Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba was almost a lawyer
The very day that Uzo Aduba had decided to quit acting, she got the role of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Since then, she’s won an Emmy and scored a Golden Globe nod for playing the fan favorite, a character she told EW is “boldly herself all the time.”
Judging by the trailer for season 3, that won’t change: Suzanne is caught writing erotica that involves aliens—a scene she seems to think is perfectly normal. “She is going to argue her case to the best of her ability because it makes sense to her,” Aduba said. “In her head, the math adds up.”
Aduba called up EW to talk more about what’s next for Suzanne, the day she almost became a lawyer, and how she felt when Vee got the ax this past season.
You’ve had such a big year. Where’s your Emmy sitting right now?
It’s funny you should ask, because I just bought a bookshelf that kind of sits discretely in a corner and if you walk in the room, you can’t see it. You have to walk to this specific side of the room to see the bookshelf and really come to the other side around it to see it sitting in there. I wanted it to be in the room, but not like, “Look at my…” You know? [Laughs] Beause initially, I was like, putting it in the closet felt disrespectful. And I had it on the windowsill for a long time, which I didn’t mind because it would face out toward the Statue of Liberty and it just made me think of my mom when she first moved here. She used to go and look at that statue all the time. And it just felt like two ladies meeting. Like from there to here, you know? But she can still look out that window. But everybody doesn’t have to look at her.
I was reading your Daily Beast article about your name, and it’s very clear that your mom has played an influential role in your life. How involved is she in your acting career? Do you take her to awards shows?
Yes, she came with when I won. There was no one else that I could have even thought of, dreamed of, wanted to have beside me. My mom has done everything that someone hopes that someone might do when it comes to supporting your child. You know what I mean? Times when I did not believe, she believed enough for the both of us. She is my number one fan. My greatest advisor. My greatest supporter. And not just mine. I’m one of five. She is that way for all of us. She supports us all. My mom, when she moved here from Nigeria, and my parents, their American dream was for their children to be able to live their dream. And my mom was so adamant about that. And she believed in me and supported me going into this field. She knew it was going to be hard, but she just kept telling me all the time, “Zo Zo”—my mom calls me Zo Zo—she’s like, “Zo Zo, you can do it. I believe in you. You just have to keep going.” I love that lady. Love her.
You’ve said before that you were planning on quitting acting the day you got the Orange is the New Black job. What were you going to do? Did you have a plan or were you just like, “I’m done. I’ll figure it out later”?
I thought this through. I had just come from this audition where I was 20 minutes late. I thought the audition had gone really well. I walked out and said that was a great audition, you’re not going to get that job, and you’re not going to get it because you were 20 minutes late. And this is God, the universe, telling you, as it has been trying to tell you all summer long, this is not for you. And you need to stop trying. Because I had been hearing “no, no,” “thank you, but no” since trying this medium. And I sat on the train in tears. And not like wailing, like a crazy person or anything. You know, it’s that tear where it’s like, I’m not even making sounds, but I can’t stop the tears from falling. I’m trying and I just can’t even stop. I said, “Okay, you win. I’m going to quit.” And I gave up. When I was little, my parents always thought I was going to be a lawyer because I talk a lot. [Laughs] “She’ll make a good lawyer, this one.” And I said, if you can make the way for me to go and do that, I will go. I will go. That is exactly what I said. Got home. 45 minutes later, I got the phone call to go and be a part of Orange is the New Black. 5:43 p.m., I’ll never forget it.
I’m sure you would have been a great lawyer, but I’m glad you worked out this one.
Maybe I’ll just get to play one now.
If the character of Suzanne could have any impact on watchers, what would you want that impact to be?
“You are enough.” Suzanne, what she’s taught me, is there’s little that can be found in conformity. She is boldly herself all the time, whether it’s from her hair, whether it’s from her weird and sometimes offbeat expressions [Laughs], her ideology. She’s not always right, and she’s okay with not always being right. But she is a woman of conviction. And she is someone who loves deeply. Oftentimes to her own detriment. There is a seed somewhere in her that is determined to stay true to who she is. She knows people call her Crazy Eyes; she’s not oblivious to it. Still, she’s not willing to adjust and conform so that people might stop calling her that. She’s still really intent on staying true to herself. To borrow, not to sound so hokey and schmoky, but to borrow from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” And she has remained that.
I love the part in the trailer when she’s talking about the story she wrote and she says, “it’s two people connecting… with four other people and aliens.”
And she means it! [Laughs] “Four other people and aliens.” What is so hard to get about it? [Laughs] Where specifically am I losing you? Absolutely. And she will stand by that conviction. She is going to argue her case to the best of her ability because it makes sense to her. In her head, the math adds up.
Vee left at the end of the second season, and I imagine that is going to have a big effect on Suzanne. What was your personal reaction when you read the script and found out that Vee was gone?
Jenji has found a really beautiful way to put that story to rest, pun intended. And I think what she’s done is provided opportunities for the pieces to get picked up. I think what I’ve been really thankful to have had was Suzanne discovering who she is now, through hardship. And what devastation can feel like, look like, and how she kind of has to come to terms with heartbreak again. It’s funny, because she really is doing this sort of play with faith that has been interesting. I think what’s been really exciting about watching Suzanne’s journey [is] the idea of subtley expanded. Digging deeper into the nuisance of what that word can mean. And how faith can be so broad. It doesn’t have to be exclusive to religion or spirituality. It can be faith in another human being, faith in love, faith in one’s self even. And Suzanne, who has been an idol worshipper these last two seasons—taking people and putting them up on altars and sort of bowing down to them—the problem becomes if those people are not the gods that you think they are, faith can be lost sometimes. And it’s been really exciting and settling to see where Suzanne puts her faith now.
Could you give a one-word hint about what’s coming up for Suzanne in the upcoming season?
Season 2 of Orange is the New Black is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital HD. The third season arrives on Netflix June 12.
Jenji Kohan’s absorbing ensemble dramedy, based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, takes viewers inside the walls of Litchfield, a minimum security women’s prison where nothing’s as simple as it seems—especially the inmates.