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We Talked to 'Orange is the New Black' Star Samira Wiley About Orlando and Black Lives Matter

The series star gets emotional about pride in the wake of Orlando and life after Orange. She also tried Canada's most controversial cocktail.

by Amil Niazi
Jul 6 2016, 4:35pm

Things get crazy for Poussey this season. Photo courtesy Orange is the New Black.

[This interview discusses key plot points of season four of OITNB. You have been warned.]

If you're caught up on the new season of Orange is the New Black, you know things get crazy for the women of Litchfield Prison this year. Season four takes a far more political turn than in previous runs, tackling the Black Lives Matter movement and looking critically at the fucked up power dynamics at play in the prison system.

Samira Wiley, who plays fan favourite Poussey Washington, is in many ways the centrepiece of the tense story arc that plays out among the prisoners and the guards. As the frequent moral core of the show, what happens to Poussey in Litchfield this year is emotional, shocking and will leave viewers asking what the hell happens next. She was in town for this year's Pride parade in Toronto and in honour of her first time in Canada I forced her to drink a caesar as we chatted about pride, Orlando and getting out of jail.

VICE: Do you actually like that caesar or are you just saying that?
Samira Wiley: No I actually do. It's got tang.

That's the clamato juice. You can't get that tang from tomato juice.
I feel like a baby eating something for the first time.

We give babies caesars here too.
You guys would!

So this is your first time in Toronto? What do you think?
I'm having a great time, I'm having a great time here.

Did you find Drake?
I actually did find him. He was sitting on top of my girlfriend's shoulder in a meme someone made. And the lesson that taught me is that Drake is everywhere. You are Drake, I am Drake, we are Drake.

He's in our hearts and souls. You're here for Pride, how was it being in the parade yesterday?
It was awesome being in the parade. Being on a television show people really love but it's on a screen so you can't really connect with fans one on one [is hard] so being able to see people and touch people and take pictures, that was awesome.

It felt like a lot of the parades this month were very poignant after Orlando, what was the mood like for you yesterday?
I feel like pride is always very celebratory and it's important no matter what's going on to celebrate who we are. But yesterday we did have at 3PM a moment of silence for Orlando and it took me over in a way I didn't expect it to and it was pretty emotional for me in that moment. Knowing that people are out here dying just for who we are and all people are trying to do is celebrate and be happy and be proud.

Given the turn your show took this season politically what was going through your mind yesterday during the Black Lives Matter protest?
Being in the parade and having the float stop, at first i was just a little confused. But I don't know too too much about the Canadian BLM movement. All I know is what we were trying to do with the show and it seems to be permeating the world, not just our country, and I'm just happy there's a conversation about it.

How did you feel when you first got the scripts for this season and saw the direction the show was taking this season?
Well I actually got the script long before anyone got a script, so I was approached early on and told respectfully what was going to happen to me. I really appreciated that they took the time and care to do that. Like anyone who has been on a show for a long amount of time, I was really shocked, confused. But as time went on and I understood more the story we were trying to tell and why they wanted to use the character of Poussey, it grew from shock to determination and honour to get the story right.

Was there any tension in the house knowing your partner (OITNB writer Lauren Morelli) had to kill you off?
No, I've always been a fan of Lauren's work and I'm so happy that she was the one to be able to write that episode. I think she did such an amazing job. The script was one of my favourites I've ever read from the show. But, no we don't talk too much about work when we're at home [laughing] it's a good rule.

What was it like emotionally to prepare for something like that?
Well I think for me I'd been preparing for months and months, ever since that first conversation with the executive producers of the show, my mental prep started then. So by the time it came to doing it I had gone through so many stages of grieving and processing so when we shot it I was okay. I felt more so like I had to take care of the other girls because they did not know as long as I did. A lot of them just found out a week before so they were really not okay. I became a little bit of comic relief that day actually. It was a special day though, there were so many people on set so it was a really great send-off.

Is there anything you wish your character would have done before you left the show?
Yeah I wish she would've gotten out of prison. [laughs] But I'd say one thing I really wanted for Poussey in prison was to find love and luckily she did find that. Sadly it was cut really short.

What happens now for you?
I'm scared and optimistic about life after Orange. Being part of a family like this for four years has been such a blessing. Someone made an analogy like I've been traded to another sports team. It feels like I've graduated or had my cotillion.

You're out of prison now.
Yeah I legit am. I feel like you just gave me my out card.

Yeah here's a bus ticket and a change of clothes, you're free.

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