Selenis Leyva Discusses The Success of Orange Is The New Black
At the beginning of season one of “Orange Is The New Black”, show creators were a bit unsure as to what direction actress Selenis Levya’s character (Gloria Mendoza) was going to take.
But by the end of episode thirteen, it was quite clear that Mendoza had become a central fixture of the groundbreaking NetFlix series; taking over the prison kitchen system that had once been dominated by the feisty Red (Kate Mulgrew).
It’s a testament not only to the show’s brilliant writing, but also to Leyva’s sassy portrayal of Mendoza that’s allowed her character to develop over the course of the series; one that revolves around the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a woman sentenced to 15 months in prison after being convicted of a decade old crime.
Filming for season two is already underway with more amazing developments, plot twists and turns and surprises in store.
I had the opportunity to speak with Levya about her role as Mendoza as well as some of her other upcoming projects. She also discusses the appeal of shows like OITNB and when she knew she wanted to be an actress.
What first attracted you to Orange Is The New Black?
I am a huge fan of “Weeds” and after hearing that Jenji Kohan was writing and also the executive producer, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. I’m a big fan of dramedy, and Jenji’s known for dealing with seriousness and adding elements of comedy to it. That really speaks to me.
How do you prepare for a role like Gloria Mendoza?
Gloria’s definitely a New Yorker. She’s someone who was raised in the city and there’s a certain sass and fierceness that all New Yorker’s have. I was born and raised in New York, so I was able to dig into my own sassiness and bring that forward.
Years ago, I worked in a theater arts program where we went to juvenile facilities and worked with teenagers who had been incarcerated and developed workshops and plays with them. I never would have thought that years later I’d be looking back at that time for my own research, but it was wonderful to have that kind of experience.
What’s the atmosphere like on the set?
It’s amazing. We all were kind of like freshmen in college for season one and immediately formed this close bond with each other. For season two, we’re more like sophomores, but we’re still this one amazing family.
Were you aware at the time of how successful the show would become?
I had a feeling it was going to be groundbreaking. Not just because of the amazing cast members and what I watched them do, but also because the writing is so good. We have a transgender on the show and women of various ages, shapes, sizes and platforms. It was something that had never been done before.
What do think makes shows like OITNB more appealing than those on network television?
I think a lot of it has to do with being allowed more creative freedom. The beautiful thing about Netflix is that you’re able to put it all out there at once. Network television is more censored and there are a lot of factors you have to take into consideration regarding viewership. Here, we’re able to take big risks where as the networks have to play it safer.
Was being an actress something you always aspired to be?
I always knew. I didn’t grow up in a houseful of artists, but my parents always used to watch telenovelas (Spanish soap operas) with lots of drama, tears and crazy plots. I remember just loving the idea of being able to express all of these emotions. I used to lock myself in my room and reenact all of these scenes. I knew then that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Tell me a little about your upcoming projects.
I have a supporting role in the upcoming film “St. Vincent De Van Nuys”. Its outrageous and funny. Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy are comedic geniuses and for me to be attached to something so fantastic is amazing. I also have an indie film called “Living With The Dead”. It’s a story that’s completely different from what audiences have been used to seeing me do and a lot more serious. I’m really looking forward to them.
What can fans can expect from Season 2 of Orange Is The New Black?
The next season is going to be deeper. We’re really exploring more of the stories with the characters and the different people who make up the amazing world of Orange Is The New Black; both inside and outside of prison. We’re still shooting so I can’t say exactly what surprises lie ahead, but I can tell you that I’m in the season and that I’m in the kitchen. It’s going to be spicy, and a lot of fun.