Interview Kate Mulgrew and Selenis Leyva talk Orange is the New Black

Kate Mulgrew and Selenis Leyva talk Orange is the New Black

The wait is over as season four of Orange is the New Black returns with what many are touting the darkest series yet.

The wait is over as Season Four of the award-winning Netflix Original Series, Orange is the New Black returns with what many are touting the darkest series yet. But, whilst there may be darkness and trouble ahead for the inmates and staff of Litchfield Correctional Institution, there is always room for comedy and acutely observed character development in the increasingly popular show which has already been renewed for a further three seasons. 

DIY took part in a roundtable interview with Litchfield’s resident chefs Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew) and Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) who filled us in on life behind bars.

You’re both looking glamorous today, is it nice to get out of your prison uniform?
Kate Mulgrew: No actually, we prefer it!
Selenis Leyva: Except for the boots. 

Is it refreshing to go into work every day and there be no rivalry over wardrobe?
Kate Mulgrew: It’s fantastic. I love that aspect of it. I’ve always loved a uniform, in all of my long roles I have uniforms. I’ve never been an actress who likes that stuff.
Selenis Leyva: Sometimes it’s fun but if I was going into Season Five of a show where I had to be perfect all the time, that would be exhausting so I love the fact that I’m just free to create. And be really comfortable, you have no idea [laughs] except for the boots, they’re heavy.
Kate Mulgrew: I wear Crocs!

This season’s a lot darker than what’s come before, were you expecting it to get that dark so quickly?
Kate Mulgrew: Here’s a strange thing, which serves as a sort of dichotomy, when I was actually shooting it you feel a difference to when we saw it in Berlin the other night. I was stunned by the immediacy of the drama and the immediacy of the darkness, so I can only imagine what the end is going to be like.
Selenis Leyva: We know what’s coming and I know it’s going to get darker. But it was a reminder watching it.

Sophia’s [Laverne Cox] storyline in the show is important especially with the bonkers ‘bathroom bills’ in the U.S. Did you feel much pressure to put that message across in a right way?
Selenis Leyva: I trusted that [creator] Jenji Kohan and the writers were going to put it out there in a very realistic way and they were going to cover all bases. They were going to cover the reality of what it is to be a trans-woman in prison, the reaction that she gets from people that are completely against it. And then the sympathy because even though Gloria and Sophia are at war at one point, Gloria immediately regrets [it]. It was really important for me to make sure that that was done the way it ended up, it was beautiful to watch. The development of these characters and the exploration of these relationships continues to be really important, not only to me, to the LGBT community, to Jenji, to everyone involved. I have a trans-sister so I said things and had to go to places that I fight every day for people not to go through, but I had to go there. You have to get ugly and start conversations. I was very pleased with how it turned out, that scene in the bathroom with Sophia was very hard to do, it was exhausting. I felt drained. I went home and I had a really good cry. Laverne and I we just talked to each other. I said: “Are you okay?” and we talked about it. That’s what happens when you care about the person you work with and care about the issues. In this job we all really take care of each other in many ways. 

Racism is another issue within the prison and this season there are conflicts between the Dominicans and the other Latinas…
Selenis Leyva: With Jenji everything is very specific, she knows what she’s doing and she knew that this was going to happen. I had heard things about it. We were maybe in Season Two and I heard something about: “Season Four Latinas…” it was very brief and I had no idea, I thought, ”Ooh what does that mean?” What it meant is that within the tribe there was going to be division. I love the fact that she’s exploring that because writing the Latino community of course there’s divide. Dominicans when they feel a certain way about Puerto Ricans and Puerto Ricans feel a certain way about Dominicans. I grew up in New York City in a time when there was majority Puerto Ricans and there was like a really, “Proud to be a Puerto Rican. To not need a passport,” that’s what they would always say. “We don’t need a green card, we’re part of the U.S.” and then the Dominicans were like, ”You came in a raft.” It was like this thing but it continues somehow and for her to touch that being a Jewish woman, it’s brilliant. She’s on everything, she has her hand on the pulse. 

Do you get a sense that the show is one of the best around in terms of diversity of storylines and characters? How far does the industry still have to go?
Selenis Leyva: It’s the best show as far as diversity and as far as touching subjects that everybody’s afraid to touch in an honest way. 
Kate Mulgrew: Yes!

