Samira Wiley Talks About Orange is the New Black

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Samira Wiley Orange is the New Black Interview

Samira Wiley stars in 'Orange is the New Black' on Netflix. (Photo Credit: Jill Greenberg for Netflix)

Netflix’s addictive series Orange is the New Black will return in 2014 for a second season of comedy and drama inside a women’s prison. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir and created/executive produced by Jenji Kohan (Weeds), Orange is the New Black is a true ensemble piece driven by women in front of and behind the camera. Led by Taylor Schilling as ‘Piper Chapman’, the talented season one cast included Laura Prepon, Kate Mulgrew, Natasha Lyonne, and Samira Wiley.
 
With filming on season two currently underway, Wiley (‘Poussey Washington’) took a break from shooting to discuss the series, her character, and what fans of Orange is the New Black can expect from the second season of the critically acclaimed series. And although Samira obviously couldn’t give away any spoilers, she did say there are scenes in season two that even she didn’t see coming.
 
Samira Wiley Exclusive Interview:
 
Season one found most of the prisoners dividing into groups based on their race. Will this upcoming season see more interaction between Poussey and other prisoners?
 
Samira Wiley: “Yes, there is. Of course, prison has kind of a racial divide, like we’re back in the 1950s, so you will mainly see her with her group, but you will definitely see her having scenes with people that she hasn’t had scenes with yet.”
 
One of the things I admire about the show is that every character gets to develop and every character gets their moment to shine.  When you initially saw the first few scripts, did that stick out to you?
 
Samira Wiley: “Yes. One of the first ones that I read was Laverne Cox’s (‘Sophia’) backstory and it was just amazing to me that they were giving all of these women that had never had a voice before an amazing and loud voice of their own on television. It’s just so diverse – all those types of women that we have on the show and where everyone comes from and their background – and I like it because I don’t think it’s necessarily predictable. You wouldn’t have necessarily been able to predict all of the things that are happening on the show. I think it’s innovative and I’m very happy to be a part of it.”
 
I also love the fact that it’s a female-driven show from the ground up and you don’t see many projects that are like that, even now in 2013. What is that like to be a part of?
 
Samira Wiley: “It’s super uplifting to me, just being a young woman in the business, seeing someone like Jenji Kohan who it seems that it is her mission in life and her goal to bring lots of women together to make this show and empower women. You’ve got all of these shows that are on TV right now and most of the writing staff is all male, and over half of our writing staff is women and that’s just unheard of and unseen in Hollywood, in this world that we’re in. I really feel like I’m a part of something groundbreaking.
 
I’m a part of something that’s really amazing and it’s not just all the people in charge. We’ve got women on the writing staff. We’ve got women PAs, women boom operators. It’s really amazing and uplifting to be on set and see so many people who look like you.”
 
And it’s interesting that the audience demographics show the series isn’t just being watched by young women. Did that take you by surprise?
 
Samira Wiley: “It’s really interesting. It’s funny, I was just talking to a man this morning, he’s a security guard and he was saying that he never would have turned it on by himself but that his wife was watching the show and that he sat down and he was like, ‘What is this?  What is this Orange is the New Black you’re always watching?’  He sat down.  He said he watched one show and he was hooked.  One episode. It’s relatable because it’s not just women’s issues. It’s people. It’s humans, and everyone relates to it because we’ve got not just one side of the story. We’ve got Piper, we’ve got Poussey. We’ve got people who come from so many different places that people can look at the show and even if they don’t say, ‘Hey, that’s me,’ they can say, ‘Oh, hey, I know someone like that,’ or, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll give that person on the street a second look or a second glance or not push them off,’ because everyone has a story and everyone is valuable. I think this show is doing a good job of showing that.”
 
Samira Wiley Orange is the New Black Interview

Adrienne Moore and Samira Wiley in a scene from Netflix’s 'Orange is the New Black' season one. (Photo Credit: Eric Leibowitz for Netflix)

When you first were hired to play Poussey, did they tell you everything about her backstory or are you learning as you go along?
 
