Interview: ‘Orange Is The New Black’ star Uzo Aduba on Emmy hopes, Season 2 drama and more

08.04.14 5 years ago

Life is a whirlwind for the stars of Netflix's “Orange Is The New Black.”

When they aren't journeying to Los Angeles to accept awards for the prison dramedy's first season which premiered in July 2013, they're still doing publicity for the second season which premiered in June 2014 and then, of course, there's the third “Orange Is The New Black” season, now in production.

That meant there was a lot of ground to cover when I talked to Uzo Aduba last week, starting with thanking her for dropping by the TCA Awards ceremony in July (she joked on Twitter that she, Taylor Schilling, Kate Mulgrew and Danielle Brooks were furloughed).

We talked about the Emmy process, which sees her going up against Laverne Cox and Natasha Lyonne for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, including the selection of “Lesbian Request Denied” as her submission episode.

And we discussed Aduba's journey in the second “Orange” season, including her attempts to balance the line between Suzanne and Crazy Eyes.

The Emmy voting deadline is Wednesday, August 6, if such things matter to you. The Creative Arts Awards, the show which includes the Guest Actor categories, will be held on August 16. The second season of “Orange Is The New Black” is available in its entirety on Netflix. And Season 3 will premiere next spring/summer at some point.

Check out the full interview…

HitFix: So first off, thanks for making the cross-country flight a couple of weeks ago for the TCA Awards. We really appreciated that.

Uzo Aduba: How fun was that! That was really fun.

HitFix: It's always a good show. We try to make it sort of low-key and fun.

Uzo Aduba: That was it exactly and it was also nice to see all those former presidents come out. It was a good group.

HitFix: There are so many former TCA presidents. It is indeed a running joke. Trust me. So, those furloughs that you guys get to do these sort of award things, as you put it on Twitter, how much of a whirlwind are they? Is it literally you fly out and then you fly back just sort of the next night as it were?

Uzo Aduba: Yeah. It can be that, but that day I actually wound up staying out there for a few days, which was really nice. I was there until Tuesday evening and then we came back and I landed in New York — I was doing press in L.A. — and then I landed in New York on Wednesday morning and went home straight into doing another press day. And then I worked the next day. But what I've learned is sleep is important and it's worth catching on a flight. It's something I make a top priority when I'm in the air. I'm like, “Okay, put my order food in, start a movie, lay that chair back and I'm good to go.” And I'm used to it. I'm okay with it.

HitFix: How disorientating is the process that you're in the midst of? You're talking about an Emmy nomination for Season 1, people are still finishing and talking about Season 2 and you're in the process currently of shooting Season 3, all at once.

Uzo Aduba: [She laughs.] It's a little bit, but you know what, I really kind of love it because it helps me – it's almost like flipping through a photo album that you haven't looked at for a little bit of time. Because we had been busy making Season 2 and then, like you mentioned, Season 2 came out and now we're busy making Season 3. To go back and revisit those first days of being on set with “Orange,” I love it. You can't help but remember the stories and the way that you met every single body in the show, how you felt on your first day of work and what it was like to kind of dig through to find those characters, like to really get inside the bones of who Suzanne is, those early steps to where she is now it really just feels like a “This is Your Life,” kind of a brief snapshot of that.

HitFix: Well, does doing that gave you sort of any perspective on how it feels different I guess being in Season 3 and sort of no longer being that little show that no one knows anything about? I mean you guys aren't the underdogs anymore; you guys are kind of Goliaths at this point almost.

Uzo Aduba: [She laughs.] Yeah. It is definitely given us that prospective. I mean, it underlines that expression of what a difference a year makes. And it just feels good, if I'm being really honest, because you just remember that feeling when we first started where it was nobody knew what we were making, and we certainly weren't making it with any level of expectation, we were just all very excited to be working and a part of something that we loved and believed in, and something that we felt like was giving voice to a subject frankly we don't see much of and people that we don't see much of, in terms of diversity and women stories and told this authentically and sexual orientation and gender stories. It was exciting. And then I remember watching my fellow cast mates and being so enthralled with what they were doing and excited by it. Yeah, it definitely puts it in perspective that now here we are. It just felt good to know that something that I love so much and that we all love making has been received in this way.

HitFix: Now, honestly, how aware were you of the Emmy nomination morning, the day or two before that?

