They stole scenes as the often comedic relief in season one, but now Samira Wiley and Danielle Brooks, who play Litchfield besties (with occasional issues) Poussey and Taystee, are fully-devleloped season 2 heartbreakers. Their rocky relationship and soul-crushing backstories won us over and tore us apart, but the women were all laughs when we sat down with them at the OITNB press junket on Saturday. Of course, there's a lot to be happy about these days. After attending Julliard together, Samira and Danielle know how awesome it is that they get to take their real-life friendship onscreen in one of the biggest shows around.
You guys were friends before getting cast in the show...
Danielle: No. I don’t know where that rumor started. *laughs* Yeah, we were!
Samira: (feigned horror) You’re lying to me!
So obviously it was terribly exciting that you got to work together. This season you got to play adversaries. How was it to take your friendship and then have to butt heads this season?
Samira: I think our off-screen friendship really helped us in that. Having Danielle be with me in those scenes and having to butt heads with somebody like that was a lot better than having to butt heads with somebody I really don’t like. It felt safe with her. I always felt like we were both always looking for the truth of scene. I love doing this with Danielle and I think it played out onscreen.
Danielle: I agree, I feel like at any moment I can be like, Samira, ‘Can we take a second and run lines?’ She came to my house really late one night to go over a scene and rehearse, and that’s the type of actor that I’m working alongside. And I can call her my friend, so there’s trust that’s built there. Even though it’s challenging to play parts where I’m pushing Samira, and I’m terrified cause I’m twice her size - but she knows I got her and I know that she’s got me, so it makes it easy.
Do you like your characters’ backstories?
Samira: Yeah, I think I was really surprised when I first read it. I’m speaking a whole different language the whole time and everything like that. But in terms of how it ties in with the person that Poussey is in prison, it really made sense to me that her backstory looks like that. I definitely like it.
Danielle: We find out in season one that Taystee comes from a broken home and that life on the outside isn’t as good, so I had a feeling it would be in the vein of what it turned out to be. But the thing that shocked me was the relationship with Vee. When Vee came into prison- that was a whole other situation that I never even imagined would happen. I thought we were just going to play it out and that would be the end of that story. But it definitely spurred into the now- the present- and that shocked me.
Did you get to meet the little girl who played Little Taystee?
Danielle: I did! When she finished rapping I was coming in to shoot, and I took a picture with her and Instagrammed it. She’s so lovely. Samira got a chance to work with her in Sundance.
Samira: Yeah, I just got back from Sundance, we were working on a movie together. She played my little sister. She’s in the family now!
Your Instagramming and your selfie taking is epic. What inspires you to want to share photos with fans and with the world?
Samira: It’s really interesting because Twitter was something that I did not have before the show, and I got it specifically for the show.
Danielle: Me too.
Samira: But Instagram is kind of a different story. My Instagram is not my name at all, it’s something totally different: Whododatlikedat. But it was a tool that I had just between me and my friends. When the show came out, I didn’t necessarily post it anywhere but people found out that that was my Instagram and it just started having more and more and more followers, so it’s morphed into this other thing. But I always try to keep it to what would I want my friends who aren’t here right now to see?
Danielle: I’m the same way. My name is Danibbe3, so it didn’t start out 'Danielle Brooks.' It started out just my own thing with my friends, and I was maybe trying to hit on 200 followers. Now, I don’t even know. So it’s been really cool!
Have you had to make any adjustment in your day-to-day life now that Orange is the New Black is what it is? Do you like all the attention?
Danielle: Sometimes it can get really overwhelming, because it really did happen overnight for all of us. Natasha Lyonne, you know, she was famous before all of us and she invited Samira and myself to an Eminem concert like the day after Orange first came out. When we were going in, we got these cards that said ‘Celebrity,’ and we were like, ‘OMG. Did you mean to give this to us?’ That was pretty awesome. But it still was like, 'What is this? What is this thing you call a celebrity?' And with it comes a lot of responsibility. I think at first it felt like, ‘Why do I have to have this responsibility?’ But now being on this show that’s so unique in its way of really shedding light on important subjects- for me, most importantly beauty and how America views beauty- I think being a..ugh, in quotes 'celebrity-'
Having that platform.
Danielle: Thank you, that’s a nicer way of putting it. Having that platform is really important, I find, for the next generation, for my generation, to see beauty in a different way.
I feel like you guys are more accessible than the average celebrity. People get to marathon you, so they feel almost like they can go up to you. I don’t know if you guys feel that way-
Samira: Yeah, I definitely feel that way. I like that. Coming from a theater background, when you’re on stage you have a one-on-one connection with your audience, and when people come up to me on the street or they talk to me on Twitter, I kind of feel like it’s bridging that gap. I love being able to look somebody in the eye and connect with them the way that they feel connected with me on the show.
Danielle: I agree with everything she said, but there are times when people touch me. Like, I’ve had people literally like grab my arm - that kind of stuff is like, personal space! You wouldn’t do that to a normal person. Sometimes people feel like they own you in a sense. So, I feel like that’s where you have to find that boundary. I’m a very open person, you can come up and give me a hug, but please give me a moment to prepare! Do not just pounce on me!
Samira: Somebody comes up and hugs you from behind, like, ‘I love you!’
Danielle: Yo, I have had people jack me up! Like, ‘You that girl, ain’t you?!’ And I’m like, ‘OMG, you’re scaring me right now.’
