Da’Vine Joy Randolph had no intention of being an actress. After studying opera on a bit of a dare, she was admitted to Yale’s conservatory. But a misunderstanding between her and the department resulted in her being kicked out of the program during her junior year. Eager to graduate on time, her mother advised her to go to the theater department, where her credits would transfer. Da’Vine did so begrudgingly. 

“I was literally kicking and screaming and crying in administration,” Randolph told ESSENCE. “‘I don’t want to be an actor, please. My mom said I have to do it.’ And this is what has become of it. So I’m grateful to my mom but I never, ever ever wanted nor desired this at all–to be a performer in some sense, sure. But not this.”

Randolph, who has been acting professionally for the past ten years, has worked consistently since graduation. But more recently, she’s worked alongside legends like Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name or Tracy Morgan in The Last O.G. Those familiar with Randolph’s work remark at how effortlessly she seems to hold her own as a relative newcomer in these spaces. Randolph attributes some of this quality to her training. But because she never envisioned this work for herself, she’s surrendered to its ebbs and flows. 

“I am not in control of this journey,” Randolph says. “So when these projects come to me, I know that they are God-sent. That’s why I don’t get nervous as much because I understand I’m here for a reason.”

Credit: Conrad McCutcheon

Though Da’Vine has been able to embrace a more lax approach to her career path, once she gets a role, she is not so cavalier about the Black women she embodies. Randolph says the images of Black women, put forth in television and film, are oftentimes inaccurate. 

“And what it ultimately results in is our light being dimmed,” Randolph said. “And I have no tolerance for that. It’s limiting. And it’s not even true on top of it. It’s imperative to just get it right. I’m not making this stuff up. I live in this body. This is my community.”

Randolph says the goal of getting it right is even more imperative when she’s working on a project with a predominantly white cast–like her latest role in the film The Lost City, starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum and Brad Pitt. 

Randolph plays Beth, Bullock’s manager and publicist. Da’Vine was very clear about how this woman should be portrayed on screen. 

“I said, ‘No, no, no. This lady is fly. Like c’mon.’ In real life, if I was Sandra Bullock’s publicist, I would be put together. I’m making good money. We winning! I was very specific.”

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Thankfully, the costumer for this film was open to Randolph’s feedback. “What I hope people will begin to track is that I actually give a shout out to a Black woman in every look that I do. A moment with the hair, or a blazer. It’s connected. It’s like how basketball players get to the free throw line and do a wink wink to their loved ones. That’s my version of it. It’s giving an homage, a thank you, an acknowledgement of us.”

Randolph took on The Lost City project because it was time to expand her profile into the international box office space. Plus, she loved how feminine the story is. 

“We have this whole B story of my character who is going on this journey to find and rescue her best friend,” Randolph says. “I love the twist of it. It’s not going to be Channing Tatum, the attractive guy with rippling muscles who comes and saves the day. He actually fails. I have to go and take matters into my own hands and do what a woman has to do. I love that narrative.”

Filmed in the Dominican Republic, Sandra Bullock ensured that many of the behind the scenes roles went to the people of the country. It made for a particularly poignant experience for Da’Vine. 

“As a Black woman in the DR, they were like, ‘We see you sis,’” Randolph says of the Dominican crew members.  “When you’re in privileged spaces, sometimes you forget. There were several moments where I was like, ‘This is a privilege to be filming alongside my fellow brothers and sisters.’ Me seeing in their eyes, the impact and just the presence of me being there, it made me be like, ‘No, Da’Vine, this is a big deal. This truly matters.’”

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 27: Da’Vine Joy Randolph attends the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 27, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Randolph aspires to keep doing work that matters, centering Black women whose stories have gone mostly untold. Through her production company, she hopes to tell the story of Rock and Roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

But if you have to wait a while to see it on screen, know that it’s because Da’Vine is taking the time to get it right and partner with people who will not only tell the story authentically but make sure it is told for the masses. 

“There are a lot of roles that are in the works. I’m very protective of women and I’m not going to just go with anybody,” Randolph said. “I’m taking my time to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle are right. Otherwise, I’d rather continue to cook in the kitchen, as I say. Get that recipe just right. I’m not gon’ serve y’all no wack pound cake.”

The Lost City is playing in theaters now.