Samira Wiley: “Yes, I’m still learning and no, they didn’t tell me really anything. I kind of am still learning with each script that I read. It’s like being a viewer in that way: you watch a new episode, and reading the script is just like that for me.  I don’t know anything before I read them.”
 
Did you expect there to be a season two?  
 
Samira Wiley: “To be honest, I don’t even think that I was thinking about it in that way. I wasn’t even in that mind frame. I was thinking, ‘I can’t wait to see it,’ because I hadn’t seen it yet. I was waiting for it to come on Netflix and then out of nowhere we find out we got a season two. But I can say that although I was surprised and happy, I don’t think that it was that big of a surprise just because, on set, it just felt like we were doing something great, like we were doing something that hadn’t been done before, just the feeling of everyone on set.
 
I’ve never been on a set that feels like a family in the way that this one does. I think that even if we didn’t get a season two, that just having that first experience of everyone… There’s kind of a different feeling on set now for season two. People have seen the show and there’s expectations and people are really wanting to see what’s going to happen with this next season. But the first season, no one knew that this was a hit show. No one knew anything. We were just doing it, and the passion was just for the work and for what we felt was going to be a good thing.”
 
Poussey’s got such a positive attitude, which sets her apart from a lot of her fellow prisoners.
 
Samira Wiley: “Yes, she does. She’s got a six-year sentence, but she’s in there and she finds the joy. That’s what I love about her.”
 
And in season one’s final episode we were treated to your singing voice which is beautiful. Are you a singer?
 
Samira Wiley: “I grew up singing a lot. Both of my parents were Baptist pastors and so I grew up singing in the church. Then, growing up, being in arts programs from when I was young, I did singing, but I’ve never really done it with any real seriousness, I don’t think.”
 
Were you at all familiar with the book before taking on the role?
 
Samira Wiley: “Yes, I read the book before I came to set. Poussey is not in the book. The book is a starting point; it’s a leaping off point for them to draw from, especially this season, but it’s not really tied to Piper Kerman’s story.  They took that and they’re doing different things with it now.”
 
I haven’t read the book but do you think it’s important for the audience to read it or are they so separate that it’s not really necessary to be familiar with the source material?
 
Samira Wiley: “I don’t think you need it. To me, actually, there’s kind of a debate between some of the actors on set on would reading the book be helpful or not? I read about halfway through it and I was thinking, ‘Wow, these stories are starting to be really different from what’s actually happening in this show.’ If you want an insight into what the real Piper Kerman story, yes, then I’d say absolutely read the book. But you don’t need it to watch the show.”
 
Are you into binge TV watching? Netflix has made it so easy by releasing all the episodes of the series at the same time. Do you watch anything that way?
 
Samira Wiley: “I haven’t really done it in the way that I hear some people talking about our show. Some people have watched our show in like a day, two days, and it gets a little overwhelming for me. I need to kind of sit with things, so I’d watch maybe a couple of episodes in a row, maybe – at the very most, three.”
 
I watched it in two days.
 
Samira Wiley: [Laughing] “See, you’re amazing. Then, also I wonder, what if I was just a viewer? Would I watch it all at once? I don’t know. I don’t know.”
 
It’s addictive. And you’ve also got a movie that you finished work on recently, right?
 
Samira Wiley: “Yes. It’s called Rob the Mob. I filmed it in between the two seasons. It’s a small part. I play an FBI detective. It’s interesting. It’s also based on a true story about this couple who decided they were going to rob a bunch of Mafia social clubs in the early ’90s. It’s a period movie. I look like Agent Scully.
 
Do you prefer television to film work or the other way around?
 
Samira Wiley: “I still think I’m still starting out in both mediums.  I don’t really have a preference, but in general I think the work that I want to be involved in and do is not really dependent on the medium, and more just working with good writers and working with good producers and working with people who want to produce good art, whether that’s on the stage or on film.”
 
By Rebecca Murray

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