In season one, your characters have a lighter side and a lot of comic moments. There was a very drastic change this season where you had this crushing, heartbreaking storyline and also had big roles in the entire conflict of the season. Was that surprising and exciting as an actor to see suddenly see that change?
Samira: Both. Surprising and exciting. You hit the nail on the head.
Danielle: It was so cool to get to go from being the comedic relief to having some really in-depth moments. Especially because we’re trained actors. We went to one of the best schools in the country, and to actually get to put that to work and be challenged with the writing and be able to work with amazing people- it was exciting. I didn’t really understand how intertwined Taytee’s story was with the rest of the prison. Her story is such a big part of it and I didn’t understand that until the audience told me. So it is exciting for me, especially as someone who mostly plays the sidekick or the best friend that’s only in two scenes. That’s pretty cool to really have a space and be a big part of something.
Samira: For me, I think it was really great and probably helped with not having it feel so overwhelming. We read each script, we don’t get all the scripts at once. For the cast, reading the scripts is like, for the viewers, watching the episodes. We just don’t know what’s going to happen. So I think if I knew the plot for the whole season from the beginning I’d be like (hyperventilates), “I DON’T...KNOW...HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS?” But since it played out gradually it was fine.
As a theater actor, you explore entire characters from beginning to end before you even go in. Now, do you ever make a choice that maybe looking back on it, you’d think, ‘I guess maybe that isn’t how that would have been,’ but you have to keep going with that?
Danielle: All the time. I think we’re the most critical on ourselves, so there’s always moments that we look back and think, ‘Man, I really wish I could have done that.’ Like you said, when you’re in theater, you have a script from beginning, middle, and end, and that’s what it is. But when you’re in television, you’re in your second season and you’re finding out about your backstory. You still haven’t even figured out how you’re in prison.
Samira: I have no idea!
Danielle: You have to be smart. You have to make decisions quickly and make bold choices in everything that you do, and the writers will take the story wherever they feel it needs to go based on what you’re bringing to it.
Samira: Just how we’re taking what the writers write and we’re incorporating that into our characters, I think that vice-versa happens as well in terms of the writers watching our performances and being able to take little subtleties that we’re putting in and saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to write this cause I picked this up from Danielle when I saw in her performance.’
Earlier today Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes) said that one of the hardest things that she had to do this season was the scene where she beats you (Poussey) up in the bathroom. How was that?
Samira: It was very challenging. The day before we had a whole rehearsal, and I had pads all over my whole body -- I looked like a little, miniature Michelin Man. But that day you’re kind of just going through the motions and I’m like, ‘Alright, I got this!’ But the next day, with the camera there and all the emotions flowing through you - we had to take breaks a lot of the time just to be like, ‘Uzo, you breathing? Samira, you breathing?’ But I couldn’t imagine a better person to do it with. Uzo made me feel so safe and our stunt coordinator is amazing. And I’m happy with the result.
Danielle: I stayed on set that day. I was rapped, but I knew they were going to do that scene and I stayed on set because I knew that Samira Wiley and Uzo Aduba in this scene was about to be dynamic. Watching it, they gave their everything in that scene. Everything they had. And it really inspired me to give everything I had for the rest of the season.
Samira: I was on set all the time. Being able to watch our other cast members work and being constantly inspired. It was like a reciprocal thing, ‘You inspire me, I inspire you!’ It’s great.
Besides getting out of prison, what do you think your characters ultimately want?
Samira: think for most of the women in the prison, they want to be seen and heard as equal human beings, as people that matter. That that’s a constant struggle every day in there for them. I think that every day Poussey wakes up and she’s like, ‘I just want people to see me as me.’
Danielle: I think for Taystee, she wants to be taken serious. In season one with Poussey and Miss Claudette, she says, ‘I don’t think anyone’s going to take me seriously.’ And I think that’s the reason she came back, cause she felt like she couldn’t do it on her own. And she takes really to heart the scene in episode one where Poussey tells her, ‘This isn’t the way to live,’ and you see that in season 2, episode 2 with Job Fair how hard she’s trying to make this right. She really thinks she’s about to get a job! But she doesn’t! But I feel like she’s so hopeful, and I feel like she just wants to be taken serious and make it on her own.
Samira, What was it like for you acting in a different language?
Samira: You know, that’s really interesting. The nude scene that I did was like my first nude scene, first sex scene, and, you know, a whole bunch of sense are happening. But it was actually great because I had to focus on saying the right words! So I didn’t get too much in my head because of that. I had a great coach that helped me out with the language and my fellow acting partner, the wonderful woman who played my girlfriend, was German, so I was able to work on things with her too. It was awesome! I don’t know how many shows I would be on where they would just throw that on me and be like, ‘Alright, it’s yours, catch it!’ But I felt like I caught it!
Samira, your character Poussey is romantic.
Samira: Is she now?
She definitely has a romantic side to her! Would you say that you’re romantic too?
Samira: I’m definitely romantic, yeah. We’ll keep it at that.
Is there any hope for an actual Poussey romance in season 3?
Samira: To be honest, I’m really open to anything. The writers are so much more talented at writing than I am, so I’ll leave it to them. But yeah, I’m open to anything!
Danielle: Yeah, I’ve been waiting for Taystee to get some love! To be honest, that’s fine with me!