Devine counts many blessings

Times Staff Writer

George Michael better watch out. The Divine Miss L. is out to track him down.

“I heard that George Michael is using some of my voice tracks on his new album,” Loretta Devine joked last week in talking about the musical number she and the singer perform during tonight’s season finale of ABC’s “Eli Stone.” “Well, if he does, he’s going to have to pay me,” punctuating the line with one of her trademark high-pitched giggles.

If Michael does include Devine on his record, it would add another coup for the multitalented actress whose 25-year career has really heated up over the last several years. Whether it’s being a regular on “Eli Stone,” a recurring role on “Grey’s Anatomy,” or scene-stealing turns on the stage and screen, Devine seems to be everywhere at once.

“I feel truly blessed,” Devine said while relaxing in a conference room on the Walt Disney Studios lot where “Eli Stone” is filmed. “I’ve always been a working actress, always been able to make a living doing what I love. And I’m happy with where I am in my career. I can work in big movies and TV shows and still go to Walgreens. I get to do what I love and still have a life.”


Right for the role

The Houston native is still feeding off the excitement of singing with Michael on “Eli Stone,” where she plays the title character’s grumpy secretary, Patti. Like everyone else on the show, she’s still waiting to hear whether the series, about an attorney who has psychic visions that often contain production numbers, will be picked up for next season.

Marc Guggenheim, who created the series with Greg Berlanti, said Patti was always described as like a “Loretta Devine character” during development.

“We auditioned a lot of people, and were thrilled when we heard that Loretta was interested in doing it,” he said. “She was brilliant -- she has incredible comedic talent. We also knew she could sing, but it blew us away.”


In a few weeks, Devine will return to her recurring role on “Grey’s Anatomy” as Adele, the estranged wife of Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.). “People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Why you so mean to that man?’ ” she said with another giggle. “I say, ‘Well, for one thing, he cheated on me!’ ”

“Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes said she was one of Devine’s biggest fans: “When I first wrote the part of Adele, Loretta was the only person I talked about playing the role from the very beginning. The very first time you see her, she blows into the hospital, fresh from vacation, furious that her husband has undergone surgery without calling her. I wanted Loretta because I knew, in that one moment, she would deliver the powerful performance of an angry, relieved, stern, loving woman. Because, as far as I’m concerned, Loretta can do anything.”

Her movies in the last year included the surprise holiday hit “This Christmas” and the independent “Dirty Laundry.” And over the last few years, she appeared in notable roles in “Crash” and “The PJs” and as a regular on the television series “Boston Public.”

Her acting skills were honed by years of stage work in New York, where she appeared in “Comin’ Uptown,” “Hair” and “A Broadway Musical.” But it was her starring role in the original cast of the Broadway production of “Dreamgirls” in 1981 that sparked her career. Devine played Lorrell Robinson, a member of the hit singing trio the Dreamettes who was overshadowed by her more talented colleagues.

Though grateful for the break, her “Dreamgirls” role echoed in her professional life. She still remembers being hurt that she was the only one of the starring female cast members of the original “Dreamgirls” production to not score a Tony Award nomination -- Jennifer Holliday won for best lead actress in a musical, while Sheryl Lee Ralph was nominated in the same category.

But her career has stayed more varied than either Holliday’s or Ralph’s -- and she was the only one of the actresses to be featured in the 2006 movie version.

“I was so devastated,” she recalled. “I was always the invisible Dreamgirl. But things really turned out differently than I thought they would.”

Asked why she was the only original Dreamgirl in the movie, she quipped, “I’m not sure I was the only one who was asked. No telling what those divas wanted!”


Memorable part

Mass audiences may have first remembered Devine for her part in 1995’s “Waiting to Exhale.” She played the heavyset woman who attracted the eye of costar Gregory Hines -- and managed to steal some of the spotlight away from superstar Whitney Houston.

“I wasn’t prepared for what that did,” she said. “All of a sudden people were coming up to me, trying to grab me, talk to me.”

Devine, who is engaged to financial analyst Glenn Marshall, still has goals. She would love to appear in a Tyler Perry movie.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Oh, God, I’ll never work again,’ ” she said with another giggle. “But I’m proud of most of what I’ve done. God has surely been good.”