As dark as things get this season there’s still comedy to be had. Is it fun to play those lighter moments?
Kate Mulgrew: It’s a strange question because fun? Work is not really fun. I don’t think of it as fun, I think work is fun but it’s work you know? It’s very disciplined on the set, we have to accomplish a great deal in a very short period…
Selenis Leyva: …With a lot of people!
Kate Mulgrew: So we’re not sitting around laughing. I don’t really like that.
Selenis Leyva: It’s fun in the sense that we get to create and we’re part of something so amazing. It’s fun to read a script and feel alive inside and go…I made a rule, I said: “You cannot read any script before bed time,” because you don’t sleep because you’re so excited. So that’s fun. We have a lot of fun outside of set. 

It’s more of an ensemble piece now compared to the first season…
Selenis Leyva: [To Kate] Did you know it was going to change? It had to.
Kate Mulgrew: I suspected. But you never know right? She’s [Jenji Kohan] got her core group and they float. That’s by necessity. And now this is inclusive this fourth season, again by necessity as an over-crowding of a privatised prison would be. So she brings to bear on every one of the situations a rather crucial reality. So whatever is called upon, she will do.
Selenis Leyva: But it is wonderful to be part of an ensemble, it’s great.
Kate Mulgrew: It’s dangerous!
Selenis Leyva: It is dangerous, it keeps you on your toes. You never know what’s coming around that corner.
Kate Mulgrew: And it can get a little delicate. A lot of women! And feelings [laughs].

Who are your favourite characters?
Selenis Leyva: I have a couple for many different reasons. I love Pennsatucky [Taryn Manning].
Kate Mulgrew: She’s a terrific actress!
Selenis Leyva: She’s absolute fantastic.
Kate Mulgrew: So when you’re asking us about characters you’re really asking us about actors. 

[Laughter]
Kate Mulgrew: Now Frieda [Dale Soules], there’s an actress for you. She brings it every time. Michael Harney [Sam Healy] a consummate. Again Taryn, lovely. I think Adrienne Moore [Cindy Hayes] is unexpectedly good, she’s so good I was thinking about this the other night, I think she’s underrated but she is spot on in very difficult stuff. She’s equally funny and dexterous and poignant. She’s great.

Which characters would you like stay in jail?
Kate Mulgrew: We want to stay in [laughs].
Selenis Leyva: Yes we’d like to be whatever last people are standing.

Who would you like to leave?
Kate Mulgrew: The riff raff! We’ve got 300 of them to tell you the truth.
Selenis Leyva: [Laughs] Bus loads! You’ll just have to wait and see. Once you finish this season then you will know exactly who we want to leave and it’s not just one person.

Gloria and Red have clashed in terms of the kitchen and now we have celebrity chef Judy King [Blair Brown] at Litchfield. Is she going to get in to that kitchen?
Selenis Leyva: That would be too obvious for the show. Whatever you think is coming, it is not. Always expect the unexpected. That is what I’ve learned from day one up until this moment. Just surrender and wait and she will surprise you and take you on a journey.
Kate Mulgrew: Just surrender and binge!
Selenis Leyva: Netflix and chill. Do you guys have that here?
Kate Mulgrew: I find that just appalling. I learned that in Paris, I don’t do any social media so I didn’t know what that means. It means: “Let’s have sex.” But I said to everybody: “Why would you have sex while you’re watching my show?”
[Laughter]
Kate Mulgrew: I want you to watch the show!

You’ve both been on shows before so how does this compare with all the episodes dropping at once?
Kate Mulgrew: This is a very humane and manageable schedule because I’m used to doing 22, 24, 26 episodes a season, that’s a whole year, for years. But the binging/streaming thing is a new concept, I think it’s a brave new world. I think that we are bingers as human beings, we’re not really disciplined that way are we? 

Is there a character you’ve been most surprised by where you’ve at first not liked them but then changed your mind?
Selenis Leyva: I think Sam Healy for me, where you think, ”Ah. There’s a lot more there.” I love where he’s going and where he continues to go.
Kate Mulgrew: And Piper continues to be a controversial figure but she’s not to my mind. She’s absolutely essential and Taylor Schilling plays her like a dream. I’m telling you this because I know it, I’m with her a lot and this actress and character are getting criticised for all the wrong reasons. You try to do what she has to do, she has to walk the line [adopts Red’s Russian accent] I don’t have to do that. She has to be equally funny and sad, proud and stupid, everything! She’s all of those things all the time. She’s a very fine actress.
Selenis Leyva: She really is.

Orange is the New Black Season Four is on Netflix now.

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