The series Orange is the New Black was such a game-changer for Netflix, and this season is definitely one of its best. For those that haven’t yet binged the seventh and final season of OITNB on Netflix, stop what you’re doing right now and take in how refreshing and rewarding the series has been.
As luck would have it, our interview subject, Laura Gómez (who plays Blanca Flores) has an incredible arc this season (we dare you not to cry at her final scene) and a second flashback. Of course, we didn’t know any of this at the time we conducted this conversation well over a month ago. Gómez was a sweetheart, though, and didn’t reveal any spoilers to us and we were really impressed that she delivered all of her answers from the heart (and cracked us up a couple of times as well).
The following is a condensed and edited version of our interview with the fabulous Laura Gómez of Orange is the New Black.
Brief Take: I imagine that having wrapped the final season was bittersweet.
Laura Gómez: [laughs] Yes, it’s definitely bittersweet in many ways. Absolutely.
BT: Tell me about filming your flashback episode.
LG: You know, for so long it was a custom thing for all of us to…nobody knew who was going to have a backstory at any given point. We would always get excited for other people when they got it. [laughs] It was like “congratulations!” and “congrats on your backstory!”. Mine was so special, also, because I got to work with Mary Louise Wilson, who is such an iconic actress, especially in theatre. I had such beautiful chemistry with her and I was so inspired on so many levels with this lady who has had quite a journey in this industry, who wasn’t appreciated as greatly in her career as she could have been, and we get to see her shine at 80 years old on screen. She’s a lady who of course [laughs], plays the old lady who I take care of and it was so much fun on many levels. And of course, back in Litchfield, the fact that the writers had kind of turned me into this [laughs] warrior of sorts, a very rebellious presence, rebellious to abuse of authority, and I loved that opportunity.
BT: On a series that centres on the power of female camaraderie, it seems like you all made lifelong friends.
LG: It was a very special place. Look, as actors we’re used to change. [laughs] We’re used to things being different at any time, but this was a job that lasted seven years, so there was definitely a sense of family that you create. There are people who are closer to others and it depends on who you work with that you become more attached. I have certain friendships with people that I knew from before – Selenis Leyva, we’ve been friends for a long time – but I became such good friends with Catherine Curtin and Connie Shulman, who weren’t even in my tribe, if we are going to call it that, but who have become a part of my life in such a beautiful way. And a part of my work as well, because I directed a short film in which Cathy Curtin stars, and we’ve worked together so many times after that together, so many times in the theatre. Some people are in my life forever, I know that for a fact.
BT: Did you even know what Netflix was at the time this series started and how much of an impact it would make? So much has changed since the show started in terms of streaming.
LG: I’m sure that there were people at the conceptual level that were hoping that Netflix would be like this, but it was all an experiment to a certain degree. Orange went to the next level. The fact that you’re telling a story that originally goes from a stereotypical place of life in prison and whatever that can be, but then humanizes these characters through their backstories, it certainly put Netflix on the map. It was that show that suddenly crossed over and opened people’s eyes and had them question: “What is this?” [laughs] No, we did not know what it would become, but we are certainly aware now. [laughs] The fact that it was a pioneer in opening the doors of the whole universe of Netflix, now there are so many wonderful shows, but so many wonderful shows that sometimes you have to discover, or get lost sometimes because there is so much to choose from, but Orange has always been a favorite go to because it’s been known from the get-go.
BT: Did you have a moment in which you realized that this series had become so beloved?
LG: Well it took a minute. We weren’t aware of it as we started and certainly not immediately. The beauty that so many of us were being given an opportunity in an industry that has not really opened doors for people like us, especially those of us that are minorities. And that story that Uzo (Aduba) has told many times about how she was going to give up, it’s not just her story. I had contemplated moving to Spain at some point, like maybe my career here is over, I should expand to a country that speaks Spanish. Then I started writing my own things, because I was at a point in which I was so hopeless in terms of my work as an actor, and I think there is that element of season 1 came out, we were not fully aware of the success. I think some of the girls started to feel it much more originally than I did, because I didn’t get recognized much, gladly. I think it’s been a gift, somehow, getting the chance to evolve as slowly as my character because I’ve had the opportunity of learning to adjust and learning to deal with it, because that instant fame can also be very overwhelming and it happened to some of the girls. The first time that you see yourself on a subway platform, and people come and pass and they couldn’t take the train any more. So I think it was more season 2 that made it a reality for us. I think that with season 1, we immediately knew that we had something here. But for us as a cast and crew, it took until season 2 to understand that this was huge.
