Fans of Orange is the New Black just can’t get enough of all of the colorful characters on the hit series, of which the first three seasons are currently available at Netflix while Season 4 is already in production. The show has become known for its intense, funny, surprising and sexy characters, one particular favorite of which is Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, played by Emmy Award winner Uzo Aduba.
While at the Netflix portion of the TCA Press Tour, actress Uzo Aduba spoke at a roundtable interview about how fun it was to explore the whole fan fiction element this season, as Suzanne tried her hand at writing alien erotica, exploring Suzanne’s sexuality, getting over the loss of Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), the bond between Suzanne and Taystee (Danielle Brooks), and what being a part of this show means to her, especially since she had quit acting earlier in the same day that she found out she’d gotten this role.
Question: The whole fan fiction element of this season, in which Suzanne pens her own sexy stories, was so great. Did you imagine more of the story than what actually came out?
UZO ADUBA: Absolutely! How can you not go home after work and wonder what’s going on with Rodcocker? You can’t not start to fantasize about it. When we got that part of the story in the script, I was like, “Oh, okay. We’re going there. He has two instruments, as we’ll call them, and he’s wonderful at using them both.” I was really excited because, in the past, we’ve seen Suzanne fancy herself a bit of a linguist and wordsmith. It’s interesting to see her in Season 1, and see what she does with someone else’s words and how she uses that to craft her artistic nature. And then, in this season, she’s free to create her own word choices and this is what she decides to come up with. She wants to write adult erotica, set in outer space, just to change it up.
How much of the fan fiction exists outside of the scripts?
ADUBA: I don’t know if they fleshed out the entire Time Hump Chronicles. They probably have, but I don’t know, for sure. When we were shooting it, we did have those pages that were in the scene. That is actually legitimately a story that I had to take home with me and write it how Suzanne would write it. That’s my handwriting. I had to imagine how Suzanne would pen this story, so I was crossing things out and drawing because it’s supposed to be illustrated. I just let my imagination go.
You also got to explore Suzanne’s sexuality and romance, this season, which was quite sweet. What was that like for you?
ADUBA: Oh, my gosh, it rounded out the story with that final note and chord for her. When we were in Season 2, I came to understand why she was so hungry for love, always feeling outside or other, and never really feeling that initial connection. And so, when you got into this part of it, where she really wants to get in there with that significant other, it’s because she has no reference point for it. Can you imagine being an adult, and you know what sex is and you’ve heard it’s supposed to be this amazing thing, but you’ve never done it yourself. That was exciting to me. It made sense to me, why she’s chomping at the bit, constantly, with love interests. I thought, “Oh, okay, this is who this woman is.” She’s also intimidated by it, which I think is a natural way to feel because she’s never had the actual opportunity. So, when it has presented itself, where this might actually happen, I thought it was interesting that she now wants to check and double check herself to make sure that’s something that she’s actually ready to go into.
Do you think that Suzanne has turned the corner from her heartbreak with Vee?
ADUBA: With regards to the Vee of it all, when Jenji [Kohan] was writing the season, she was really interested in exploring this idea of faith, and who and what it is we choose to put our belief in. For Suzanne, she has always bowed at the church of love and has been this idol worshipper in seasons past. We got to watch her put Piper on a on a pedestal as an idol. And with Vee, it was the same. That can get complicated, when those people don’t live up to being the Gods that you think they are. And so, the start of Season 3, after having lost Vee, which was her most recent idol and love, she is in a really fractured place because she has never wanted this thing called love and she doesn’t know what to do with it now. She can’t figure out where to place herself. Does she still belong to the ghetto dorm tribe? There is that transition phase for her, and I think it’s the normal transition that people who are mourning a loss go through, with that disbelief, denial, anger, sadness, and sheer wreck, before you start to pick up the pieces and put yourself back together again. And I was just really glad, in Season 3, that you see that she’s chosen to put some of her love into herself and her writing. And the door is not closed on love. By the season’s second half, you start to see that what she’s deciding for herself, this time around, and not just take whatever love people are prepared to give her.
How do you see Suzanne’s sisterhood with Taystee?
ADUBA: They became family. Vee was Taystee’s mom on the outside. She became Suzanne’s mom on the inside. So by that law, at the very least, they’re stepsisters or cousins. I thought it was really wonderful, and I love Danielle [Brooks], in real life, so much. That is my sister friend. I love her to death. I really do. And I thought it was interesting that that was who the other decided to find comfort in, when they both had a huge loss. Friendships are sometimes built out of that, or made out of that kind of tragedy. You start to look at somebody a little bit differently and see some of their humanity in a different way. They’re forever married because of that tie to Vee.
What does it mean to you, for people to be so invested in this show?
ADUBA: Oh, man, I don’t know. I know, for me, it feels like the experience you all get to have in the watching of the show is the experience we have when we’re making it. So, when I’m reading the script and watching my castmates and fellow actors play out the scenes, I feel excited because I am constantly reminded that I’ve just never seen anything like this before. I don’t know another show where they’re writing fake erotic space stories. I don’t know where that’s happening. While simultaneously, in the same show, you’re watching characters deal with affairs and the legitimacy of a pregnancy. And all of that is handled and negotiated and balanced in a way that doesn’t feel like commentary. That’s what’s exciting to me. I’ve seen anything like it before. When I read the scripts, it feels like these are people, with Jenji spearheading that ship, who are interested in doing something other. They’re primarily telling a story about people we treat as other. They’re not confined, pun intended, to any understandings or rules of what television is meant to be. They’ve already started from a place of, this is not television, it’s streaming vision, so there are no rules. You can make them up. It’s exciting to watch people do and write and say what they feel like doing, writing and saying.
What about the female quality of the show, with a female creator, a largely female cast, and such complex female stories? How it is to be in the thick of all of that?
ADUBA: It’s incredibly satisfying. I wish there was a more glamorous or complicated way of saying it, but it really is just that simple. There’s something to be said about, when you have the opportunity to see yourself reflected back at you, in an authentic, honest way, it’s exciting to see so many women who have so many different points of view, as actors and as characters, that they get to bring into the show, and watch them always get flushed out in such a thorough way. For me, personally, as an actor, working on Orange has truly only been the second time, in my entire life, where I’ve been in an environment with primarily all women in it, in front of and behind the camera. It’s dominated by women. When we were doing Season 1, a lot of times, we would go to the Village and just like hang out. I don’t know if that’s the common practice or not, but that’s the practice on our show. It just made me start thinking differently about my own possibilities. I didn’t even know that I had an opinion of my possibilities until I saw what was possible.
You’ve said that, before this show, you were quitting acting.
ADUBA: I had quit.
Have you moved past that now, where you don’t think about that too often anymore?
ADUBA: I think about it all the time. We were just doing a shoot, where I kept breaking out into a smile and laughing. And the reason why I feel that way is because the train that left the station to Quitsville is only two stops away. It’s not years, or decades. It’s not a faint memory. It was the other day. It feels so real. So, having the opportunity to do all of these amazing things that have happened with our show is great. I had quit. I was not getting ready to quit. I had quit, the day I got this job. I had made peace with that choice. I’m never going to forget, and I can’t forget, that train ride with the tears saying, “I give up.” I was done. And it was the thing that I love so much. Coming to terms with and really making peace with the fact that it was not for me, but now, here I am and I’m doing it, it’s a feeling that never goes away, ever.
Orange is the New Black is available to view at Netflix.