By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., NNPA Newswire Contributor
Lorraine Toussaint has plans. The SAG award-winner and NAACP Image award nominee that has an acting career that spans more than thirty years, is starring as Patricia on NBC’s mid-season replacement “The Village,” a show about a motley crew of residents living in a building in Brooklyn with interconnected lives. Filling the time slot of NBC’s mega hit “This Is Us,” “The Village” features an ensemble cast made up of a “who’s who” of television stars (Dominic Chianese, Frankie Faison, Moran Atias, Michaela McManus, Jerod Haynes, Grace Van Dien, Warren Christie and Daren Kagasoff) working together to convey the story of a “family” supporting each other as their lives unfold.
Toussaint, whose career began on the stage, worked for many years in television as a guest star on iconic television shows like “Law & Order,” “Crossing Jordan” and “Ugly Betty.” In recent years, Toussaint has moved from the margins to the center of the drama, most notably as inmate Vee on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, which earned Toussaint a Critic’s Choice TV award. Driven, Toussaint currently stars in season three of AMC’s “Into the Badlands,” and recently wrapped filming of Julie Taymor’s film, The Glorias, where she plays feminist icon and civil rights legend Flo Kennedy.
Toussaint is an actress who has had the opportunity to play a wide variety of roles, from a concerned mother on “Rosewood,” to a futuristic prophetess on “The Badlands” to civil rights activist Amelia Boynton (Robinson) in Ava Duvernay’s film Selma. When discussing how she chooses characters while promoting “The Village” at SCAD’s aTVfest, Toussaint talks about the journey from taking roles you can actually get to actively deciding to be brave and bold in her choices.
“You know, there’s a point in your career where you take whatever you can get. And then, early on in my career, I realized, oh, I don’t want to do that. I actually want to do certain kinds of roles,” says the Trinidadian born actress. “You then begin to be brave enough to begin to say no to certain things. And then there comes a time, when you reach a point in your career where you intuitively choose certain kinds of work. I’m so pleased to be at that point and that I’m still relevant,” she adds.
Toussaint spent the first 12 years of her acting career on stage, honing her craft and getting the proper training to ensure a long career. In addition to training, Toussaint says she figured out that how she chose roles was as important as getting them or just getting a paycheck. “When you’re well past 50, heading to 60, you reflect on your career. I’ve gotten brave again,” says Toussaint. “I don’t care so much about how it looks or what anybody thinks about it anymore. I’m really going by my own inner barometer, my own moral compass, my own creative impulses, and that feels good,” adds the Brooklyn bred thespian.
“The Village,” which takes place in Brooklyn, is a homecoming for Toussaint, who got the call while filming “Into the Badlands,” in Ireland. “You can’t be in Brooklyn and not have Caribbean representation,” Toussaint offers. “I wanted to make sure that Mike Daniels (showrunner) brought that culture into the show which you see in Season One.” Toussaint incorporates her upbringing and Trinidadian culture into the character of Patricia when bringing her to life.
“It’s something about the way in which I was raised and having been self-governed,” Toussaint reflects. “Coming from a country that is self-governed, where I was never a minority, I didn’t grow up knowing myself to be a minority of any kind, as a woman or as a woman of color. I came from these Amazonian black women, and we never measured ourselves against white people because they weren’t a thought,” Toussaint states matter-of-factly when discussing her childhood.
Toussaint brings this perspective into her character whose life is interconnected with the others in the house including a single mother, a veteran, a law school student and a nurse to name a few. Their struggles involve everything from PTSD to immigration to teen pregnancy, but they manage to get through it. Patricia is one half of an older, black couple who are still in love and still helping to guide and support their makeshift family. Patricia and Ron (Faison) work together to ensure the family remains intact.
Toussaint is proud to bring this type of relationship to television – one with older black people loving each other and their neighbors unconditionally. Playing Patricia gives her an opportunity to show the complexity of black women.
“We [Black Women] are so many things and we aren’t often allowed to show all of those qualities on TV,” Toussaint muses. “This show is different. I play a black mama but I am allowed to be vulnerable, sexy, right, wrong and that’s why she’s interesting. She’s familiar yet different.”
Familiarity yet difference is what makes “The Village” special. “It feels easy and relatable,” says Toussaint. When asked what she wants audiences to get from this show, the enduring actress ponders momentarily. “I want audiences to wish they lived in this building or in this community. I want people to realize it actually takes small gestures to reach out to someone where they are in order to create a little village of your own.”
Toussaint is part of a larger village of black actresses with staying power and the ability to move between television and film in a variety of roles. In an industry that can be fickle and brutal, particularly when it comes to women and women of color, Toussaint’s longevity is remarkable. “I always knew I was going to be a long-distance runner in this business,” Toussaint quips. “I’m grateful that I’m still here, love to go to work every day and in the trenches with such creative talent. I’m especially grateful that you guys still want to see me,” says the veteran actress.
“The Village” airs on NBC at 9 p.m. EST. Check local listings for channel information.
This post was written by Nsenga K Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. An expert in intersectionality and media industries, Dr. Burton is also a professor of film and television and co-editor of the book, Black Women’s Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire.