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Interview

Finding Lorraine Toussaint in the 'Middle of Nowhere'

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Finding Lorraine Toussaint in the 'Middle of Nowhere'
Photo Source: Innovative Artists

Lorraine Toussaint may be best known for starring in Lifetime's "Any Day Now" with Annie Potts, but the gifted actress has amassed an impressive list of television credits and is currently shooting a recurring role as the Police Chief on ABC's "Body of Proof." Toussaint, who came to the U.S. as a child and hadn't been exposed to television, says she picked her career out of the yellow pages. She convinced her mother to sign her up for acting classes and credits the difficulties she faced as a child for helping her career. "I had such a facility [for acting], because up until that point I had taken refuge in my imagination for survival purposes," she says. "So I was very at home in the world of my own imagining and there's no greater tool for an actor than a vivid and a real imagination."

Although much of her work has been in television, Toussaint is garnering attention for her role in "Middle of Nowhere" which earned her a Spirit Award nomination. Toussaint says the offer to play Ruth in "Middle of Nowhere" was unexpected, but she loved the script when she read it. Later she learned she almost missed out on the role because the writer was having trouble getting in touch with her. "I thought, 'Oh dear, I've got to be easier to find,' " says Toussaint. She is also recurring as Dr. Watkins on CBS’s "The Young and the Restless."

What made you decide to go back to daytime television?
Lorraine Toussaint:
They called and said “Would you come play with us?” I'm at a point in my life where my motto to a great extent is "Oh, sure why not?" It's actually kind of nice. I've been going on all different types of adventures…"Middle of Nowhere" was a "sure, why not?" I always say if you can say yes, just say yes because you just never know. And even if nothing comes of it, you had a good time.

Is it challenging being back on daytime?
Toussaint:
[If] you think TV is fast, daytime is warp speed. And there is no preparation for it. There is no rehearsal. It's great training ground for actors. I think every actor should at some point do some daytime. Because it really is a testament of how it's all preparation. You pretty much do it all at home. At best you're going to get a block rehearsal, which doesn't always even include you saying the words and then it's one take. It behooves you to be overly prepared and actually self-directed. I don't think anyone would disagree with this: You are self-directed in daytime and that's it. So come with it, and bring it on the first take.

How do you prepare for a role?
Toussaint:
My preparation is like breathing; it's almost hard to say how do you breathe?…I'm a cook, so I determine what the meal is and what the essential ingredients are. So I go into my kitchen which is my psyche, my spirit, my history, my references, my subjective references, as well as objective references, and I begin to just throw in ingredients…What's a good bottle of abandonment? What's a good shaker of fear? Okay, let's do childhood fear. How deep does this fear go? Then I begin to gather the exact strengths of the ingredients and determine how to layer them in. Which ones will I need direct access to? Which are going to be the baseline memories, emotions, sensory stuff? So I do actually put it together very consciously, and then when it's all there, I turn it over to magic. Once I'm on set, the only thing I'm really interested in is being in the room. Being present. And trusting that what I've done is sufficient and I'm also trusting that I've also left room for magic. Because that's where I get to surprise myself and not know where it's going. I may have put in the recipes for a cake, but it may turn out to be a soufflé... I really am very good at surrendering to that when all is said and done. In fact, it's the thing that I most lean into: The magic of it.

Was "Body of Proof" an offer or did you audition for that one?
Toussaint:
It was an interesting enough arc that I went in. But "Body of Proof" was interesting because…I didn't feel I needed to prove anything in that audition. I didn't over-prepare it, but I was just very relaxed in it. I find I often do my best work when I'm not attached to the outcome of the audition. [It's] hard to do sometimes, but when I do, I find it always seems to serve me.

Did you know much about the character going into it?
Toussaint:
It was a four episode arc offer, and I knew that would give me enough time to suss out an interesting enough woman. This character is turning out to be way more interesting in my creation of her than I had seen. There are elements of her character that have really surprised me. I walked off from a scene the other day with Jeri [Ryan], and I was chuckling to myself as I left the scene and she looked at me and said, "What?" I said, "I'm tickling myself with what's showing up as this character." I love that…I am far less interested in how things look or keeping things contained in a way; I'm actually really interested in how messy characters can be.

Do have any particularly difficult auditions that you remember?
Toussaint:
I can remember maybe two or three that have actually made me weep or take to my bed. There was a pilot last season, I wanted it so badly and the darn network made me test for it twice and by the end of it, when I didn't get it, I just bawled like a baby. I was kind of annoyed with myself because for God's sake, enough already. It's not like I don't know the drill. But then I commended myself that even after thirty years, I can still fall in love and have my heart broken by the work and have it wreck me for a minute. So that speaks to the level of my involvement even after all these years.

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