Exclusive: Samira Wiley talks Orange is the New BlackBy Wilson Morales
October 22, 2013
One of the highlights on television this past summer was the breakout success of Netflix’s latest series, the comedy drama ‘Orange is the New Black.’
Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir ‘Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,’ the series stars Laura Prepon, Jason Biggs, Taylor Schilling, Kate Mulgrew, Michael Harney, Michelle Hurst, Matt McGorry, Natasha Lyonne, and Pablo Schreiber. Among the many African American actresses on the show are Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley, Adrienne C. Moore, Vicky Jeudy, Michelle Hurst, Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, and Lolita Foster.
The series revolves around Piper Chapman (Schilling), a New York woman, who is sent to a women’s federal prison for possessing a suitcase full of drug money for Alex Vause (Prepon), an international drug smuggler and Chapman’s one-time lover. Sentenced to serve a fifteen-month sentence, Chapman must survive the hardships of prison life, as she may have to be a different person to do so.
Wiley, who was also seen opposite Jonah Hill in ‘The Sitter,’ plays Poussey Washington, an inmate who has four years left from a six year sentence. The show has given the Juilliard grad an opportunity to not only showcase her talent, but work with one of her closest friends, Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee.
Blackfilm.com caught up with Wiley recently as she talks about her character and working with the cast.
How would you describe the character that you are playing?
Samira Wiley: I would say that my character is the fun one. She keeps it real and is pretty down-to-earth. Although we’re in prison, which is not a funny place, she believes she’s a funny person, but there are always funny people everywhere regardless of the situation.
How did you get the role?
SW: I got an audition like every other audition, although there was some special interest for me. I have a couple of friends who write for the show. My good friend Marco Ramirez, who also went to Juilliard, told me about the show before they started auditions. He told me that I would be perfect for the show. He kept me posted when auditions were happening. Then I found out that my best friend Danielle (Brooks) was cast in it. When I found out I had an audition, my lines were with her character. How often do you get an audition where you go over your lines and rehearse with the person playing opposite you? I called Danielle up and said, “I got this audition for this show you booked. I’d love it if you came over and work the lines with me.” I really wanted to be part of this project. I did everything in my power to make sure that my audition went well.
Are there any similarities between Poussey Washington and youself?
SW: Yes. One thing that the character and I have is how real and down-to-earth and loving we both are. I’m always asked on twitter what’s most like about Pousey and I say her smile. Yes, it’s the same smile because it’s me playing the character. I love to smile all the time and so does she.
You had done ‘The Sitter’ with Jonah Hill prior to this. Were you hesitant to doing a TV show?
SW: I guess for me and what I’m doing, whether it’s theater, film, or TV, I don’t really mind what medium it is. I just want it to be good work. I want to work with good writers, good artists, and like-minded people; people who are doing innovative things.
The good thing about the show is that everyone on it is benefiting because it’s an ensemble and not just focusing on one individual.
SW: It’s wonderful. It mirrors how it is on set because it is an ensemble. It feels like a family. When I go to work, I feel safe. Everyone is on my side and we’re all there working towards one common goal. It’s wonderful that the response has reflected the energy and the environment that we have with each other.
What’s the most fun part on working on the show?
SW: I really love making jokes in between while we’re taping. We’re joking, making up songs, making up dances, and I do push-ups. The cast will tell you. It’s a very active set.
Lorraine Toussaint will be a new addition for season 2. Have you had a chance to work with her yet?
SW: Lorraine is amazing. She is fast becoming one of my favorite people. She’s really a powerhouse and immensely talented. I look up to her in another way because she’s also a graduate of Juilliard. Back in the day when she came out, there weren’t that many women of color from there and I haven’t asked her yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the only woman of color from her class. Being able to see that and being able to work with her is a blessing in more ways than one. In the same was as Kate Mulgrew, I just try to look up to them and observe them when they are working and gain what I can from them.
All of a sudden, there are a lot of black actresses from Juilliard making strides when it comes to you and Nicole Beharie, who’s on Fox’s Sleepy Hollow.
SW: Nicole is a good friend as well. She’s amazing. I’m so happy for her and all the success she’s getting from Sleepy Hollow. They’ve been renewed for a second season and that’s awesome. We were in school together as well.
What do you do when you’re not working on the show?
SW: I like to do other things like box. I like to run. Sometimes, my friends and I would play outside games like Ultimate Frisbee in the park, but I also like to go out a lot. I found myself not going out as much these days because of the show, but when I’m home, I’m reading a lot as well.
What are to we look forward in Season 2?
SW: I think in the second season, we’ll still be in prison with everyone and we’re going to see more of everyone’s story. You may not see everyone’s back-story, but you’ll see a lot. People will be satisfied what they see of Pousey. They’ll find out who she is and what her morals are and who she is as a woman.
Do you have any other projects coming up?
SW: In between the show, I shot an independent film called ‘Rob the Mob’ with Andy Garcia, Ray Romano, and Griffin Dunne. That should be out next year I think.
Season 2 will air in 2014. You can follow Samira at @samirawiley.