Easily the standout performer on Orange Is the New Black's second season is Lorraine Toussaint, whose role as Vee is not only an agent of chaos in the already turbulent women's prison but is also a landmark in the 25-year film and TV career of a woman who finally seems to be coming into her own as a name to watch. We've all been watching, of course, but now's a great time to put a finger on where we know her from.
A Case of Deadly Force
This 1986 made-for-TV movie was one of Toussaint's earliest roles. The most interesting thing isn't that Toussaint played the widow of a man shot and killed by Boston cops (who then tried to cover it up), it's that the film is based on a novel written by MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell. Rambo's Richard Crenna plays O'Donnell himself! The whole movie is streaming on YouTube, if you're interested in odd, unexamined corners of television history.
It's an incredibly brief performance, but it was likely seen by a whole lot of people, as Dangerous Minds was a hugely-promoted Michelle Pfeiffer star vehicle that would get repeated on TV endlessly. Toussaint played the mother of one of Pfeiffer's more gifted students, an obstinate woman who resents Pfeiffer's intrusions into her daughter's life and basically tells her to butt out. It's the kind of role you'd come to expect from Toussaint, albeit often in small doses: imperious, controlled, not to be trifled with.
Any Day Now
In the 2000s, Toussaint made many, many guest-star appearances on TV — she recurred on shows like Law & Order and Friday Night Lights, along with one-shots on shows ranging from 227 to Ugly Betty to ER — but her biggest role was on Lifetime's Any Day Now, where she and Annie Potts played the leads, a pair of lifelong best friends dealing with family and such. It was never much heralded during its run; it's a very Lifetime kind of show, and all that implies. But it ran for 88 episodes, and if you're in the mood to give it credit for being an early adopter of TV's current-storylines-and-also-flashbacks structure that's so fashionable these days, you certainly could.
Back to TV guest-starring (and back to co-starring opposite Annie Potts), Toussaint has been a recurring guest on ABC Family's unexpectedly wonderful drama about a lesbian couple and their adopted (and biological) children. Toussaint plays mother to Sherri Saum's character, and once again, this is a mother figure who is not easily managed. This is the dominant trend of Toussaint's career, and it's certainly reflected in the toxically maternal relationship she has with Taystee on Orange.
Middle of Nowhere
This is the important one. This is the breakout role that we all hoped would lead to many more great parts for Toussaint (and indeed, it may well be that Orange Is the New Black is a fruit of that labor). In Ava DuVernay's 2012 indie drama, Toussaint plays the mother of the lead character, a wonderfully complicated, difficult, hard but loving but hard woman whose relationship with her two adult daughters is one of off-puttingly fierce attempts to set their lives right. Toussaint received a well-deserved Independent Spirit Award nomination for the performance, and most excitingly, she will re-team with DuVernay for her upcoming civil-rights-era drama Selma.
Point of No Return
I'd nearly let this one slip by me, but here's Toussaint in 1993's Point of No Return (the American remake of La Femme Nikita), where she and Bridget Fonda team up to murder the crap out of Olivia d'Abo. It ... doesn't turn out all that well for Lorraine's character.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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