BT: What do you think about the series changing the way that people watch TV?
LG: It’s surreal. I mean definitely I think that first was House of Cards, but Orange was the show that expanded it because it was so different and created by a woman, and a woman of color, and it was not what people knew to be commercial. It became a huge success and so, in a way, I think defying the industry itself. That idea that like: “Women don’t sell”, I’m like: “I’m sorry, what?” [laughs] We’ve been wrong all along! And it definitely felt surreal because I don’t think that we were consciously thinking of it the whole time. It was a surprise for us and it took time for us to understand, not like we immediately figured it out. Slowly, but surely, however social media does inform you into how big the show is and I have people from, I don’t know, Budapest, Romania. I had a person write to me on my Facebook official page: “I’m your translator from Cuba and I’m translating your character into German”. I saw an episode in Spain, and our voices in Spanish [laughs] it was very funny. Then you realize, “Oh, this is big” and of course, Netflix started expanding from there and has become the platform that it has become opening other platforms as well. I love that it continues like that as well. It should be a democracy after all, in terms of representation in platforms. I feel very lucky to be a part of it because that’s a part of my journey and I will never ever be able to forget this show.
BT: What about in terms of your own arc as a writer and director?
LG: The truth is that being a part of this in many ways, I was writing and directing for Orange, was in a way me creating characters that are not provided for me. Because this industry has an idea also of what a Latina is or what…and I’m from the Dominican Republic and I’m like: “I don’t subscribe to any…” [laughs] I don’t subscribe to any definition of what I am. I am a human being who happens to be Latina, who happens to be born in the Dominican Republic, but that doesn’t define who I am. However it does dictate certain things about which I know very much so I write this character that happens to be Latina, but they’re going through universal things like heartbreak [laughs] or trying to buy an apartment and live in New York or love. That’s what I’m doing right know, actually I’m working on two screenplays, one for a short and one for a feature. The feature is based on a play that I wrote, I’m a part of a female writers group called Women Artists Writing, so I keep being a part of this community of people of color and women and diversity in general. I don’t mean that it has to be that, but I like diversity, I like to see and be represented and that’s not always the case and sometimes we have to take charge of it. So I’m working on that, and I’m actually heading to the Dominican Republic next week to shoot a film over there. It is very important for me to be part of the Latin American filmmaking community that is going on which I think is beautiful. To be a part of that, I’m a foot here and a foot there, and to keep telling stories – honest, beautiful and true stories.
BT: Did you say “never again” to the unibrow after wrapping and what did you learn from playing Blanca?
LG: Never again? Oh my God, no, how could you do that to Frida?! You know that was an homage to Frida Kahlo, originally was the joke, and then it was so wonderful that we kept it. Something that I did learn from this character that I keep very close to my heart is what Stanislavsky said that there are no small roles. You go, you do what you have to do, and maybe you have a line and if that’s your line and this is a universe with so many amazing characters and actresses. And you have this moment and this is your moment to bring your truth and the truth of your character, and you never know what can happen from it. I was cast to be a possible recurring and it was supposed to be maybe three or so episodes, and I ended up being a regular on the show and having such an epic finale on season 6 that left everybody weeping. I never would have imagined that from this character and I embraced it from the beginning. I went for it and I got one scene, [laughs] and I had some episodes that I wasn’t even in, and then season 5 came and I was a partner with Red, like who would have put those two together?? And it was so well-received! There was comedy in it and drama in season 6, and so that’s what I kept the most true: there are no small roles.
All seven seasons of Orange is the New Black are currently streaming on Netflix