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This Devine Intervention


They say that history repeats itself and for actress Loretta Devine, a pre-Hollywood career as a theater and English high school and college teacher in her Southern stomping ground of Houston, Tex., not only prepared her for her current TV gig, but it has helped breathe life into her zany character. As the sassy special education high school teacher, Marla Hendricks on Fox’s critically acclaimed series Boston Public (Mondays, 8 p.m. EST), Devine has more than her fair share of higher learning. Unlike her ornery character, this Broadway debutant-turned-silver screen veteran (didn’t you love her in Waiting to Exhale, What Women Want, and The Preacher’s Wife}?) admits that her real-life classroom experiences hardly mirrored the bizarre and chaotic goings-on in creator David E. Kelley’s fictitious Beantown high school.

Although the show has been reviled by some media critics and lauded by its young and impressionable fans, Devine thinks the sometimes crass and abrasive story lines help promote much needed dialogue. “Some of the shows are very risqué, but they’re also things that are really happening,” says the 53-year-old Devine in her signature kewpie-doll voice while lounging on an oversized butter-cream-colored ottoman effortlessly blowing cigarette smoke. “What’s good about a show like this is that it will get parents more involved in what their kids are doing at school or they’ll take their kids out of school altogether and do home training,” she laughs.

ESSENCE.com caught up with the bubbly thespian during an evening production break with her fiancé, financial analyst Glenn Marshall (her first marriage, by the way) at Skybar, the Mondrian’s fabled rooftop boudoir in Hollywood, to chat about the new season of Boston Public, her wedding jitters, and VWF (vacationing while famous).

On the show, Marla Hendricks is a bona fide warrior. She has battled manic depression, fought for the rights of “fat girls,” and debated the ‘N’-word. What’s next?

I don’t know what’s going to happen this season, and you never know where or how you’re going to end up. I just hope they don’t take her off her medication {laugh}. I’m just so afraid I’m going to come in and she’s gonna be off her medication and running amuck. But it’s exciting {because }]I really have a job that I like and I respect the character that I’m playing. I’ve been kind of lucky. For a long time I did sitcoms, but to get a chance to do a drama is really exceptional.

Tell us about your high school experience.

I was in high school when the Lords Supper was going on {laughs}] so how can you compare. One person {online } was complaining about there were no computers in {the show’s} classrooms. Nowadays classrooms have computers, and I must say that I have not been in a classroom recently to see … so I assume that there are {other } things that are different about schools because of the Internet, because of the way information is gathered. Everything is faster, and I think that’s what’s so different. Young people are used to things really fast, fast information, fast food, everything’s immediate and I think that has a lot to do with their attitudes and the way they feel about things.

You taught on the high school and college level before you took the acting leap. Do you think you could go back to teaching?}

I don’t know how I could go back to teaching, child, that’s crazy. I’d probably teach a theater group if I had to. I don’t know, young people are just, you get endeared to and you just get hooked on the young people that you’re working with and I don’t think any of that has changed, and if you love kids … you want them to do OK. You want them to get it so that they’ll do well in life. I think that basic thing hasn’t changed. You just have to have teachers that really care about young people. If they don’t care about young people, it’s not going to work anyway.

Especially when roles are so few and far between for mature actresses. How do you deal with Hollywood turning their backs on older actresses?

You know Angela Bassett got a chance to be a lead actress in film and I always play supporting roles. Now I get pissed off when I see her playing supporting roles. I think, ‘Why is she playing supporting roles? She’s the real deal.’ But the opportunities are so limited. We’ve seen Whoopi Goldberg, who really got to be a lead actress, now doing supporting stuff, that’s because it’s just not a plethora of {roles for African-American women}. Also women spend a lot of time playing the wives of all the lead men and after you pass a certain age you’re not even allowed to be that even though the men are in their 70s. My first big movie was playing opposite Sidney Poitier and I was in my 30s and I think he was 60-something. I don’t know how old he was, but he was old {laughs}]. So my dream now is to play opposite Morgan Freeman, but his {on-screen} wives in film are probably like 20…or 12.

Well, that’s OK because Black women age beautifully and would make any man – young or old – a fine wife. But it doesn’t matter because you’ve found your match. Have you and Glenn set a wedding date?

{Laughs } ]No, and it’s my fault. The idea of planning a wedding terrifies me. I have family in Houston and I have best friends in New York. I just don’t know how to pull all these things together without having to spend a million dollars. We’ve said, ‘Let’s run off,’ and my sister goes, ‘If you get married and I’m not there I’m killing you!’ I’m just procrastinating. I have to get a wedding planner and do something real soon.

I understand your betrothed has two kids.  Are you looking forward to being the stepmom?

You know, it’s kind of cool because his daughters are 19 and 22 and so I don’t have to play mom. I really get to be a mediator between them. Baby girl and daddy are always going at it — it’s endless. But it’s new to me and kind of exciting because when everybody gets there, the house is full of noise. He has a grandbaby, Bre, and she’s running all over the place and it’s just wonderful.

And you’re getting a wonderful reception from fans for your character on the series. Is it more difficult now to go to the grocery store without being mobbed?

It’s getting easier or maybe I’m handling it better. It’s just such a big slice out of your day because people want you to be nice to them, talk to them and discuss everything, ‘How do I get my kid into show business?’ ‘How do I get my husband in show business?’ {laughs} We went to the Bahamas for holiday and I picked Paradise Island. I thought it would be quiet and nobody would bother us. We had the worst time! People would not leave us alone and it was mostly the staff too. I hated Paradise Island! To them, I’m a star, at least in the Bahamas.