Loretta Devine is as effervescent and joyous as ever. The actress who’s wowed fans for years on stage and screen is now starring on The Carmichael Show every Wednesday night on NBC as Cynthia Carmichael, the loving and hilarious mom to stand-up comedian Jerrod Carmichael’s character. The show features a fictionalized version of Carmichael’s family, but Devine says she wasn’t aware of the young, deadpan funnyman’s work before she joined the cast. But it didn’t take long for her to connect with her new cast mate.
“I remember auditioning for it and I really liked Jerrod when I first met him,” she explains. “You always go into these things sort of blind. You get an idea from the first show and the rest sort of ‘becomes.’ I didn’t even see his stand-up until after I was cast. I’d never heard of him.”
The show doesn’t steer clear of touchy subject matter, as revealed in the second episode, which addressed police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. For Devine, it’s important for “The Carmichael Show” to be topical and reflect what’s happening in society.
“You never know how people are going to take it — especially nowadays when everything has to be so politically correct,” she admits. “In a way it’s exciting because you get to wrestle with issues of the day. I love the fact that it’s so current and you just hope that you’re on the right side!”
For decades, Devine has shown her wide range as an actress — having appeared in everything from juvenile comedies like Class Act to relationship dramas like Waiting to Exhale and gritty crime epics like Hoodlum. When she looks back at her career path, she still sounds like a woman who’s happy to be having such a ride.
“I’m just glad I can say that I’ve made it,” says Devine. “I remember being little and my cousin would say ‘You’re too ugly. Nobody’s going to put you on TV.’ And when I see him now, it just gives me joy. I was from a poor family. My hair would not grow. I was skinny for a long time — just everything that can happen to a little Black girl. It’s all quite amazing to me that I’ve had the career that I’ve had. And it’s let me do a lot of different things. It’s almost like they don’t know you’re there.”
And with her starring gig on The Carmichael Show in full swing, Devine isn’t slowing down.
“I have episodes of ‘Being Mary Jane’ coming up where I get to play a lesbian,” the actress shares. “It was a role that was originally written for a man but I have all of this incredible dialogue and it was really a great challenge. I’m getting a chance to do a lot of things that are just incredible experiences and I thank God for that. You have to try to push yourself.”
And she’s still seeking inspiration from everything from her everyday life (“My swimming pool inspires me!”) to her co-stars like Carmichael. She’s still basking in the glow of it all. And what about her on-screen husband, David Alan Grier?
“We hate each other! I cannot stand David!” she says with a laugh. “We managed to stay away from each other for years and then it all came back! Omigod! We worked together in Dreamgirls when I was a baby in New York. Then we worked together on ‘A Different World’ and we did a film together, and then we kind of went our separate ways. But he’s an incredible actor and comedian. But we hate each other.”