Da’Vine Joy Randolph Gave Cherise Depth and an Angelic Voice on High Fidelity

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

In Hulu’s remake of High Fidelity, Zoë Kravitz shines center-stage as Rob, but Da’Vine Joy Randolph steals the spotlight as her friend and record shop employee, Cherise. She’s a fiercely loyal and quick-witted aspiring musician with strong opinions and a budding—but incredible—musical talent. She’s defensive and she delivers the show’s best one-liners (“I’mma identify my fist with your ass,” she taunts in one argument), but there’s more to her than sassy comebacks and comedic relief.

Despite her tough exterior, Cherise exhibits “vulnerability at its core,” Randolph tells BAZAAR.com, especially when it comes to her nascent music career. She writes songs but doesn’t show them to her friends; she’s crushed when someone turns down her ad for a backup singer; she hides the fact that outside of the record store, she works another job at a club coat check.

“I didn’t want to just make her a one-dimensional tough girl that was just like, ‘I said what I said and could care less what you think and that’s that,’” Randolph explains. “Someone who feels that big feels other things that big as well.”

Another surprise about Cherise? Her singing voice. Though her evasiveness about her music is a punchline in the season, she finally does show her skill in a tender moment in the finale as she sings Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love)” to herself on an electric guitar. Cherise is a beginner, but Randolph—a Tony Award nominee with gentle vocals and dexterous riffs—is certainly not.

The actress, who recently starred opposite Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name, was drawn to High Fidelity 2.0 because of how it flips the script on the 2000 film, which starred John Cusack, and the 1995 Nick Hornby novel. “I loved the idea that they were going to spin it and instead of men, use women, and instead of white men, use Black women,” she says. She hopes roles like these can become more common. “What would be great is if this isn’t a huge moment where it’s talked about and this can become the new normal.”

Working with Kravitz was also a huge plus. The lead actress and executive producer added “another level of dopeness” and “an authenticity of that urban culture,” Randolph praises. What she hopes audiences see from two Black women leading the show are “the different complexities of people of color, so that it’s not just stuck in the same stereotypes, but it goes beyond that.”

Here, Randolph talks to BAZAAR.com about becoming Cherise, her character’s unseen love life, and her own breakup playlist.

You and Zoë forged a great friendship onscreen, but behind the scenes, what was it like?

It was amazing. Zoë is phenomenal. To my knowledge, I believe this is her first lead. Some people try to get a role or two as a lead underneath their belt because that just comes with a whole level of things. And she decided—and I think it really speaks to how dope, committed, and passionate she is—to take it one step further and EP for the first time as well. It was just really inspiring to observe and watch how fearless she was, to have this woman be calling the shots in the room of men and standing up for what makes sense and what is the voice of the show. And then, she can kick back and have fun and laugh, and then be the actor. It was just really, really inspiring. I really admire that about her. It gave me a sense of like, “Oh, you can do this too.”

Sometimes as women, especially women of color, it means something when someone you can watch has done it. And it then motivates you to be like, “Oh, I can do it too!” It says something about someone when they can be fearless enough to do it, having never done it before. I really can’t say enough about Zoë.

She’s so passionate and dedicated to her work and a huge stickler for details. When everyone else was like, “Ah, it doesn’t really matter. They won’t catch it.” She’s like, “Not not on my watch.” And that’s just quality. That’s reinforcing quality and not trying to cut corners. She’s phenomenal. Truly, truly phenomenal.

Sometimes as women, especially women of color, it means something when someone you can watch has done it.

What about Cherise did you relate to the most?

Her passion. When she feels comfortable, she can really be in her skin. It can be loud, it can be hilarious, all over the place, but really, I think what people are attaching to is that she’s fearless, she knows what she likes, she knows what’s important to her. She has a tribe of people, who she connects with and is like a second family to her. Their opinions matter a lot. She goes hard for everything and everybody.

My family and friends are everything to me, especially in this crazy business of this industry. You have to have these pillars in your life to keep you rooted and hinged to the ground ’cause this stuff gets so out of proportion. I’m so grateful for them and I love to see the love that Cherise shows and how she’s a die-hard for her people.

I am also a musician. I started with music first and then transitioned to acting by default, so that’s really fun to tap back into that space and combine my now two loves. I would say that’s the biggest, those three: family or tribe, passion, and the love for music.

When people ask her about what music she has coming up, she hides that. Maybe she’s scared to show it or she’s procrastinating?

