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Actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph On Her Role In 'Dolemite Is My Name'


The new movie "Dolemite Is My Name" stars Eddie Murphy as 1970s comic Rudy Ray Moore. It shows him going from doing raunchy stand-up to making his own blaxploitation film. Along the way, he gives a big break to a woman nicknamed Lady Reed.


DA'VINE JOY RANDOLPH: (As Lady Reed) I get so nervous I had to hang on to the mic from not following over. Butterflies all in my stomach.

EDDIE MURPHY: (As Rudy Ray Moore, laughter) You're funny. You should be doing stand-up.

KELLY: NPR's Mandalit del Barco profiles the actress who plays Lady Reed.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Da'Vine Joy Randolph is her name.

RANDOLPH: My parents, it took them seven years to have me, and I'm the first. So it was a divine joy. No pressure, right? (Laughter) Like, woo (ph) - OK, starting it out intense, from the womb.

DEL BARCO: She plays the single mother-turned-comedian-actress who partners with Dolemite on stage and in his movies.


RANDOLPH: (As Lady Reed) I'm so grateful for what you did for me 'cause I never seen nobody that looks like me up there on that big screen.

DEL BARCO: Randolph thanks Eddie Murphy for giving her a chance to shine in his movie. She says her father had to school her on who Lady Reed was.

RANDOLPH: He was like, she's a larger-than-life character. Through and through, she is a woman. And he said, during that time, men were crazy about her. Like, as a plus-sized curvy woman, that was really cool to me and empowering.

DEL BARCO: The 33-year-old actress grew up in Philadelphia being bussed to private schools where she says she was the only black girl. As a teen, she studied opera, and after college she applied to graduate schools for drama, where she was asked about her aspirations.

RANDOLPH: I said that I would want to play Juliet in "Romeo And Juliet," had the tools to play her no matter what my size is or what I look like or the color of my skin - you believe me. All the schools laughed or commented or was like, eh, no, you're not that type. And Yale was the only school that was like, absolutely.

DEL BARCO: After graduating from Yale, she made her debut singing on London's West End and on Broadway, playing the part of Oda Mae Brown in "Ghost: The Musical."


RANDOLPH: (As Oda Mae Brown, singing) You know I'm your girl. I'm out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) I'm out of here.

DEL BARCO: For that role, Randolph was nominated for a Tony Award in 2012. She began getting parts on TV - "The Good Wife," "People Of Earth," "On Becoming A God In Central Florida" and "Empire." She played Poundcake, a prisoner who gets pregnant after being raped by the main guard. For years, she searches for the daughter that was taken from her.


RANDOLPH: (As Poundcake) The one thing I know for sure is that that bastard made my baby disappear.

CRAIG BREWER: I remember after the scene thinking, this woman's special.

DEL BARCO: Craig Brewer directed Randolph in "Empire" and in "Dolemite," too. He says he advised her to audition for Eddie Murphy by memorizing a routine from one of Lady Reed's party albums.

BREWER: (Laughter) It was so vulgar. We used some of it, actually, in the movie.


RANDOLPH: (As Lady Reed, singing) Now, my drawers, they may be ragged, but they be oh so clean 'cause, honey, I got some of the best [expletive] that you're going to ever see.

BREWER: She had to get that particular rhythm that Lady Reed had. And one of the greatest days ever was when Eddie called me and said, yeah, man, your girl from "Empire" just nailed this. She's incredible.

DEL BARCO: Randolph says she tries to break stereotypes in all her roles.

RANDOLPH: I want to be able to play an action hero, and we never comment on my size or the color of my skin or that I'm a female, and it's not a joke. It's like my new version of, like, I'm going to play Juliet, and you believe me.

DEL BARCO: Da'Vine Joy Randolph is now in production for her role in an upcoming movie about singer Billie Holiday.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.