Directly after graduating from Juilliard in 1982, Lorraine Toussaint began rehearsals for her first paid acting gig, as Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare & Company’s production of “Macbeth.” After eight years of classical theater training, the Trinidad-born, New York-raised performer found herself among seasoned professionals like Kristin Linklater and Tim Saukiavicus, who mentored her as she entered the city’s Shakespearean heyday. Toussaint’s first mention in Variety was on Aug. 4, 1982, when she was cast in the Scottish Play; her first on-screen role was in the 1983 telefilm “The Face of Rage.” Among Toussaint’s many credits are Vee in Season 2 of “Orange Is the New Black” and a starring role in NBC’s current “The Village.” She also co-starred in Julia Hart’s superhero movie “Fast Color,” and plays Flo Kennedy in the yet-to-be-released “The Glorias: A Life on the Road,” the Gloria Steinem biopic directed by Julie Taymor.
When you did you start gravitating toward theater?
When I was about 11, I studied at a little private school in Brooklyn and decided I wanted to be an actor and wanted to audition for the High School of Performing Arts. At the time, I was such a shy kid that the drama school was grooming all the other kids. They had a handful of kids that they thought were gonna get in and were worthy candidates, and I was definitely not one of them. So I set up my own auditions, and I was the only one who got in, which was a shock to the school because they didn’t even know my name.
You found out about landing “Macbeth” at the time of your Juilliard graduation. What was that like?
I knew I had gotten in the day or two before, but I went from graduation ceremony to the first rehearsal, which is kinda cool. I literally graduated Juilliard in the morning and then took the subway down to the Public Theater, which is where rehearsal was starting. I can’t remember the exact feeling or where I was, but I knew that it was daunting. The Public Theater was a Shakespearean company, and there I was, playing the Lady herself, and that was why I was both thrilled and terrified. I still have moments of being thrilled and terrified with work.
What did you learn from that experience?
That job was the first time I began trying to assimilate the raw talent that was at my core and trying to incorporate it with all the training I had just acquired. I had come from eight years of hard-core acting training, and suddenly I was out in the world doing it. So much of the training has to be tempered. It takes a while to have it calm down so it’s invisible.
Was there ever a point at which you thought you’d stop pursuing acting?
Never. I never, ever thought of anything else, and not only did I never think of doing or being anything else, it wasn’t even a struggle to not think of it. I made a decision and that was it, and no one could challenge or question it. I was so clear, I didn’t give myself anything else to fall back on. I told my family early on that if I gave myself something to fall back on, I’m gonna fall back! I also knew I was gonna be a long-distance runner. I didn’t expect to be discovered in that Hollywood way; I didn’t expect that it would be a one-shot where I would make it or not. I was in for life.