Uzo Aduba: Before that? Here's the thing. We all know at this point. Anybody that tells you like, “Emmys? What are Emmys?” That's a lie. Everybody knows. We heard of it; we know it; we know that our show, we had been working hard on it. But I think there's this moment, let me speak for myself, where you get quiet as the days get closer. And here's the thing: Nothing is guaranteed to any of us. And you realize that it's just an exceptional blessing to even be a part of the conversation. For me, I had gone to the Critics Choice Awards with no expectation and my jaw could have fallen on the floor when they called my name. You just kind of go to a place like, “Oh my gosh I'm nominated,” but you live in that. You really do just live in that gratitude of, “Thank you for nominating me” or “Thank you for even bringing my name into the conversation,” that you don't really move past that, or I did not move past that. So then that morning comes and it's just unbelievable. You find yourself like a little speechless, I do. Like wow, that just happened just now.

HitFix: And how gratifying was it the sheer number of the nominations you guys got, the cast specifically?

Uzo Aduba: Overwhelming. And it was gratifying in every single way. I felt so proud, just proud truly of the show, proud of my fellow cast mates, proud of Jenji, our writers, the entire crew. You couldn't help but, “luxuriate” isn't the right word but like want to embrace all of it. We have so many people on our show that worked so hard, so many cast members, so many people in the crew, so many stories that are being told and all these balls juggling in the air, and to kind of be received in that way it's just sort of like our show, it just made us feel seen.

HitFix: How many of you are actually going to be able to get furloughed for either of the two Emmy ceremonies I guess?

Uzo Aduba: That is the question of the hour. I have no idea. That is definitely the question of the hour.

HitFix: Okay, I know that “Lesbian Request Denied” was your submission episode, was that your choice? Who makes that choice?

Uzo Aduba: You know, it was a collaboration and one when we were discussing it it was brought… I'm new to all this so it's like I don't know the steps and protocols of how this goes so when it was brought to my attention that we had to pick an episode it was one that I agreed with. I feel like, “Oh yeah, I remember that episode and I enjoyed that story.” So we collaborated and everybody put their points of view in and I believed, you know, “Okay, that makes sense to me as well.” So it was a group effort, a team effort I guess.

HitFix: Was it hard? Because as looked at that episode I sort of completely understood why, as a whole episode, you chose it, but then I kept also thinking of great moments in other episodes. Did you have any sort of stumbling blocks like that?

Uzo Aduba: I think we kind of walked through the episodes, if memory serves me, we had a couple of episodes if memory serves me correctly, but for me, and for everybody it felt like, I felt like we could get the essence of who this woman is. And like you said I felt like it told like a whole story. And then it told the full story where for me I kind of I think of like of who this woman, who we think this woman is, but like especially when I think of that pie throwing scene for example. We're watching somebody kind of, sort of behave in a way in the beginning that's like what is happening over here? But then we get to that where we're turned around a little bit. But then we get to that pie throwing scene and we start to see, “Oh, we understand her name, where her name come from” and the stakes just kept rising and rising and the tactic, which I thought were interesting, that she uses kept changing for how she was going to go about obtaining this thing that she loved. So that was exciting to me and I thought, “Yeah I would like to see that. I could understand that story being chosen.”

HitFix: But yeah, that's so sad to leave something like the Scared Straight scene sort of on the table and you just can't sort of fit everything in, you can only go with one so it's a choice I guess.

Uzo Aduba: Yeah. You can't. It's like you could only go with the one that's the truth. You could only do with one episode. You can only do so much. You can't go with the Scared Straight episode or you can't go with the NPR episode, which is another one to me where it's a different story of Suzanne that I think we're telling in that episode where she hears Larry talk about her on the radio. I can see why it's a hard job for people to do. I can understand why it takes time making that selection. But you can only pick one.

[More specific stuff, including a few Season 2 spoilers, on Page 2…]

HitFix: Now, last year when we talked you talked about sort of wanting to emphasize “Suzanne” over “Crazy Eyes.” But I know that this season you've been sort of hash tagging Crazy Eyes a little bit more. Have you been sort of trying to reclaim the nickname a little?

Uzo Aduba: Absolutely. Absolutely. I started to understand in Season 2, I found an affection for the name, especially when I saw her backstory and I saw that puppetry that she does with the mop, I was like, “This could also be… these kind of things can be things why she's called…” maybe by some inmates they don't mean it like Crazy Eyes from a harsh sarcastic place, they might mean it like, “Look at her talking to that mop again.” She is a little bit, you know, she's actually a little bit silly, a little bit crazy. So yeah I felt like I wanted to take that back. And it was also this kind of feeling to me that I had this idea in Season as we were working, this idea of kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — Like when we are talking to Suzanne and when we are talking to Crazy Eyes. And like the darker side of that story, you know, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but when she's lost in it some of the — I call it “the passion” — maybe there's more of Crazy Eyes that we're meeting. But when she is more lucid or when she's speaking entirely from the heart-space and is really trying to make a heart connection, that Suzanne. That's who we meet. And that's who she is through and through most importantly.

