In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph kicked off the new decade with not one but two star-making roles: Lady Reed in Dolemite Is My Name alongside Eddie Murphy and scene-stealer Cherise in Hulu’s High Fidelity update. Television audiences might first remember the performer as the effervescent receptionist Charmonique from Selfie or Poundcake from Empire, but Broadway fans know Randolph from her Tony-nominated turn as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost The Musical.
The A.V. Club was able to grab a few minutes with the charismatic Randolph while she was in Chicago for a High Fidelity screening. While her Cherise has elements of Jack Black’s Barry in the 2000 movie, she makes the character unmistakably her own. Of the original film, she says, “I watched it no more than twice. It’s a very strong movie, so it definitely stuck with me. And then once I knew I was auditioning, I never watched it again. Because I didn’t want to mimic him. I’m a huge fan of Jack Black in general, so I understood the essence of him. I just tried to think if this was transposed as a female and a woman of color, what would that look like?” During our conversation, Randolph also told us about her TCM addiction, childhood confusion over menstruation, and how she defended one of her high school favorites in a certain High Fidelity scene.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph: My favorite scented candle is this Bath And Body Works—they have this exclusive collection, and it’s in this black jar. It smells slightly like a men’s cologne, but it also smells like sandalwood. It’s just really, really yummy. So I would definitely—I forget what that’s called—but one of my childhood best friends put me on to it, and it was like [Snaps.], that’s the one to get.
DJR: I don’t know if The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill was high school for me, but if it wasn’t—no, it was. Yeah. Definitely, hands down that. I played it over and over and over and over and over again.
AVC: You got to defend her on the show.
DJR: And even her MTV Unplugged? That’s when I started teaching myself guitar. I would just play the songs by ear and try to plunk it all out.
DJR: The Illuminati. Just evidence of stuff that we’ve seen—things add up. It’s super creepy. I get chills.
AVC: Like a secret society of old white men ruining the world. Now when you look around, you’re like, “Oh, yeah.”
DJR: There’s evidence for sure. Definitely think it’s real.
DJR: Probably all the time. I don’t know if there’s any time that I was like, [Affects singsong voice.] “No, that’s not true.” You know what I mean? I feel like especially my generation particularly. From Clinton on, it’s been quite an uphill battle. And then we had Barack, which was amazing. But I knew, I knew post-Barack, they wouldn’t let—the powers that be—a man of color and then a female? It’s too much. It’s unfortunate. It was too much for them.
AVC: You don’t seem old enough to have been around for Bill Clinton.
DJR: I wasn’t. I didn’t vote for him, but I remember growing up in the Clinton era for sure, very clearly.
AVC: Was it the Monica Lewinsky scandal that disillusioned you?
DJR: I remember even before that, just him as a president. I don’t know if I remember him being sworn in specifically, but I remember him being our president, and then the Monica Lewinsky thing, and I was like, “Whoa, what?”
DJR: I would call my dad. I would call my mom and tell her, and then be like, “I know you’re not going to help me, so just put Dad on the phone.” My mom would just be like, “Why did you do that? No!” And I’m, like, “Mom! We have to do something.”
AVC: Your dad would just say, “Tell me where you are,” and show up with a shovel.
DJR: Exactly: “Let’s do it.” And I’m like, [In weepy voice.] “I’m sorry!”
DJR: I was a baby in middle school. And I had a huge Blue’s Clues toy dog. Because when I was in middle school, that’s when Beanie Babies were still around. It was almost cool to collect [stuffed animals]—it was something about that era, late ’90s to early 2000s. Not playing with them, but having them was a thing.
AVC: They were going to be worth a million dollars.
DJR: Exactly. So I had that, the Blue’s Clues dog. I remember I had a onesie. I love comfort and pajamas—great pajamas. I had a footie onesie, and I had these big, bunny-ears pink slippers, and a bib, and a pacifier, and I put my hair in pigtails. Rave reviews. Rave reviews.
AVC: Bet that was so cute. Plus, it was comfortable—
DJR: —comfortable. Exactly, yes. Was comfortable and could get down with the best of them. And all these other girls were trying to wear this tight stuff, sexy pirate and all that. I was like, “I’m a dope baby. I’m a dope baby.”
DJR: Probably somewhere tropical, whether it’s the Caribbean or Pacific Islands. Because this business is so chaotic and you don’t have much time for yourself, a respite is necessary. I couldn’t do long-term.
AVC: You’d get too bored?
DJR: Yeah, yeah. But if I could do it for, like, a month, two months—two months is pushing it. But a month—unless I knew ahead of time, “Okay, the rest of your year is booked, blah, blah, blah”—then I’d be like, “Okay. I’ll take two months.” And really enjoy it, and cut off from society in regards of no phone and all that, and just chill. Just completely chill.
It’s a lot. It’s a whole lot. I’m super grateful. This is an amazing position to be in, but it does take a toll. It’s not for the faint of heart. Some people are like, “Oh, you get paid so much money.” Sometimes. Most times not. Or you’ll get a good amount, but it has to last you a long time, so it kind of evens itself out, but the amount of work you’re putting in, you’re definitely earning your money. To say the very least. So you need that.
