Interview | Laverne Cox | Orange is the New Black | Television

'Orange Is the New Black' Stars Laverne Cox and Selenis Leyva On Season Two, Becoming Advocates

Sophia

Whether you gobbled up all the new episodes of Orange Is the New Black in one glorious binge session or you're rationing them out throughout your summer, you're in for a treat. The latest batch of episodes, streaming now on Netflix, have all of the heart, humor and depth of season one, but spread more widely among the show's stellar ensemble cast.

The second season shines a brighter spotlight on many faces that may have seemed background during the show's first 13 episodes. Season two dives deeper into characters like Poussey (Samira Wiley), Morello (Yael Stone) and Gloria (Selenis Leyva). Not only is Orange Is the New Black telling more of these complex stories, but it's showcasing even more diverse actresses in terms of sexuality, race and age.

Outside the show, these actresses are making a huge impact, as well. Laverne Cox, who portrays trangender inmate Sophia Burset, has become a vocal advocate for issues affecting the trans community. She's made apearances on Katie Couric's daytime talk show (twice), served as Grand Marshal of NYC Pride March and even stood proudly on the cover Time Magazine.

We sat down with Cox and Leyva to discuss their experience working on the show and their increasing profiles. See what they had to say, AFTER THE JUMP ...

GloriasophiaNow, onscreen and off you both have become a little bit more visible since the first season.

Laverne Cox: Little bit? You think?

What’s been the most exciting part of that success, and what has been the most challenging?

Selenis Leyva: For me, it’s been pretty awesome! I’ve done a lot of TV and other work, and I thought before this when I did my episode on Girls, I got a lot of attention … But with Orange it’s been on another level of insanity. I’m very grateful. I get excited for people who come to me and they’re excited, because I’m like, ‘Wow! You’re so happy to see me! This is good, this is making my day!’ I think my daughter is a little bit freaked out by it. We went to the movies yesterday and a bunch of teenage girls came to us, and she got freaked out by that.

LC: It’s scary.

SL: And I said, ‘I know sweetheart, it’s scary, but Mama’s life has changed.’ It’s wonderful we have a platform now. We also have a responsibility that comes with success and celebrity. I have to be careful what I say and what I do, not only because I have a child who’s 11 years old who's always looking at me, but because now I have hundreds of thousands of people watching.

LC: You’ve got millions, girl.

SL: Millions! And as an Afro-Latina actress, I feel even more responsibility because I’m in this show that’s entertaining, but at the same time, it’s starting all these wonderful conversations about different types of people and different situations, so it’s lovely. And bring it, I’m ready for more!

Selenis1

What movie did you guys go see?

LC: I wanted to ask her too!

SL: The Fault in Our Stars!

LC: I met John Green who wrote the book, he’s amazing. What did you think of the film?

SL: So good! The actors are fantastic. I cried! And my daughter’s sitting there, she’s crying, and as I’m trying to sneak out 'cause I see people looking at me, I was like, ‘God!’

LC: Did they stop you in the bathroom, girl?

SL: They did!

LC: You know, I’m like, ‘Can I pee and wash my hands?’

SL: It’s sweet!

LC: It’s sweet, but it's like ... I guess for me, it's hard for me. I don’t often think, ‘Okay, I have to be ready to receive love right now,’ every time I leave the house.

SL: Well, get ready.

LC: I’m not, I’m really not. I’m a New Yorker, and a lot of times I want to go to Duane Reade and buy my toilet paper and my false eyelashes and get in and get out. What’s interesting for me is before I was on a hit TV show I didn’t talk to strangers on the street unless they were really cute men. And so now I don’t want to talk to strangers on the street either, that has not changed. And now I feel like, ‘Oh my God, people are going to say Laverne’s a bitch, or Laverne’s awful, 'cause she didn’t talk to me or she didn’t take a picture.’

SL: I like it that people are nicer to me! I’m taking advantage of that. People are nice! They’re sending me free stuff, drinks!

