Lorraine Toussaint Talks Career, Calls Acting Her ‘Happy Place’

On The Equalizer, Lorraine Toussaint’s Aunt Vi is the heart and soul of the show. “Vi is a wonderful kind of modern-day Auntie Mame,” Lorraine, who often offers counsel to The Equalizer’s sometimes conflicted vigilante Robyn (Queen Latifah) and Robyn’s teenage daughter, exclusively tells Closer Weekly. “Every child needs an Auntie Mame like Aunt Vi. She’s the one who, at times, may have questionable maternal instincts, but she’s fun and you can talk to her about anything.

“There’s a kind of unconditional loving that comes from Aunt Vi that can’t necessarily come from Robyn,” says the veteran actress, 61, who has worked steadily since graduating from the Juilliard School in the early 1980s. Some of her other acclaimed roles include Rene Jackson on Lifetime’s Any Day Now and Vee on Orange Is the New Black. “I love working, and I’ve been fortunate enough to do it for many decades,” Lorraine tells Closer. “I don’t take any project for granted. I go to work and I’m in my happy place.”

To learn more about Lorraine’s career, the leading men she worked with and life lessons she learned, keep scrolling!

Are you enjoying working with Queen Latifah on The Equalizer?

It’s been great. I’ve been a fan of Queen’s since her hip-hop rap days, and I’ve watched her career evolve in such wonderfully creative ways. She is funny, generous, incredibly professional and prepared, all of the things I really like. Thus far it’s been a terrific experience.

Are you back to filming now?

We started up again in November. We all sat around for six or seven months waiting for the word. The moment we got the green light we went back.

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Did you always know you wanted to become an actress?

It sort of hit me like a bolt of lightning at 11. My mother was a really terrific mom and she didn’t balk. I think maybe because she was a pianist — so there was music in her soul — and I think she was somewhat of an unrealized artist herself. She was the only one in my family that didn’t think I
was crazy.

How nice to have that kind of support.

She really was the wind beneath my wings because she taught me that I could do anything and really be anything I wanted. She also taught me how to be incredibly resilient, overcome obstacles, push through and just never, ever quit.

It’s paid off. You’ve been a working actress since the 1980s. What do you think of as your big break?

I feel like I got my big break in the theater the day I graduated from Juilliard. I went from the ceremony, took the subway downtown to the Public Theater and started my first day of rehearsal as Lady Macbeth.

And you’ve rarely stopped working since!

It’s true. My first big break in television was when I did A Case of Deadly Force with Richard Crenna. He took me under his wing and really taught me the ropes. Then, I guess Hudson Hawk, which has now become a cult film.

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It has! What was it like to work with Bruce Willis on it?

Bruce [Willis] was funny and a big movie star at the time. He was lovely. But Sandra Bernhard, David Caruso and I were a little gang running around Budapest and Rome [on that shoot]. James Coburn was our elder statesman movie star. On location, he was so well known from the spaghetti westerns that it was like walking around with a rock star! I have the fondest memories of him. We stayed friends until he passed.

You also got to work closely with Burt Reynolds on 1989’s Breaking In.

I adored Burt [Reynolds]. He was the quintessential gentleman. He loved barbecue, so every Sunday, I would go to his house and we’d have a barbecue dinner. Then we’d watch old films and he would bitch about his career! He gave me a script holder as a gift, and to this day, it’s my good luck charm.

That’s so sweet! Your latest leading man is Idris Elba in your new movie Concrete Cowboy, which is currently streaming on Netflix. What’s Idris like?

Idris [Elba] is lovely. He’s also funny and cool. He’s kind of self-effacing, kind of shy, and just easy to be around. We both worked really hard to tell this extraordinary story about a community neither of us knew about. I had a wonderful time working with him. And he’s not hard on the eye, either!

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A lot of people remember you for playing Vee on Orange Is the New Black. What was that experience like?

Orange was sort of big and free. I really feel comfortable in claiming that one as my own. I knew that Vee had her own agenda, and Lorraine just sat in the back seat and let her drive. That was the first time that I had the opportunity to surrender to a character to that extent. And the actresses I worked with brought their A game every single day. We pushed each other in ways that were really extraordinary.

What’s one of the best lessons you’ve ever learned?

The greatest life lessons I’ve learned are to be present and don’t lie. I don’t lie in my personal life. I think that translates to my work, because how you do one thing is how you do everything. And I made a commitment a long time ago to be present.

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