Theater, TV veteran Toussaint is proud to be an American

Amurmur arose when Lorraine Toussaint slipped quietly into the back row at downtown Los Angeles's City Hall to join 6,000 others in a US citizen naturalization ceremony. Several people recognized her as the star of the popular Lifetime network series, "Any Day Now" (Sundays, 8-9 p.m.).

The Trinidad-born actress didn't notice all the attention; she was too involved in the occasion.

"The cheer that went up when all of us became US citizens reverberated around the hall. When I looked at the flag, it seemed much red, white, and bluer than before.... I cried."

The driving force behind Toussaint's decision to become a US citizen was that she "wanted to vote. I wanted to take responsibility for myself as an individual. This is the only country, or one of the few in the world, where the individual can bring about change, peacefully, within the system."

Toussaint had reviewed the citizenship materials that describe what it means to be a good American.

"There is this extraordinary list that defines what it means - to be involved in your community, to help the poor, to volunteer - so many things I believe in and that I want to devote my life to. To actually see them in print was so moving."

When Toussaint believes in something, she dedicates herself to that cause.

As she does with "Any Day Now." The show is Lifetime's top-rated series. "I was so glad when they changed the show to an earlier time slot on Sundays, [from] 8 to 9 p.m. Most working women who watch the show are in bed by 10 getting ready for Monday. Now, I'll be able to watch the show myself."

Both she and costar Annie Potts have to be on the set by 5:30 a.m. "This means when my alarm goes off at 4 a.m., the birds are still coughing. [Rising early has] become such a tradition, my dog, Kaya, doesn't even move anymore when I

wake up."

After moving to New York and graduating from Juilliard School, Toussaint spent 12 years in New York theater, so she knows a good script when she sees one. "When I read 'Any Day Now,' I felt it would be a groundbreaker. It's the frank story about best friends who are undivided by race and united by love."

Annie Potts plays Mary Elizabeth, a Caucasian, stay-at-home mom and novelist, and Toussaint is Rene, an African-American and successful Washington attorney recently returned to her childhood town of Birmingham, Ala. The story flashes back to the two characters as little girls during the Civil Rights struggles in the '60s.

This season, Ms. Potts's character writes another novel, and Toussaint's mentors a troubled teenager and runs for political office.

As for her life off the set, the actress's eyebrows go up, as she quips, "What social life?"

She smiles, "There's a time for everything. I'm willing to sacrifice a lot for this show. I feel it's breaking through many misconceptions" [about race].

The actress recently took time off for a vacation in the Caribbean.

"It wasn't in Trinidad," she says. "I just needed a complete rest, where my biggest decision was - should it be the pool, then the beach, or the beach and then the pool?"

Toussaint admits home is different now that her mother, who lived in Trinidad, has died. "She gave me unconditional love, which doesn't happen often in the human experience. She made me feel I could do anything, be anything. No matter what I did, where I went, or what I became, my mother's love for me would never change."

She pauses for a minute and then says, "Even when I was going through hard times trying to get my stage and TV career going in New York, my mother would always tell me, 'You know, you can't sharpen a knife on velvet.' "

Lorraine Toussaint, new US citizen, is finally enjoying some velvet times.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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