It’s not procrastination at all. She actually works tirelessly for hours and hours. That’s why half of these debates that they have, they’re thinking they’re just talking, but for her, it’s everything because it helps her define and sharpen the iron, to figure out, Who am I as an artist? What is my identity? It’s a big, big thing because for the most part, a musical artist, especially a vocalist, picks a genre—maybe one other one, but they’re very close if they do. It’s not that far off. Like if it’s neo-soul then it might be R&B or, if it’s folk then it might be country. I think because she is someone who is multidimensional, who has eclectic taste, and there’s layers to it, it’s really daunting for her.

So when there is a scene of like, “What is your genre?” and she rattles off all these different people, it’s because that’s real. I can identify with that to a certain level. I like this part of this person and this part of that person. Honestly maybe Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder, and Lauryn Hill are artists who I can be like, carte blanche, straight across the board, all of them I adore and have no qualms with. But for the most part, you don’t love everything about everyone. So it’s tricky and it’s anxiety-ridden for her to figure out.

When they’re egging her on, or like, “Come on, you don’t have anything,” to them, it just looks like displaced energy and a waste of time and she’s just like clinging onto a hope and a dream and not putting in the work. But little do they know, she eats, sleeps, and breathes it. So, when they’re having casual conversations, she’s so amped because she’s trying to figure that out, because who else can she really talk to on that level?

I love to see the love that Cherise shows and how she’s a die-hard for her people.

Your performance at the end, when you sing the Stevie Wonder song, just blew me away. Tell me about that scene.

That was a big thing for us. I remember in the beginning when Zoe and I were discussing Cherise, we kept going back and forth with: Will she sing in season one? Will she ever sing at all? Is this something that just gets talked about? Can she sing? “Does she actually have a talent” was number one, and then it was, “Will we see her perform and actually sing?” And then we did a major shift and change. We’re constantly listening to music, and there was some Stevie Wonder music on and, like I said, Stevie’s one of my people. You can’t really mess up with me with Stevie. To me, it’s a very difficult song because it’s not as popular.

We decided that we wanted it to show that she was truly a work in progress and to show she’s developing, she definitely has talent, but she was challenging herself. I was like, “Listen, I’m a singer but I think we’ll get much mileage if we come in from the top.” You know what I mean? With me singing it full out. It was a conscious decision. We were like, okay, we definitely want to show that she has talent. We definitely want to show that she can sing. I think a bit of it too is that she’s emotional cause she’s still like, “I cannot believe that this girl [Rob] did this for me” and guitar is new to her.

You’re seeing something very raw and personal. First we had said, well what if she’s in her room, just tinkering and playing around, and we completely changed it? I think it really served this purpose where you see it in a very intimate way. You’re seeing her become acquainted with what will probably be her new best friend.

We didn’t get to see Cherise’s top five heartbreaks. What do you think those look like for her?

I’m not sure. I do know that in a second season—if that happens, crossing fingers—you will definitely see that. That was something we made a point of. She and Rob are a little bit different in that Cherise does her thing. But Cherise has issues with feelings and expressing herself. She has trouble connecting with people. I feel like she would be someone that would be cool with online dating because she could run through the guys and it wouldn’t really affect her, or so she thinks.

I think a heartbreak could have been a famous musician that she’d never met before. In that light, it could be like Lauryn Hill. In the effect of, Lauryn at that time wasn’t like producing as much music and that could’ve been like her musical heartbreak that so profoundly hit her, because it was so intimate for her.

I think it could be many things, as well as people she’d never even met before. The guy across the street. She’s that type of person that can have a heartbreak with someone that she’s never even personally been in a relationship with because she’s just so passionate.

For you personally, what does your breakup playlist look like?

Definitely has some Stevie Wonder. Definitely songs from The Miseducation [of Lauryn Hill]. An ex of mine were in that “I don’t know if this is going to work out” kind of a thing. And literally I took the lyrics—I can’t believe I’m saying this—from Lauryn Hill, “It could all be so simple, but you rather make it hard.” I literally spoke it as if I was talking to him and he never knew that I was doing it. And it worked. And he was like, “Okay, okay, we can try a little bit longer.” And I brought us like what? No more than a month? Extra time? But it was real.

I don’t know why, but I really love “Zombie” by The Cranberries. Definitely some Fiona Apple, if you’re just really in the feels of it all. Honestly, sometimes Aretha too, but Aretha gospel, not her contemporary stuff. That’s when you’re really in a Ben and Jerry’s phase, when you’re just like, “I’m going to sit in it for a little bit.” I’m not one of those girls that are like, “Oh I deal with a breakup by going out.” ‘Cause if I did, it would probably be Beyoncé, but I’m the one that’s like, “I got to get through this, learn from the mistakes, process it, and move forward.”

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

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