Interview: Da'Vine Joy Randolph Dolemite Is My Name

Da'Vine Joy Randolph
Dolemite Is My Name
Catch it in movie cinemas October 4, 2019
Stream it on Netflix October 25, 2019

As we meet Eddie Murphy's take on blaxploitation legend Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name, he's on the downside of his prime. He's middle-aged, selling records instead of making them, and creeping toward the edge of desperation. Still, the laughs and a relentless optimismn about what can still be hold him together. He's the has been who refuses to be a has been.
Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name - image courtesy of TIFF
Murphy's portrayal is spot on, and certainly one of the best performances of his career, if not the best. With its over the top 1970s visual sensibilities - all neon colours, platform heels, sequins and feathers - set against the streets of seedy old Hollywood, it would be easy for this film to slide into period parody. Muphy is the story's solid heart, as the man who can seemingly pull success out of less than ashes.

The movie got its world prmeiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019. Directed by Craig Brewer, the movie features a large and star studded cast, including Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Snoop Dogg, Chris Rock, and Wesley Snipes. Murphy also serves as one of three producers.

Just like the movie, after a string of careers, including stand-up, making RnB records, nightclub acts, and more, real-life Moore was working in a record store when he heard the street legend of a pimp. In the movie, he's Dolemite, the character that Moore eventually takes from the legend and makes his own to star in his brand new stand up act. What happened next is, as they say, history.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays Lady Reed, the other half of the movie's heart. Rudy comes across Lady Reed on a bad night as he's playing his stand-up routine. Seeing a spark in her that he recognizes in himself, he persuades her to join him up on stage. It's in their scenes together that the movie finds its emotional centre.
Dolemite Is My Name - image Courtesy of TIFF
Randolph came to acting by way of singing in her native Philadelphia. She garnered a Tony Award® Nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical Broadway in 2012 for her West End and Broadway debuts starring as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost the Musical.

She says the part came to her as a regular audition, but it was the strong script that hooked her interest. "What really got my attention was the description of this character," she says. Lady Reed is a strong character with a vulnerable side, and a consummate show woman as coaxed into her stage glory by Dolemite. But, a description was all she got. Randolph says the project was under an ultra secrecy ban at first, with no script to check out. She had been working on Empire's fourth season, but knew she wanted the role.

It took four auditions and callbacks. "It was a field of phenomenal women," she says. They'd given her one of Moore's House Party albums, where the character Lady Reed is based on is actually recorded. She had two days to memorize her parts, with the added responsibility of trying to get her right. "It's a whole other ballgame when you're playing a real person," she notes.

It made her a little nervous at first, when all she had to go on was a few recordings and scenes from Moore's movies. But, the movies gave her an idea of how to approach her physicality. "It was a good balance." Murphy had known the real life woman, and would give her insights into how she'd speak and the phrases she'd use.

The scenes of Murphy and Randolph together were the ones the script adds onto Moore's story to give the characters depth. Staying alive in the rocky show biz industry meant putting everything on the line for both characters, and they hold each other up. "It's a tricky thing," she says. "He sees this light in her."

One thing the movie portrays is the tight closeness of the actors and crew who worked on Dolemite/Moore's films, a feeling of community that she notes is rare in real life. Along with anything else, the movie is a kind of primer on how to DIY your way to success as a creative - know your audience, and stay true to them. Be willing to mortgage it all to get your work in front of people.

"He really believed in himself, even when every door was closed," she says. "If you really want it bad enough, you'll find a way. I think everyone deserves that."

In Moore's case, the gamble worked out spectacularly. After paying to successfully screen the movie out of his own pocket, he found a distributor who understood the burgeoning Black movie market of the 1970s, and went on to make several more.

The production looks fantastic, and Ruth E. Carter's costumes are nothing short of spectacular. Along with the eye popping costumes, the movie sports a great soundtrack of Motown and RnB. Word is that Netflix is pushing Dolemite Is My Name for an Oscar, or two or three or so. The movie is part of the streaming service's first set of new theatre-first releases, with a theatrical release on October 4, followed by streaming availability as of October 25.