Interview: Lorraine Toussaint Talks Life as an Actor, Into the BadlandsApril 20, 2018
With almost one hundred acting credits to her name, Lorraine Toussaint has had a marvelous career so far, especially in terms of television. Recently, we talked with Lorraine about her career and what it was like becoming a series regular on the action-driven AMC show Into the Badlands.
Was acting your career goal from day one or did you have a Plan B so to speak if it didn’t work out?
Lorraine: No, I never had a Plan B. (Laughs) I started studying acting probably when I was eleven and by the time I was in high school studying performing arts, and it looked like I was dead serious about this, which I was all along, I remember an aunt of mine saying well, you really do need something to fall back on and I said to her, if I have something to fall back on I will fall back and I have no intention of falling back, so no thank you. I think early on I gave myself no back door, which I don’t necessarily recommend for everyone, but it certainly worked for me. In fact, there is certainly something to that, to put all of your eggs into one basket.
Now you’ve done a lot of work in television over the years, including your upcoming role in Into the Badlands. Was that a conscious choice to go that route or was it more of a happy accident?
Lorraine: When I started my career, I started in that era where foolishly, and I repeat foolishly, where the manner in which I was trained, those people wanted us to pooh-pooh television, oh my god, can you imagine? That’s because I was trained for the theater, destined for a career on the great stage and at the time I was coming up there were flash forms and outlets to do theater. When I graduated from Julliard, a lot of those opportunities started drying up and the theater, that was the bread and butter for journeyman actors, which is certainly what I still consider myself, those areas were literally shutting down, one or two a year, and just a handful of those theaters are left now. Sometime in the nineties, when I was doing quite a bit of theater in New York, I realized that if I wanted to stop living like a college student into my forties and fifties, I wanted to pursue television. This was also when television was in the early years of cable and you could actually see the landscape in television changing to where we are now, which is a kind of glorious renaissance of television, where some of the best work is actually being done on one of the many outlets.
What caught your interest when you were approached about doing Into the Badlands?
Lorraine: Well, I wasn’t sent a script, instead I was sent the first season and then I watched the second season. It was not on my radar up until then but very few things are, I don’t watch a lot of television. When I watched the first season, and certainly by the time I got to the second season, it peaked my interest because I’m at the age and point in my career where I want to do very different kinds of roles and in different genres and I’m now getting a little spoiled because the kinds of roles I’ve had the opportunity to do are out of the box, unusually wired, powerful, vulnerable, flawed, magnificent, interesting women. Alfred Gough promised to deliver all of these things when I spoke with him, and I asked him all of the hard questions I often ask going into a new show, and he delivered all the right answers and I trusted that he would gift me with an interesting character to embody and he has.
As an actor, how much fun is it to work with a big and talented ensemble cast and does it challenge you to take your craft to a higher level?
Lorraine: Working with a cast this size is surprising lonely because it’s highly compartmentalized. There are actors I’ve gone months without seeing, I see the core group that my storyline has been working with for the most part so largely with ensembles like this it’s very compartmentalized unless there are big battles. At the end of this season, a lot of us collide, literally and figuratively so now that I’m in the middle of the last two episodes I’m actually getting a chance to work with Orla and Emily and a lot of the characters that I haven’t really worked intimately with over the season. Does it ask me to take my craft to another level, no, a large ensemble doesn’t do that, I do that. I challenge myself all the time to take my work to another level and I’m always working on very specific things and each role kind of focuses that particular thing I’m working on. It’s always very personal, it rarely has anything to do with demands that are placed on me from the outside.
Can you tell me a bit about this new character Cressida that you are playing on Into the Badlands?
Lorraine: Sure I can. Cressida and Pilgrim, they are an interesting duo. He is the new Messiah that is coming to the Badlands, the new force that is coming to take over the Badlands. They come from mysterious but not so mysterious place outside the realm of the Badlands and what we now bring to the community is a new level of skill, power, a different kind of ruling system. We come into the Badlands and Pilgrim presents himself as a god, as a new Messiah, so that takes it up a notch. We bring religion and a kind of fanaticism to the Badlands that makes these followers of Azra, which is our religious sect, very, very dangerous as zealots always are. My character Cressida is Pilgrim’s right hand, his intimate companion, his general and strategic partner. I am also a prophet, a seer, and in many ways a maternal figure and also non-maternal. It’s a complicated relationship between he and I but we come from a place where conventional rules don’t apply to our tribe and certainly, as leaders of this extraordinary tribe of thousands of people in tow, we don’t follow those kinds of rules so we make our own rules, which again is very dangerous.
Into the Badlands has an obvious heavy action element to it but the show is much more than just that. What struck you most about the overall feel of this show?
Lorraine: its rawness and in the second season when the show moved to Ireland, the scope of the show shifted in a way that the backdrop of Ireland lends itself to the epic qualities that they’ve been trying to achieve and I think they did in that second season. I love that futuristic, sci-fi genre, I’m secretly a total geek in that area so I say to my rep for years, please get me on Star Wars, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, I want to do something way outside the box so when this came along it was like yes, finally I get to play in the world of fantasy.
What other projects do you have coming up?
Lorraine: I just shot a pilot for NBC called The Village, so I’m waiting to see if that’s a go. I have a film that is in festivals now and hopefully gets a distributor called Fast Color, so I’ve got a couple of things percolating but it will just be nice to go home for a bit after I’m done with this season of Into the Badlands.
I want to thank Lorraine for taking the time to talk with us.
The third season of Into the Badlands premieres Sunday, April 22nd at 10 pm on AMC