HitFix: Now, is that sort of a scale that you can actually sort of put as a notation in scripts, what the percentage of Suzanne versus Crazy Eyes is that she is at any moment?

Uzo Aduba: Yeah actually. When I think of like for example Season 2 with the fight in the bathroom with Poussey, that's Crazy Eyes. That's actually, I feel like that is Crazy Eyes, who is full-throttle Suzanne, but that's Crazy Eyes in that moment in the way that which she's acting, but her reason that she is doing it is from an entirely loved place. And that's all Suzanne. And when she boils down after getting so hot under the collar, she's back to being Suzanne. We see that calm in her. Or in Season 1, when we're talking about the episode “Lesbian Request Denied,” that poem that she writes to Piper, that's all Suzanne. That 100 percent pure Suzanne. Now how it comes across? That's not for her to make sense of, but that is 100 percent her just, “I worked on this all night; I know you're going to love it; I think of myself as a thespian and as good of a writer as Shakespeare. Here is me filling out an ode to you.” That's all Suzanne. But when she's in that cafeteria and she throws thet pie for Piper at Alex, that's all Crazy Eyes.

HitFix: Before the start of Season 2, did Jenji sort of tell you what the arc was or was your heart just sort of breaking for Suzanne every week as you got the scripts or both I guess?

Uzo Aduba: No. She did not tell me. I could see, which hurts my heart to say, where I thought she was going. And it wasn't because necessarily what she was doing but because of what Vee was doing. I saw that relationship forming and I could see the calculation in Vee because I know Suzanne so well I know how deeply and easily she can fall in love. And I was just praying prayer against prayer like, “I hope…” Season 1 I had asked the question with this character that question that I need to answer is, “How far does one go for love?” And it seemed like she pees on the floor, she writes poems, she throws pie, all of this, she follows you around, she shares earphones, all of this. And then in Season 2, it felt like to me like that was like a grain of how far she really could go. I feel like I got my answer when she fell in love with Vee. And because I knew she could go pretty far for love, as I was watching Season 2, I was just hoping against hope that it wouldn't be to her own destruction or devastation or the devastation of anyone else.

HitFix: So, what was your reaction when you first read the “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” script and sort of saw all of that backstory information?

Uzo Aduba: I said, “This story has been going on since the beginning of time.”

HitFix: Okay. And had you sort of known any of the details already or was it all new to you at that point, the specifics at least?

Uzo Aduba: That was new to me. I knew we are going to, I heard whispers that we are going to tell her story, but I didn't know the wealth of pain there. That it was something that had started,  like she had never even known love in the way that she wants to know love. This has been her story – this isn't a new story she's encountering in prison. This is someone who's been seeking validation, seeking answers, never fitting in her entire life. And that informed so much of why she is so aggressive about loving now because she just needs to fit in. She needs and wants people to like her.

HitFix: Did you get to meet and work it all with Taliyah [Whitaker] and Eden [Wiggins], with the two little Suzanne's?

Uzo Aduba: I didn't get to work with them, we didn't shoot together, but I did get to watch the work. I saw Eden, she's a beautiful actor and such a smart actor for such a young girl. I think she was 12, maybe 13, and just such a smart actor how she worked on, you know, she didn't realize it at the time but it's like borrowing from a performance and just wanting to borrow some of the vocabulary that is Suzanne, which I thought was so impressive that she came up with that on her own and in her own audition and such an open spirit. She was just so beautiful like just to watch her take after take just be so available and to really kind, of — I don't know if she knows it or doesn't know it at this age — but open up herself to “the hard,” I call it, you know? Open yourself up to the hard into the hurt when she says that line, “But dragons are cool.” There's so much in it when she says it. She's not even talking about dragons at that point. It's like, “Why don't you understand me?” And I was just leveled by her. She was just incredible.

HitFix: And sort of having learned those things, are there certain gaps that you're sort of hoping to get filled this season, next season, season after, you know, sort of places in Suzanne's life that you really want to know and need to know about?

Uzo Aduba: That's a good question. I'm most interested, I've said this before one time, that I really want, what I want more then anything for her it's for her to know her worth, that she doesn't need to seek it outside of herself.  Like that's something that I want. I want something to impact her enough that she feels whole that it's like, “I don't need to chase, I am.”

HitFix: And just as sort of a last question, for the Emmys next year, and that will be for Season 2, is there anyone who you're particularly hoping gets nominated, in addition of course to the five of you who are up this year who will surely be back next year?

Uzo Aduba: [She laughs.] I have no idea. Everybody because I think everybody is fantastic. I think we had an incredible season this year. I think everybody is fantastic on our show so I couldn't ever… It's like picking a favorite child.

HitFix: You could pick two favorite children if you wanted.

Uzo Aduba: I'm one of five. That wouldn't fly in my house!

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