Before she was Bird in "Friday Night Lights,” Vee in “Orange Is the New Black” or Patricia in “The Village,” actress Lorraine Toussaint was a neighbor, a friend and a New Yorker.
The actress says her latest role in NBC’s heart-tugging drama “The Village” reminds her of the New York City she grew up in.
“Call me an idealist. I believe,” she says of the series centered around a community of apartment tenants who create a tight-knit family. The show’s rooftop parties and open-door policies aren’t far-fetched when compared with her own experiences.
This familial style of collective living “is an idea that we have strayed from,” she adds. “I want the audience to take away from the series that it’s possible and if you are feeling the void of a community, you can create it. It doesn’t take much.”
Born in Trinidad, Toussaint moved to New York at age 10 with her mother. She stayed in the city for two decades, hopping between Brooklyn and Manhattan, before temporarily moving to Los Angeles. Her role as Patricia, the ill wife of “The Village” landlord, and her daughter Samara Zane’s aspirations to become a professional dancer have brought her family back to New York City, where she feels most at home.
Below, Toussaint reflects upon the city she knows best.
Growing up in Brooklyn, do you have a realistic expectation that something as unifying as “The Village” family could really exist?
This is a realistic way of actually being. Cooperative living is the future. That has always been the cast for most thriving communities. We’re better together than we are alone. And oftentimes the perception of a big city is that there are so many people and everybody’s going in so many different directions, but in the New York that I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, a building like this was not unusual.
How does the show compare to your own experiences?
I grew up in Brooklyn and I had family in the building, friends in the building, we had a real community. When I went to Julliard, I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, which was also a very tight neighborhood. It was a rough neighborhood, and yet still there was real safety in my building. It was a four-floor walk-up where there were eight tenants. I knew absolutely everyone intimately in that building.
If I needed help, or they needed help, we were literally always there for each other … If I felt endangered coming home late at night, I would call one of my neighbors to come downstairs, stand on the corner and wait for me. One of them would happily do it.
That sounds like the real sense of community that’s found in this series, but it’s not something everyone has.
Yes, and we had courtyard parties on the weekends! I mean, if there was a strange sound in the middle of the night, we’d open doors and peek at what’s going on. I know this building. I live in a very big apartment complex now. I’m on the 30th floor, and maybe I’m a total optimist, but I’m shocked on mornings when I walk into that elevator how many people don’t say good morning. We stand shoulder to shoulder with people now, pretending they’re not there.
So, do you think “The Village” tells a timely story New Yorkers need to hear today?
It’s timely for today’s audience because our audiences and our communities are really hungry for a message that tells us that we can come together. We are the microcosm and the macrocosm of that. We are a family. We are a diverse family, but that’s what makes us an interesting family, and a stronger family. This show is the window into what I believe we were, and need to be again.