Da’Vine Joy Randolph became a first-time Oscar nominee Tuesday morning for her performance as the grieving chef Mary in Alexander Payne’s Christmas dramedy The Holdovers, in which she stars alongside fellow nominee Paul Giamatti and newcomer Dominic Sessa.
Randolph is no stranger to acclaim for her work, having been Tony nominated for her performance in Ghost: The Musical, and she’s currently the frontrunner in the supporting actress category for Holdovers, having already collected trophies this season from groups like the Golden Globes and Critics Choice. Randolph’s character is mourning the premature loss of her son, and her nuanced performance in Payne’s film is richly textured and filled with subtlety.
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With the news of her first Oscar nomination fresh on her mind, Randolph was emotional as she spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about this recognition, the press cycle for The Holdovers approaching its conclusion, and what will stick with her from taking on the role of Mary.
Did you wake up early to watch the nominations? How did you receive the news?
I just came in from Paris. I went to Paris for Couture Fashion Week, and I just landed two hours ago in L.A., at, like, 3 a.m. So I just got home. And we decided: “Well, we might as well just stay up and watch it on TV.” It was really special.
Your name was the last of the five called, so while you’re watching, are you filled with trepidation?
I got used to it because I quickly learned that they do these things in alphabetical order of last name. So yeah, I’m always holding my breath. I always know I’m probably gonna be last, if it happens.
Who were the first calls you made after hearing the news?
I love [Colman Domingo] so much, we just got off the phone. It’s funny, the people that I’m calling up, the nominees, they’re on calls with everyone, so I put out feelers to my people, and then they’re all like, “I will call you back as soon as I’m out of this interview.” It’s so exciting. So many beautiful artists being nominated this year: Colman, The Holdovers family, Danielle Brooks, Emily Blunt. Those were the immediate people I was reaching out to.
It’s been months now of doing press for this film. Is there anything that surprised you talking about this movie, things that you may have discovered or learned as you’re continually engaging with the press?
I would say the biggest thing is, I’m continuously surprised and moved by how much of an impact this story, and in particular this woman’s journey in life, is meaning to people, both in interviews, but just in the day to day, and how people will stop me on the street, or in the airport, or on the plane, and share their connection to the piece. How it moves them, how the character resonates, and [they] see themselves, or that it reminds them of their grandmother, their neighbor. That never gets old to me.
I always want to be real and authentic in my storytelling, and in life. You get to give that role, that person’s story — I see them as spirits, like you’re bringing that person back to life. They say how you keep a person alive is by telling their story. And so that’s something I’ve always connected to when I got into acting. The idea that Mary’s story, and the women who are Marys in our world, that story is being told, and keeping her spirit alive, even though it’s not a real life person that I portrayed, she resembles so many people, particularly women, in this world, so to keep that story alive just means so much to me. It’s why I do what I do. It’s great to play big, monumental characters, big movies, but when you have a smaller independent movie, where you’re just telling things to the best of your ability, and everyone is on board, it really makes a big difference when the powers that be deem our work valuable.
Everyone, eventually, deals with grief in some way. And I think this character represents something that we all have to go through at some point. That must be a unique responsibility.
Yeah, it was a lot. I think, like her, sometimes I myself downplay things, and I’m just like, “Oh, let’s just do the job at hand.” I don’t always do a good job of being in the moment for myself. That’s something that she’s taught me to do. To be present, but also to face things and to process things.
Sometimes I think being a woman in this industry, I’ve been very focused, making strategic moves in my career of what I say yes and no to. Today is the day in which I feel like all of those nights where I would stay up late and watch old movies, or jot down notes of what I want from my career, or how I want to portray the character I was playing, or sharing with my team my thoughts on how I envisioned myself and my goals… all of that planning and preparation was not wasted. To be an actor, at least for me, it’s intense. It’s a lot of sacrifices, a lot of alone time. And I just know the blessing, the opportunity I have to have this as a career, to call myself a working actor. I don’t take it lightly, and I throw myself into my work. And so this is a moment where I feel like I can take a breath, Da’Vine, take it in. I’m in my late 30s. I feel like when you’re in work mode, you can get tunnel vision, so that I don’t always stop to take it in. This has been so overwhelming, in the best, most beautiful way possible. My intention for today is just taking this in and then reflecting on all of it, of my parents seeing something in me that I didn’t even see as a child, and investing that time, money and energy into my gift, and the sacrifices, even as a kid, of strengthening my craft, of going to performing art schools, going to certain teachers [who] nurtured my gift. I’m so grateful to them for that. They put me on this path, and to think of a girl from Philadelphia that’s just energetic and creative and all over the place, they saw that in me. I’m forever grateful to my parents for that, and to have gone to Yale, and to be under the tutelage of titans in the acting world, and to have those people believe in me, and create a space for me, and nurture my gift.
I remember my teacher told me, [because] I said to myself, “I don’t know who or what to look up to. People have done amazing things, but it doesn’t feel connected to me.” And I remember him saying, “Well, then that means that you’re meant to forge your own path. And that is going to be hard. Because you’re not going to have that certain blueprint that you’re looking for, it’s going to require a lot of self motivation and self belief.” And he was right. I have many years of communicating with myself and reengaging my goals, my ideas, my identity as an actor, as a performer, and constantly communicating with myself, with my team, and really holding steadfast to that. To be at this moment is quite something.
Are there other films or performances that particularly moved you this year?
Colman Domingo, obviously. Paul [Giamatti], for sure. The Holdovers in general, getting so many nominations, is just so exciting. Emily Blunt, Danielle Brooks, all the nominees in my category. I have admired each and every one of them and their work, and so it’s so crazy to me that my name is even mentioned amongst them. I’m so thrilled for Lily [Gladstone], I think she’s done such a beautiful job, and she has stepped into this role, and also just this whole thing with press, and being an actor, she seems like she’s handled it with such poise and grace and dignity, as if she’s been doing it for years. Which is so beautiful, but I think is also about when you step in your purpose. She’s just come into her own, and it’s such a joy to watch. And I love Bradley Cooper, I’m so excited for him, and Maestro, he’s done such a beautiful job with that movie. It’s such a thrilling and exciting year. Nothing was frivolous. Even Barbie has such a beautiful and profound message. Sometimes there’s years where you’re like, “Eh, okay.” And it’s just such a powerful, strong year [for film].
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