It's not too far-fetched to think that the person who plays "Orange Is The New Black"s Crazy Eyes must be crazy. It's hard to separate that character from the actress, but in real life, Uzo Aduba is as far from crazy as you can get.
The one-time Broadway star is well-spoken, thoughtful and sincere, never once breaking eye contact during our entire interview. Aduba is pure dedication; she speaks about Crazy Eyes as one would speak about their child or pet, with love and concern. She plays the character with that same gentleness, a sort of soft cradling to make sure each scene is done to absolute perfection.
HuffPost Canada TV spoke with Aduba during a recent Toronto press junket. It was like talking to a different person; only shades of Crazy Eyes shone through -- which says a lot about Aduba's incredible acting skill, and why she won a Critics' Choice Award last weekend. We talked about how she "becomes" Crazy Eyes, and you may never be able to look at the character in the same way again.
HuffPost TV Canada: You're aware that you're a major scene-stealer, right? Like, every single scene you're in.
Uzo Aduba: No, I'm not aware. But thank you! [Laughs]
You play this character so well. How do you get into Suzanne's mindset?
I think, for me, I deconstructed who she is in the very first episode. My process is: who is this person? What I understood was ... there was this line in the stage direction that read, in part, "[Suzanne is] innocent like a child, except children aren't scary." I thought that that was the key to a big door that stood between her and I. I had this picture of her with a sledgehammer and a pacifier, and this idea ... how is a child scary?
It's two extremes -- one is not the other.
Exactly, two very different things. Children are innocent, so her intentions are always pure. Everything that she's approaching is coming from a pure and good place. This is someone who acts first, thinks second. It's impulsive, but it's never from a place of malice or calculation. It's never with an agenda. Afterwards, she might have regret or a second thought. The "scary" aspect of Crazy Eyes is that whatever she does, it's somehow mismanaged in its execution, so it never comes across the way she intends it to.
It always feels like Crazy Eyes is searching for something, some stability.
When I was reading that first script of her, I thought, "This is a love story." That connected me to her, let me anchor her in something honest. This is someone in pursuit of love. She's not trying to harm, she's not trying to threaten, she's not trying to disturb. She's trying to love, to give, and gain.
The word "dandelion" is ruined for me now, in the nicest way possible.
[Laughs] Mmmm hmmm. You and me both!
Crazy Eyes' backstory is achingly beautiful. Painful, but I loved it so much. The young versions of Suzanne are spot-on.
Lauren Morelli, who wrote that episode, she has a way of capturing heart. The generous way and the dignity she gave to [young Suzanne] ... perhaps made us rethink or reopen the dialogue of why we call her that.
Were you present while they were shooting the backstory scenes?
Yes! Unbelievable! I saw Eden Wiggins [the sleepover Crazy Eyes] ... she's such a smart girl, a smart actor. She had told me she watched some of the parts of the show that she could watch, and saw the nuances she wanted to borrow and put it into her work. I think she was 12 at the time. For a 12-year-old to have enough smarts that that's what she wanted to do, wow. Her real genius came when she said to me, "I don't want to copy you, though." I said, "You are an actor, young lady." [Laughs]
One scene stands out for me -- when you essentially beat up Poussey. When they pull you off her, you literally look possessed with rage. How do you reconcile Suzanne's "nice" side with her potentially violent side?
This season was a continuation of the greater question that I had in Season 1: how far would someone go for love? In that particular scene, and as the season continues on further, I started to get a scope of that answer. It's not rage that she's possessed with -- it's love. It's not Poussey who she's singularly feeling in that moment. It's this woman [Vee] who she cares for and loves so much. This is my proof to her, to protect this thing. It was very hard for all of us to film that scene.
What has this wild ride to fame been like? When "OITNB" started out, you were relatively unknown, and now people probably call you out on the street. What has this been like for you personally?
Being part of this show has been more than I ever could have dreamed, on so many levels. As an artist, as a friend, the work that we've been allowed to do. Having someone in my life like Jenji [Kohan, the show creator], who is incredible and is creating such a wonderful breeding ground for a lot of new actors. For Netflix to allow something like this to be made, to be brave enough even though they're aware we're in the pioneering stages. I love being part of a show that provides so many great roles to powerful and diverse women, both in front of and behind the camera.
It's entirely life-fulfilling. Work-fulfilling doesn't even cover it, it really doesn't. And I'm not even trying to be so precious about it. It's changed my life, and to expand that further, in terms of going out on the street ... it's just so wonderful. I'm so grateful. We were going shopping here [in Toronto] and everybody in the store watched the show. To be a part of something that means so much to people, they're enjoying it and feel touched by your work, I think that's all we ever ask for as artists. It's overwhelming and it renders me speechless, and all I can say is "Thank you."
"Orange Is The New Black" Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix Canada and Netflix US.