One thing is certain about great actors, they can’t be pigeonholed. “I may indeed be perceived as a character actor, but I just think of myself as an actress that serves the work,” says Lorraine Toussaint, who co-stars with Queen Latifah in the new drama series The Equalizer, premiering February 7 on CBS. A reboot of the ’80s series and film franchise starring Denzel Washington, this version reimagines the role of Mccall as a Black female spy who uses her skills to help others. “I’ve been an actress for quite a long time, so it’s exciting to see these roles available to Black women.” Toussaint’s resume reads like that of an actress who refuses to be defined: from the evil prison boss on Orange is the New Black (“I went really far out there psychologically as an actor on that one”) to the groundbreaking series about race relations in the new South Any Day Now, Toussaint is the definition of range no matter how difficult the material.
But to her, that’s part of the job. “At this point in my career if I’m not paying a price to play the role, then it’s really not worth it.”
How does the show differ from the original series and film series?
In the films, the main character is a loner, whereas our Mccall is very much a part of society, she’s just really struggling with it. At the core, she has a family and people who love her.
With the level of action in the series, do you ever hope to be part of it?
I keep hoping the writers will add a True Lies element, where it turns out Aunt Viola was trained in the Israeli army or something. I’ve done some of that, but I’m not sure I’ve got action star in me at the moment [laughs].
With The Equalizer, Hollywood kept reimagining a character in diverse ways—with the lead played by a white man, a Black man and now a Black woman. Is that happening more?
Mccall is played by a strong and complex, sometimes brooding, conflicted Black woman; that’s exciting because it speaks to a level of complexity that we’re arriving at in the industry for women of color.
Your first big break on Any Day Now in 1998 really broke new ground. Did that feel like you were doing something new and bold?
That show is one of the high points of my career. The creator, Nancy Miller, pushed the envelope on race in ways that no one has touched since. It also showed that a Black woman could be a lead of a show. It’s nice to be part of my own history.
“If I’m not paying a price to play the role, then it’s really not worth it.”