Since Dolemite is My Name hit theaters and began streaming on Netflix earlier this month, Eddie Murphy has been the talk of the town. Not surprisingly, he received a standing ovation at the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere in September too. He nodded, smiled and waved, like the pro he is. When Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s name was called, the audience roared again and she seemed shocked. That was a moment…and clearly, there shall be many more to come.
Randolph portrays the legendary Lady Reed, creative collaborator of the late Rudy Ray Moore, also known as Dolemite. It’s fair to say that she’s a woman who has no time for games. In fact, when we first meet her in the film, she’s just had it out with her cheating husband.
“She’s a woman who, in 1972, chooses to be a single mother,” notes the Yale School of Drama alum. “She loves herself enough to know that she’d rather be alone than be with someone who doesn’t value her or see her worth. And even though she doesn’t know where she’ll lay her head or how she’ll feed her child, she’s going to make it work.”
Before reading the script, Randolph–whose credits include This Is Us, Empire and her Tony Award-nominated turn in Ghost, the Musical–was intrigued by the character breakdown.
“Lady Reed was described as a beautiful Black woman who is met at a time of struggle; she’s not broken, but trying to figure things out. Her size is not to be played with and yet, it’s something that compliments her,” she adds. “It was so flattering and I remember thinking, ‘Whoever’s going to play this role, she’s cute!’”
After an intense audition process, complete with many callbacks, she landed the part. About teaming with Murphy, whom she was initially unaware was attached to the project, she’s still beaming.
“It’s amazing…surreal,” Randolph, 33, says. “When I found out that he was cast, I was like, ‘I’m glad they didn’t tell me in the beginning. Eddie is genius, with such a wealth of knowledge, and he was so generous with his time. Even when I wasn’t filming, I was there, on set, just watching and absorbing. As a newbie, working with him was like taking a master class.”
Many have marveled at Lady Reed’s “glow up,” mainly her coif, her beat and of course, her wardrobe. For that, she credits intense research on the part of the film’s hair and make-up team, as well as Oscar-winning costume designer, Ruth E. Carter. In fact, she recalls the moment she learned that she’d be working with Carter.
“When I first met her, I cried,” she admits. “As a curvy Black woman, I knew I was going to be taken care of and Ruth made me feel like I was being celebrated. Every, single one of my pieces were custom-made.”
About her character’s transformation, Randolph can relate.
“When you first see her, she’s in a muumuu and a headscarf, but [then, her look] gets a little bit better and a little bit better, but it’s not about money,” she says. “As Black women, when we put that time into ourselves, it shows up on us in such a way that it is literally like a mini-internal makeover. That’s what I wanted to capture with Lady Reed and now, when people tell me that I’m glowing, I say [it’s because] I’m good…I’m good.”