Actress Lorraine Toussaint has an impressive CV—she’s a Juilliard alum (like castmates Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley), and her credits include Any Day Now, Saving Grace, Law & Order and Friday Night Lights—but her role on Orange Is the New Black, where she plays mysterious new inmate Vee, may be her biggest coup yet. At a press junket pre–season two, Toussaint sat down with FLARE to talk Orange.
How did you react to being cast?
“I was not prepared for the level of fanaticism around it! I’d never watched the show, because of my real life; I’m a mommy of little people, and Orange is not conducive to little people! But I knew peripherally about its success. Then, the moment I mentioned, ‘Oh, I’m doing Orange Is the…’ it was, ‘You’re doing ORANGE? Oh my god!’ This show has fans.”
What can you tell us about your character, Vee?
“She was a very tough street maven on the outside who used children to run drugs. And she’s a master manipulator, possibly on the verge of psychopathic—but I choose not to think of her as such. She’s just… meeting her needs. And her needs are very specific.”
Netflix allows shows to be created free of network demands. How do you think OITNB would have been different had it been made before the Netflix era?
“I think 10 years ago these women would have been objectified far more. It would have been titillating in a way this show doesn’t need to be. This show is meant to inform, to entertain, to speak some truths, to out people, to out the system.”
What has the show taught you about the prison system?
“It’s made me so aware of the real world of women who are incarcerated, and the things they’re able to create in prison and the extraordinary, life-altering things they are denied. It’s heartbreaking when you’ve got a situation like Danbury [the Connecticut prison that OITNB‘s Litchfield is based on], where they wanted to transfer the inmates [to Alabama] with absolute disregard to the women [whose families were in Connecticut]. Women must have family to live—we need it like food and air and water. This show shines light on the need for prison reform specifically for women.”
What else makes you proud to be part of OITNB?
“We’re breaking lots of different myths. The myth that women can’t carry successful television shows. The myth that women of colour can’t be leads—there are still people who believe, behind closed doors, that that’s not going to make money. Covertly this show is proving them wrong, because so much of it is following Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley, Laverne Cox … I’ve never been on a show with this many black women, ever, ever, ever. There’s been Girlfriends, but that’s parody. I have an eight-year-old daughter, and I’m forever fighting the ideas of beauty the media feeds her; to be able to see all the different kinds of women on this show is thrilling.”