LC: The love is great. I guess it’s just about boundaries for me. When I go to events and stuff, it becomes work and not wanting to disappoint people, because people have projected all sorts of things onto me and I don’t want to disappoint them. And that’s what I’m hyper aware of, of not wanting to disappoint them, but also wanting to just be a human being. There’s a moment in Beyoncé’s I Am...Sasha Fierce tour at the very end - I know, right? Beyoncé, it always goes back to Beyoncé! - but it said ‘I Am’ for the most the concert, and then at the very end it said, ‘I Am Yours.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, we are yours, Beyoncé! Yes, you belong to us!’ And then I was like, that’s lovely as a fan, but I don’t want to live that way where I belong to the fans, because that’s a huge responsibility. I guess I’m feeling the responsibility piece too in a really intense way, and it’s really heavy. It’s been really important to me to find spaces to laugh and to be irreverent and not take on all that responsibility. And there’s so many amazing trans folks out there doing amazing work. They need to get attention too.

 

You both talked about how you sort of feel like you’re advocates now because of the prominent roles you have. Do you ever find it difficult to balance that with the fact that you just want to be an actor? How do you keep that balance?

LC: Yes.

SL: I think for you it’s fallen more in that realm, because a lot of people are looking to you to be the mouthpiece? Did someone tell you you were a mouthpiece?

LC: But I chose to speak out. Let’s keep it real, I chose to speak out, and I continue to choose to speak out about things that are important to me and where I see injustice. So, I’ve chosen that, but I’m an actor and I’m an artist first, so I have to make decisions first based on that, so there are certain issues that I can’t talk about. Controversies out there that I have to leave to other people because I’m an artist. I have to be very deliberate about everything.

SL: We have opinions about everything, but we can’t start getting on the soapbox just yet, because we would lose the whole actor thing and turn into something else.

LC: For me it’s about choosing very carefully which battle I’m going to go for. But it’s been great, getting to do a documentary about CeCe McDonald, and when I was on the Katie Couric show the last time I was like, ‘We’re doing a whole segment about CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman who spent 19 months in a 41-month prison sentence in a men’s prison for defending herself.' And we did a whole segment on Katie Couric on network television about that.

SL: Daytime, right?

LC: Daytime! And we talked about Jane Doe, a sixteen-year-old girl who is incarcerated in Connecticut. She’s not been charged with a crime, and she’s in solitary confinement since April. Not charged with a crime! It’s insane! That’s insane to me! I got to talk about that on national television, and that makes me happy. I’d really be happy if we could get this girl out of prison, so hopefully more people will know about that and we’ll get some justice for people.

We got to see a bit more of Sophia’s son this season, and it was such an uplifting, happy scene when you guys were playing cards. It was a beautiful scene.

LC: It was so emotional! It’s funny, because I get so much direction of, ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry, don't cry!’ I think that was most of my direction for season one: Don’t cry. No, I’m kidding. But I was really emotional that day, and I remember I prepped, but I didn’t want to prep too much 'cause I just wanted to be in the moment with Michael and with Crystal. For me, those are the things that I dream of as an actor, getting to have these really complicated moments. It’s this moment of, okay, he’s finally here, how is this going to go? Is he going to come back? I want to hug him.

SL: That’s the beauty of the writing! It goes nice and slow in real life pace. It didn’t end with oh, he hugged you, everything is back to normal.

LC: We still don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s intense for me for the actor, but then it’s real, because how do you make this right? Do you make it right, in terms of repairing relationships with family? There’s an abandonment that’s happened because Sophia’s no longer his father, and there’s an abandonment that Sophia’s no longer there because she’s incarcerated. So there’s this stigma attached to that. I think parents have a need to connect and bond. I just think about my mom and it’s guttural.

SL: And that’s the beautiful thing about your portrayal of Sophia, those moments that you have with your son and your wife because, as a mom, I go, ‘She’s a freaking fabulous actress! Because I know she doesn’t have kids … ‘

LC: But I have a mother.

SL: And I believe every second of it. I think, again, the writing on this show is amazing. And then, you know, the acting is alright!

The second season of Orange Is the New Black is available now on Netflix.

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Comments

  1. had the pleasure of seeing Laverne Cox speak at a Q&A during World Pride, and she was terrific. Kept it utterly real, clear, and direct. I love her use of the term "possibility model" - how apt.

    and her upcoming doc about CeCe looks to be a real heartbreaker - and it's a profoundly important story that the world needs to hear.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 1, 2014 11:45:02 AM


  2. I am looking forward to the documentary about CeCe McDonald. It is important that we all support this transwoman, who stabbed a guy to death and left him to die on the street, and then lied about it to the police. And then pled guilty to the crime. It is profoundly important for the whole world! Profoundly!

