Uzo Aduba

“a good story is a good story regardless of the medium”

Words: Andrew Swann
Photo left: Netflix 

Emmy-award winning actress Uzo Aduba talks about season 3 of Orange is the New Black.

Uzo Aduba was ready to give up acting on the day she got offered the role of Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren on the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black. Cut to 2015 and she’s an Emmy Award winning actress and cult favorite on the show with Hollywood on the horizon. The Red Bulletin caught up with her in Berlin to talk about season 3 of Orange is the New Black. 

All episodes of season 3 of Orange is the New Black will be streaming exclusively on Netflix from June 12

Suzanne has lost her mother figure in Vee as we head into season 3, how much of an impact is that going to have on her?

I think this season Jenji [Kohan], our show creator is focussing on this idea of faith and motherhood, and the role both of those things can play within the walls of Litchfield. Suzanne was a bit of an idol worshipper in season’s past in terms of putting people up on pedastals, and that has been really devastating for her because those people haven’t turned out to be the Gods that she thought they would be. It has been interesting to see her navigate through those waters and become the person that she wants to be this season.

Suzanne’s background is quite a tragic one, and she is such an intense and complicated character, how did you prepare for the role?

There was a description of her character as being innocent as a child and that children aren’t scary, which seemed kind of wierd and very specific. I mean, who describes inmates as being “innocent as a child?” But there is a childlike quality to her, so when I thought about her more I thought, “this is a person who loves deeply”. She acts first and then thinks. 

How much did you change?

Well, her name in the script was Suzanne ‘crazy eyes’ Warren, so I knew that this was how the other girls would be seeing her. I didn’t want her to be just about that one character trait though. I looked into what else could be off-putting about her and just leaned into her passion and thought, “anything she wants to do in love and life has to be bigger and more intense”. Instead of just winking at Piper it has to be more than that and just slightly off, like blinking with both eyes. 

Uzo Aduba

Uzo Aduba and Danielle Brooks in season 3 of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black

© JoJo Whilden/Netflix

What has been the most difficult scene for you to shoot so far?

It’s hard for the actor to know that she won’t win. Just to watch the way that Piper is responding to her and know that this isn’t going to go the way she wants it to. It’s hard to dive in headfirst with all this passion knowing that your character won’t get back what she wants from her idols. I know the pool is only 3 feet deep, but I have to dive in. I have such a soft spot in my heart for her, and so you really wish sometimes that you could choose a different path for her, but you can’t. She operates from that open-heart space, and it would be an injustice if I closed her down.

Do you have any specific routines to get into character for Suzanne?

Some of her physicality I can step into a little bit more easily nowadays, but I usually do a bit of walking beforehand just to invite her in. It is not the bringing of her in as much as the letting of her go that is difficult. Letting go is where the work happens. She’s like a glass house, and you really have to open up for her, even when you don’t neccesarily want to, and that is hard to put away again.

What do you do to come down?

Walking is important. I’ll walk for a long time and feel myself releasing parts of her stresses and instability because her energy is frenetic inside of me, and I am a pretty mellow person (laughs.) 

“I know the pool is only 3 feet deep, but I have to dive in.”
Uzo Aduba on playing Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren

You won an Emmy at the first attempt, what went through your head as you made your way up to the stage?

First, don’t sound dumb (laughs.) Say something intelligent! That was the first part and I was really focussed on that. Then an overwhelming level of gratitude when I started to really think about it, because the day I got this job I had actually quit acting, literally that day. Cut to a year and half later to be walking up on stage to be honoured by the Academy and to receive it from Morgan Freeman was just really humbling.

Uzo Aduba

© K.C. Bailey for Netflix

Did you think that this show would be an award winner when you first signed on?

I had no point of reference with this because I had never done a TV show before, so I didnt know what makes something a success. Even in the theatre I still don’t know what makes something go or not go. What I do know is that we all really loved the stories and really enjoyed making it. We were ravenous for the scripts and wanted to know what was going to happen to our characters. But how can you ever know that something is going to be recieved in the way it was?

It all feels very natural.

It wasn’t work at all and it still doesn’t feel like it. When we go in to work it doesn’t feel like a job to do it. We all legitamately love being there and I am just glad everyone enjoys watching it as much as we love doing it.

Your character seems to be pretty fearless and extremely loyal, is there anything you are afraid of in real life?

Sharks and snakes (laughs.)

Could you survive in prison?

(Laughs instantly.) Yes, I hope. 

You had a few run-ins with a number of the inmates over the first two seasons – which actor would you not want to get into a scrap with? Who do you think really packs a punch?

When the chips come down, I think the level of crazy Morello [played by Yael Stone] shows, I mean, you really don’t know how deep that pool goes. Everybody else you can kind of see the extent but I don’t think you can with her. I wouldn’t want to mess with her, or Vee if she was still around. 

You trained as a classical opera singer – Suzanne gets stage fright when she’s about to sing. How annoying was it to not be able to show your talents?

[Laughs] It wasn’t really frustrating because I get to sing all time in my house! But I thought it was really interesting the way they played that story out, becuase you see Norma all season long without saying a word and then they give her a voice at that moment, it was fantastic.

You worked in theatre before you took on this role. How different is it going to a set everyday in comparison to the stage?

I was really excited, but as we got nearer to the start of filming I got really nervous thinking about what it was going to like without rehearsal for example. It’s my favorite part of theatre. What I really learned out of doing our show - and I can only speak for our show as I haven’t done anything else - but I think I can now say that a good story is a good story regardless of the medium. 

Uzo Aduba

How will ‘Crazy Eyes’ react to a life without Vee in season 3? 

© Jojo Whilden/Netflix

What was the strangest thing about being on a set?

Well on a play you rehearse the show and then you get to do a month of previews before the show starts. That’s when the final pieces to the character are put into place, and you get to have that time and space to relax and the audience gives you the information as to what is working and what isn’t. But in TV and film there is no feedback. I could tell the funniest joke in the world and there would just be silence, nobody is laughs! This is going to sound super-crazy, hippie-dippie, existential meta, but what I have started to understand in film and TV is that the camera is actually alive. When I first started on OITNB I used to think that it was a dead room with no feedback. If you listen carefully to the camera there is a relationship there that you can feel, like an audience and you actually hear what is playing and what isn’t playing correctly….and I probably sound looney tunes saying that (laughs.) Not that the camera is talking! But that you can feel the space.

How do you watch Netflix? Are you a binger or do you take your time?

A little bit of both. If I’m watching House of Cards which is m’show, then I can bang that out in a weekend. It’s done, and I’m through it in two or three days. But then take Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt which I started watching, that took like a month and a half to watch. When I first started I watched two episodes then put it down for a week and a half and watched a couple of more.

Maybe because there were no cliffhangers?

Maybe. The thing I love about Netlflix is that they are not saying no to appointment TV, it’s providing options. What’s also interesting is that you can discover the various forms of storytelling and how you want to experience that storytelling. If you want to watch something as one long film or appoint it to a weekly experience then you can. 

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06 2015

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