
Is ageism an issue for all actors of color or more acutely for female actors of color?
It's an actor issue -- but male actors have a longer life, where they can get old and portly and more distinguished, but not so much for us. But somewhere in our brain we know we are in this for the long haul, and we have quite possibly fewer illusions about what it's going to take to stay in the game, and because we aren't particularly selling sex, there is quite possibly a longer life for us than white actresses. But with anything you do, and anything you love, you pick your poison. Everything has a consequence and I have zero regrets. I'd do it all over again, and at this moment in my life it's pretty damn thrilling. I've never felt stronger as an actor and more in my body as a woman. That's not a bad combination.