    BTW, I applaud Laverne Cox for sticking to her story about being a woman, even though she clearly can't pass. Check out the second pic above. Those hands are huuuuge.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 1, 2014 12:00:41 PM


  3. I wish Cox had had more to do in season two of OitNB, but that show is an embarrassment of riches in terms of supporting characters.

    Posted by: Mikey M | Jul 1, 2014 12:07:52 PM


  4. Troll Using My Name - your cowardice will define your wasted life.

    Interestingly, she talked about "Passing Privilege" , and its many facets, at the event I saw her at. She's incredibly intelligent and her directness is admirable.

    I'm sure you'll spend today trolling around using various screen names, probably even mine a few more times, simply because you're not a strong enough person to make any of your comments from a place of visibility.

    You are defined by your cowardice.

    Laverne is defined by her strength and resilience and her compassion.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 1, 2014 12:09:55 PM


  5. Rick still doesn't get that when you post a comment as someone else, you subtly include racism. If it's blatant, you make it obvious that said comment is being posted by a troll impersonator.

    Posted by: Tyler | Jul 1, 2014 12:30:31 PM


  6. Little Kiwi -

    I sooo agree with you that Laverne understands about passing privilege. That is why he spends so much time trying to pass. That is why he desperately tries to avoid particular facial expressions and tries to get keep pics and video shot at a particular angle. This is also why TIME magazine employed a small army of graphics editors to make him look like a woman. It takes a lot of work by a lot of people to keep up the illusion, and when someone slips up, you get something like the second pic above. You have to respect Cox's talent as an illusionist.

    Anyway, I too am looking forward to seeing the profoundly important documentary about the transwoman who stabbed a guy and let him to bleed to death on the street! Truly an inspiring story for the whole world! Or at least for people around the world who stab other people to death.

    Posted by: Tyler | Jul 1, 2014 1:19:40 PM


  7. I am so proud of Laverne Cox...and I respect her a great deal. The courage to do what you want to do with your life and not allow bigotry (violent life threatening bigotry) stop you from moving forward. I love her.

    @ "I too am looking forward to seeing the profoundly important documentary about the transwoman who stabbed a guy and let him to bleed to death on the street! Truly an inspiring story for the whole world!"

    Rick,

    why must you use other folk's posting names like Tyler's? Are you afraid?

    CeCe should have cut the motha' fvcka's head off. Transgender folk get tired of being beaten, maimed and murdered in streets. They eventually fight back.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jul 1, 2014 1:34:58 PM


  8. I call Rick out on posting blatantly racist, transphobic and misogynist comments under the names of people who would NEVER post that kind of nonsense and what does he do? Posts transphobic nonsense under my name in the comment directly afterward.

    As if we didn't know it was Rick. It's especially obvious considering he posted the exact same rant under Kiwi's name in the same thread.

    Troll, you're skills are fading.

    Thanks for coming to my defense again, Derrick.

    Posted by: Tyler | Jul 1, 2014 1:55:15 PM


  9. This is ridiculous. Kiwi=Tyler=Derrick. All the same nonsense from the same loser.

    The guy that CeCe McDonald stabbed to death was a human being. He didn't deserve to die. CeCe did not claim that she acted in self-defense. First she lied about what happened, denying stabbing anyone, then she claimed that it was an accident, and then she pleaded guilty. At no point in her various lies and her eventual admission of guilt did she ever say "Well I did stab that man but I had to do it because he was trying to kill me."

    Kiwi/Tyer/Derrick, you should be ashamed of yourself for supporting violence and homicide. The more you see of trans activists and their supporters, the scarier it gets.

    Posted by: Hani | Jul 1, 2014 3:54:02 PM


  10. Hani? That's a new name. You've never posted on this site yet you seem to know that three posters are the same individual.

    Oh wait, you're just the newest alias Rick has created to deflect criticism.

    Rick, you're the only person who ever claims Derrick, Kiwi and I are the same person, usually under a new alias every time.

    When called out on your trolling, you always come up with a new name to distract and deflect. That's a given of doing business with a troll like you.

    And today you've continually brought up CeCe McDonald as ultimate example of how all trans people are murderous, or some crazy nonsense like that. You are aware that 1) it was self defense and 2) not all trans people are exact clones of her, right? Or are you incapable of not lumping all people of a certain quality together?

    Posted by: Tyler | Jul 1, 2014 5:43:57 PM


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