From being the oldest ever contestant to appear on a RuPaul’s Drag Race series to stealing scenes on P-Valley and Days of Our Lives, Loretta Devine is just getting started.
RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race is back, and each week, surprise celebrity guests compete for the throne. One to take the stage this season is Hollywood icon, Loretta Devine.
Ms. Devine hasn’t slowed down since she hit the scene, remaining a consistent force in Hollywood and currently starring in the critically acclaimed P-Valley, Family Reunion and Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem.
Shadow and Act Unscripted spoke with the icon after her elimination from the show and participation in the drag competition series, longevity and more.
S&A Unscripted: Unfortunately, you were the first eliminated contestant of the season, but how would you rate your experience overall?
LD: It was exciting and different and quite a challenge. I think it was the first reality show I’ve ever done. I was on the [the original series] show as a judge way back in the day, but I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun. We had a choreographer, we had hostesses that sort of took care of us when we were not on the screen working. And so it was busy, and a lot, and I loved it.
Do you think that your work on Broadway prepared you for the theatrics of 'RuPaul's Drag Race'?
LD: Of course. I think that had a lot to do with that. It had a lot to do with me wanting to even think I could do that I could do it at this late in my life. So it was just exciting and fun. And it was a secret and everybody was hiding from everybody and couldn’t say anything. I haven’t talked about it until now. Because I was the first one off, it happened so fast, it was almost like it didn’t happen. It was like a dream sequence or something. And it really puts you in your place, in your head. You go, ‘God, I’m the first one to go. That’s so tacky.’ You’re terrified when you’re standing there, and they’re calling everybody’s name, and then there you are. You are you are one of the last two. And you got to sing for your life. And then RuPaul goes, ‘Don’t f**k it up.’ It was a great time.
It was right the middle of the pandemic, it was like November of 2021. And I think we were just beginning to believe that this [COVID-19] could kill you and this is real. And trying to work in the middle of all of that, on top of it. So we had these masks that you wore and you wore your hoodie when you came in so people couldn’t see who was who or what was what. It was the first time I think I’d been in front of an audience in a while because everything had been shut down for so long. So it had a lot of it was a lot of excitement.
I wish that you would have stayed longer because I'm just such a huge fan. But outside of the elimination, how did you go about prepping for a song like ‘Just Fine’ by Mary J. Blige? How much fun did you have onstage, and what did you try to at least take away from a performer like MJB to apply to yours and make it your own?
LD: That was one of my favorite songs that I really loved. And my daughter-in-law used to say, “This is your theme song because everything’s ‘fine, fine, fine.'” I made her feel like that whenever she was around me. And so there were like things that you could do and couldn’t do. They suggested, I think to some degree, the songs to us. I said, ‘Well, I want to sing this.’ I was really excited that that was one of the songs on the list.
How was it working alongside Monét X Change and Jamal Sims to help you prepare for everything?
LD: Monét is just so beautiful and she really made you feel like you could do anything. She was so complimentary of everything you were trying to do. I had to get used to the way I looked after they did the drag and everything on my face. And it’s like I looked like I was really Fabulosity. So it was the whole teaching about how to pull up and feel how important you are. She was fabulous. She really was.
Everyone is buzzing about your performance in 'P-Valley' this season. How has it been seeing all of the love that people have for you, particularly in this role?
LD: I don’t stay on the Internet as much as I could, because that’s where you find out how really think. Sometimes I’m scared to go look. But the fans that I meet in the street, a lot of times people come up, and they whisper to me, “I saw you on P-Valley.” I don’t know if they don’t want me to know that they’re watching because it’s always a whisper. But everyone loves it because they don’t know what to expect next.
And that’s like the fun. To be able to work this long, to be able to do things that are kind of challenging, things that you’ve never done before. I’ve been so blessed to do a variety of things. I have stuff for the kids, stuff for the teenagers and stuff for the adults.
Speaking of a show that you are on that's multigenerational, congratulations on the success of Netflix's ‘Family Reunion.’ We're so sad to see it go. But what do you feel has been the biggest impact the show has made on its audience?
LD: I’m telling you, teenagers [and] young people absolutely love the show. And they don’t mind letting you know. We have 10 episodes in the can that will be coming out soon. And so and I’m really excited about that because I love doing the show. I think it’s one of the few shows with such a huge cast. So many mothers come up to me and say that the kids absolutely love the show and it’s something that they can look at together. The whole family can enjoy it together. That part of it is really great.
You also recently dove into the world of soaps with ‘Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem.’ What was it like being an offshoot of a long-running soap opera? and di you want to come back as Angela?
LD: Girl. I have never had so many lines. Oh, God, I called Jackeé Harry and said, ‘How is that you didn’t tell me?’ Because that was my first time doing it. They work so hard, and everything is so much bigger. I was not really used to the time. You have to rehearse and stuff, and it’s a constant go.
I would do it again, but now I’d be more prepared for it. But I did learn a lot of tips from the script supervisor, who sort of like showed you a few tricks on how to learn fast. And how to learn like 50,000 lines in 20 minutes. So it was a great experience. I loved working with everybody – everyone was so professional, and they’ve been doing it so long. It was another one of those challenges for me, and I really enjoyed it.
I spoke with two of the long-running stars on both ‘The Bold and the Beautiful' and ‘The Young and the Restless’ ahead of the Daytime Emmys. We spoke about how everyone in the business always says that being on a soap opera is the hardest job in show business. Do you feel as if that was true in your experience because of all of the amount of lines that you learn and because the script can change minute by minute when filming?
LD: I don’t know if it’s the hardest, but it is challenging. The admirable thing is it takes a tremendous amount of focus because their rehearsal time is so much shorter. The preparation time is shorter than I think in a sitcom or a movie. Movies are changing too. You don’t have as much time.
When I first started making movies, we did Waiting to Exhale, which was a three-month gig. You went to the location, you were there that they had prep time. If there was something they wanted to do, they teach you. I think they taught me how to swim because I was supposed to die in the pool, and then they cut that out. But each thing is different and gives you another value of what the project is.
You spoke about doing ‘RuPaul's Drag Race’ at this age and I just want to commend you on consistently working and proving that you can defy age stereotypes in the industry. What do you think is the reason for your staying power? You have such a wide range of roles and don't really seem afraid to do anything. I think that that's one of the reasons you're such an icon to us.
LD: My husband keeps telling me I keep lying about my age because I don’t look or act it to others. I can remember being so young and my mom named me after Loretta Young. So for some stupid reason, I just assumed I was supposed to be on TV and do stuff like that too. And all my life has sort of been what I’ve always focused on. And I’m a late bloomer because I started probably 10 years later than everybody else. I’ll never forget when I was in Dreamgirls, they did this contest where you brought your baby picture, and they were laughing. It was so damn funny because I had one of those old phones. And so I was probably maybe a good 10 years older than everybody, maybe even more than that for Jennifer Holliday, I’m not sure, but maybe for Shirley. So all of a sudden, you’re older than everybody that you had, but you don’t know it. So that may be because in my head, I’m still as young as everybody else.
And I love to work. I love creating characters and making them believable enough for people to like them. I’ve had some adventurous things to do. P-Valley is such an adventure playing an 80-year-old blind stripper. I mean, who would have thought it? When then I was on Being Mary Jane, I played a man, and I thought I did a really good job. So I’m just trying to make sure that I love it. I get it. And the show business is like, if you sit down for 2 minutes, somebody else is in your spot, so you have to keep it moving. You can’t be lazy. And so I love it so much. I have a passion for it. So that helps.