Loretta Devine just turned 66 on August 21. And like many actresses stuck in an industry full of sexism, racism and ageism, another year of life poses a new path of challenges. “I’m amazed at all the answers that you don’t get with age. I thought that by the time you become a certain age, you’re going to understand some things. But I think that what you understand is what life presents to you,” she says. “Right now, all my friends, their moms or dads are sick or have dementia. Nothing prepares you for what older age looks like. You look one way and then you look in the mirror and all of a sudden you have gray hairs. And there’s new lines on your face and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I have to hurry up and get whatever I’m going to do done.’ ”
Despite being in what some see as the retirement golden years, Ms. Devine has so much she’s just getting done. During her birthday month, she shines on tonight’s debut of NBC’s new Black family comedy The Carmichael Show, playing mother to comedian Jerrod Carmichael.
“I’m very excited about it. We’re hitting some key topics. Protesting and whether not to have guns and use guns, how Black people eat as opposed to how other people eat,” she says laughing. “It’s not Black-ish at all. It’s something totally different. So we’ll see how it goes.”
With several films coming up, including one with Oscar winner Hillary Swank, Devine appears on the third season of Being Mary Jane cast as an aggressive lesbian. “It was so…” her words trail off for a second. “I can say it was hard to do, exciting, something different. It was a challenge.”
But that’s how Loretta lives her life these days. Like an elder at a casino pulling the slot machine, she leans toward the risks. Plays the odds. Embraces auditioning enjoying the thrill of anticipation. She gambles on a callback while hoping to hit the triple gold-casted role. “Which a lot of people don’t believe after you’ve worked so long in the business,” she says. “But with every new job, a lot of times it’s a matter of going back to jail, like when you play Monopoly. You have to start over to lead to new experiences,” says Devine, who auditioned four times to win her job playing opposite David Alan Grier on The Carmichael Show.
“When I was very young, one of the key things I had to learn to do was to enjoy auditioning. A good audition is titillating. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, you got to wait to see if you’re going to get it. And you are so disappointed. I’ve auditioned for a lot of things I didn’t get. After Waiting to Exhale, the first role I had given to me was when Bill Duke cast me in Hoodlum. And that was the first role I didn’t have to audition for. But I’ve auditioned for many since then.”
Hoodlum was way back in 1997, just one of many projects in Loretta’s nearly 40-year career—jumpstarted by her 1982 run in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Dreamgirls, to her 2011 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series on Grey’s Anatomy. With a résumé running long like a marathon—lengthy, twisting, and tiring—Devine’s never-ending lap around the Hollywood Hills doesn’t seem ready to stop anytime soon.
“You know what? To me it doesn’t feel long or seem long. Part of it is passion, and part of it is being what you’re destined to do. Every now and then someone is like, ‘Why don’t you direct? Why do you…?’ And I’m like, ‘Why don’t you stay out my business?’ Because I’m an actress and that’s what I do!” she says laughing. “This is something I know how to do, something I’ve been doing all my life, and something I love. And you don’t get that that often.”
The Carmichael Show debuts August 26 at 9:00pm EST on NBC.