AVC: And you’re doing stuff like this. Running around Chicago in a snowstorm.
DJR: Right. You do the project, and then the next thing is, you do press. And that’s a whole other job in and of itself.
DJR: I never had a formal sit-down talk with my parents or anything. I don’t remember having a formal conversation with anyone. I was always performing as a kid, and I usually was the youngest person on a set project or show, so I was used to being around older people. So I think older people were just being adults and talking, you know what I mean?
Through time, I got it and eventually understood, you know, what was what, but I never had [a talk]—because I kind of grew up fast in that sense because I was working. I think I asked my mom specific questions, but overall I don’t remember—I don’t even remember being, like, [In kid’s voice.] “What’s that?” Like, completely confused.
I remember asking more questions when I got my period. That’s when I was like, “Okay, so, what’s this? Break it down. What’s the best tool for me to use?” I remember that was more of an ordeal. I just wanted to know the hygiene of it all. What products are best? Especially for these young girls, it’s, like, do you use the tampon versus the pad? Some people say, especially if they’re virgins, which, I’m assuming they are if they haven’t had their period yet—I mean, unfortunately, sometimes that’s not the case, but—they usually discourage younger girls to be using tampons.
So that whole thing—learning when to take medicine and when to time it just right so you don’t have the cramps kicking in full-blast to the point where it’s debilitating. Learning what premenstrual is, and how you can have phantom cramps ahead of time, or crazy mood swings, and you’re like, “I feel crazy!” I remember that, being younger, I was like, “What is going on?!” My mom was, like, “You’re P.M.S.-ing.” And I was like, “What is it?!” And crying, and being like, “I’m sorry, I’m P.M.” So I was more so like, “What is happening to my body?”
DJR: I don’t do public bathrooms. Which is tricky in the airport.
AVC: How does that work?
DJR: I’ll usually wait to go on the plane. And sometimes, being that I’m sitting at the front of the plane, I’ll go in and maybe one or two people will go before me as we’re loading in on the plane. And I’ll go straight to the bathroom then. So, technically, I might be the first person that used the clean bathroom. Because, think about it: When you’re loading on the plane—rarely is someone going straight to the bathroom. And they just cleaned it. Hopefully. We hope. So that’s when I will use it.
DJR: When I want to zone out, I will either turn on reruns of Martin, or let Turner Classic Movies just run. You know what I like about Turner Classic Movies? They rarely repeat. So I love that. My favorite Hitchcock is that film with Jimmy Stewart in a wheelchair? Rear Window. I love that movie.
And that’s the cool thing about black-and-whites, or even just movies during that time that’s classified as a Turner Classic. Like I said, that channel could be on all day long. It can be background music. Sometimes I’ll actually get into it and really, really watch it. Also, I use it for fashion ideas. I’ll watch it late at night, because you know the wardrobe was bar none.
AVC: Edith Head, all those great designers.
DJR: Come on. And so, it’ll go, and I’ll pause it and then rewind—there are so many pictures on my iPad of me at, like, two o’clock in the morning, just screenshotting pictures and ideas of wardrobe. Beautiful, beautiful clothing and costumes. And then it ends up being inspiration. That’s one of the best ways to be creative, I think, especially with clothing and stuff like that. If you go back to these silhouettes of a time before, you can create some really cool things.
AVC: I’ve watched those movies my whole life and I never even thought of that.
DJR: Oh, god, there was one with—was it Cary Grant and Sophia Loren? Where he has those two kids and was recently divorced? Houseboat. Yo, there’s this scene where she’s throwing a dinner party—a private dinner at her house—and she has on this black dress that is strapless—like a tea-length—but then it has a sheer black overlay on top? And it’s very simple, but it’s almost like it’s more sexy because she has that sheer on top—I mean, we’ve seen her in V-necks, low-cut whatever—but just that overtop is so sexy. And then a pearl necklace. But I remember seeing it, her just serving them coffee and tea. But I remember it catching my eye, and I had to take a picture of it.
DJR: No. The moment you tell me, I won’t be able to live. Does that make sense?You might as well do it now, because I can’t—I won’t be able to—and I’m that type of person that will try to figure out everything I can to live another day. I couldn’t, no. The ultimate anxiety. At that point, I couldn’t do it. Nuh-uh.
12. Bonus 12th question from Samantha Irby: If you could undo one decision from your life, what would it be?
DJR: I honestly feel very proud and confident to say I don’t have any regrets. That’s not to say I’ve never struggled, or that bad things have never happened to me. Or that I’ve made all the best decisions in the world. But without that, I wouldn’t have been able to learn and grow. And to have a sense of advancement and maturity and development, because I think—I don’t know, maybe I’m reading into it—that then leads me to believe that you’re stuck in that regret. And that still now, all these years later, you’re still thinking about that. And that, to me, is just not healthy. You have to let that go. You have to forgive yourself the person or whoever was in that situation and release it.
AVC: And what’s your question that you want to ask the next person?
DJR: “What is your guilty pleasure when you think no one’s looking?”