Plenty of actors make their mark in supporting roles, proving to be more moving and memorable than their leading counterparts. For actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph, her career has largely taken shape through these smaller characters, but her talent has made them anything but small on screen. With lauded performances in festival favorites The Holdovers and Rustin, Randolph is one to watch.
Starting on stage
Randolph began her career on the stage, having been about as classically trained as you can get at the Yale School of Drama. Her first break came in 2012, when she played Oda Mae Brown on Broadway in Ghost: The Musical. As Whoopi Goldberg had in the original movie, Randolph won acclaim for her performance, even getting nominated for a Tony. The kind of stage presence and vocal talent she cultivated there would go on to serve her quite well in the coming years.
A TV talent
Following up on her stage success, Randolph secured supporting roles in several buzzy television titles. She held recurring roles network favorites like This Is Us and Empire before moving into premium cable and subscription fare. She acted alongside Kirsten Dunst in Showtime’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida, but some of her greatest success came with Hulu’s High Fidelity. Playing the best friend-slash-employee of Zoë Kravitz’s effortlessly cool protagonist, Randolph’s performance was hailed as “hilarious” and a “standout.”
Da’Vine is Her Name
Sandwiched between those television appearances is one of Randolph’s biggest and best performances to date, courtesy of 2019’s Dolemite is My Name. The Netflix biopic tells the story of Rudy Ray Moore, the man behind the popular blaxploitation character Dolemite. Starring Eddie Murphy, the movie is as much an homage to the man in its title as it is to a very specific segment of Black culture that emerged in the ‘70s. Randolph plays Lady Reed, one of Moore’s compatriots and fellow performers in the growing genre.
Though she was minimally recognized (or, rather, criminally unrecognized) by awards bodies, she was a critics’ favorite. Many considered it a true breakout, with Randolph’s performance being called “wonderful and resonant.” It’s no easy feat to be a standout amongst a cast with names like Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes, but Randolph did that and then some.
A special supporting actress
Since Dolemite, Randolph has landed supporting roles in big productions like Only Murders in the Building (where she plays an NYPD detective turned true crime podcast accomplice), The Lost City, and Max’s The Idol. Like Rachel Sennott, Randolph was considered a saving grace of the latter, with critics singling her out as a favorite.
Now, though, she has two projects on her plate that are more deserving of her talents than the woebegotten Sam Levinson show. First is Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, a quiet miracle of a film that sees Randolph play opposite Paul Giamatti. The film takes place during Christmas break, 1970, at a boarding school, where the only ones left behind are a miserable teacher (Giamatti), a grieving kitchen supervisor (Randolph), and a fairly difficult student (newcomer Dominic Sessa). Observer calls her performance a “master class,” and we’re not the only ones who think so; critics are saying she’s “all-kinds-of-wonderful” while also being “understated and moving.”
Second is the Netflix biopic Rustin, in theaters this Friday, November 3rd and streaming the 17th, which tells the story of the man who orchestrated the historic 1963 March on Washington. Colman Domingo plays Bayard Rustin, a civil rights leader and one of the most prominent gay figures in the movement. The film features Randolph as gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, using her vocal talents to recreate Jackson’s performance during the march. This year has certainly been an impressive one for the actress, and there are sure to be many more to come as her name only gets bigger and her star shines brighter.