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Being Mary Jane: Loretta Devine postmortem, talks gender-bending guest role

Devine’s character was initially written for a man, she tells EW: ‘The only changes they made were the pronouns in the dialogue’

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SPOILER ALERT: The following contains details from “Wake Up Call,” Tuesday’s episode of Being Mary Jane. Read at your own risk! 

As smart as Mary Jane is, our favorite primetime news anchor has a lot to learn. That premise played a big part of “Wake Up Call” where, in quick succession, Mary Jane was told that journalism students see her as a sellout and that Kara can’t (and won’t) step up as the executive producer of a second show. She also had to face the news of Patrick’s addiction, and, in less grim news, she learned that white boys can be pretty good in bed. Running the gamut of both her professional and personal life, these revelations made Mary Jane realize that she’s not quite the know-it-all she prides herself on being.

It should come as no surprise that straight shooter CeCe (Loretta DeVine) played the role of Mary Jane’s moral compass this episode, especially during one pivotal scene when she pressed MJ to resume reporting on “Talk Back.” Never one to hold back, CeCe didn’t mince words when it came to schooling Mary Jane about her responsibilities as a news anchor of color. While we have yet to see how seriously Mary Jane decides to take the pep talk, one thing is for sure: CeCe defies any depiction of womanhood we’ve seen on Being Mary Jane — not just as the series’ first lesbian character, but as one who is entirely unafraid of confrontation. Here, DeVine speaks to EW about the challenges taking on a role unlike any she’s played throughout her long career, and reveals whether she’s ready to become a series regular.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your character has been a conversation-starter on social media, both for being a departure from your usual roles and because of how different she is from the other women on the show. Has it been a challenge for you?

LORETTA DEVINE: It definitely has been, mostly because of the language of the role. CeCe is well-spoken and has a lot to say about everything. The amount of lines per episode was just incredible, and also because it was a role that was written for a male. Last minute they decided they were going to have a woman do it, and the only changes they made were the pronouns in the dialogue. I usually play someone’s mom or someone’s wife, where I answer questions like, “Are we going to dinner?” [Laughs] So I got to see how it feels to a big character in a show when you get to be a man, a scary, dominating character.

Was the role fully formed when you were approached about it?

No, which made it harder in the doing of it. They were still hashing out a lot of things. And every episode had a different director, which sometimes made the style of things change. Some I had worked with, and others I hadn’t. Regina King directed one episode, and when I had last worked with her, she played my daughter in This Christmas. It was a great experience to have her direct me after playing her mom and bossing her around. [Laughs

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What aspects of your character proved the hardest to take on?

I based my character on a man, and tried to focus on those habits. Like the way my husband ties his shoes. I tried to focus on those types of things more so than focusing on CeCe as a woman. I thought of her as a man, but that made it really hard to maintain the character because it was so much harder than the stuff I’m used to doing. I had to really stay in character during lunch of breaks, so that I would be able to deliver CeCe instead of a softer type of character.

That’s incredible, especially knowing the role was originally intended for a man.

I was trying to be as male as I possibly could. That’s all I ever thought about. I even thought about, “Is this woman attractive to me or not attractive to me?” I wasn’t trying to do anything feminine. Everything was the way a man would do it, straight up. I think it worked, and I’m very proud of what I did.

One of the things your character does is extort Mary Jane. Does that make her a villain?

I never thought of her as a villain. CeCe is doing a lot of good. She really believes in what she’s doing for her bookstore and for the community. The people that watch the show though definitely think differently. A woman came up to me in the store and told me, “You need to leave Mary Jane alone.” That’s definitely different from what I’m used to. I usually hear, “I love your character, you remind me of my mom.”

You know you’re doing something right when people love to hate your onscreen persona. Would you consider being a series regular?

I think so. It depends on what [show creator] Mara Brock Akil wants to talk about in the season coming up. That’s more important than my desire to work there.

A number of incredibly relevant topics have come up this season, including suicide, the evolving perception of black men in the public eye, politics, and sexuality. Which of the topics mentioned on the show do you find the most relevant?

I think my character is helping show that there are people who sort of defy the typical character. A lot of it has to do with Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation in the public eye, and shows like Orange Is the New Black. It’s hard for some people to get used to. People who might like me as a mom might not accept me as a viable person who’s a woman, who chooses to live and have desires that are different from what’s traditional.