A Conversation with Laverne Cox

Dylan Michael August 20, 2013 1
A Conversation with Laverne Cox

If you don’t have Facebook, or Netflix, or you just live under a rock (in which case I’m not surpised at your lack of social media interaction), then you probably haven’t heard of the new hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black. For those of us in the know, though, you’ve either seen it on your Facebook newsfeed, or have watched it yourself.

One of the best parts about Orange is the New Black is the colorful cast of characters. The cast ranges from a crazy black lady who likes to quote Shakespeare, a Russian who only wants to provide good food, to my personal favorite, Sophia, the transgender hairstylist. Sophia is played by actress Laverne Cox, who you might have seen on shows such as Law & Order: SVU, I Want to Work for Diddy and TRANSform Me. On top of being a successful actress, Laverne is also an advocate for transgender equality. I got the distinct honor of sitting down with Miss Cox and, after having a huge fangirl moment where I praised her for an extended period of time, we got to talk about Orange is the New Black, transgender life, boys and more.

Congrats on the success of Orange is the New Black! It’s become a huge success. Do you watch the show yourself? And if so, who’s your favorite character?

Thank you so much! I’m super grateful to be a part of this project with Netflix. There was no way to anticipate that the show was going to become its own entity, but people have really claimed ownership over this show. As far as your second question, I have watched every episode! Not for me, but for the others. I’ve gone back and re-watched the episodes that I’m not in, and I’m gagging. It’s such a good show!

My favorite character…ah, that’s a hard one! It’s so mean to ask me because I love and adore everyone [laugh], but I love and adore Crazy Eyes. She breaks my heart and makes me laugh and gag and I’m just like there’s so much going on within her. And the actress that plays her, Uzo Aduba, is amazing! I mean, I live for characters like Red and the others but it’s just how Crazy Eyes was written. I was that girl who was involved with the wrong person. I think I relate and connect to that piece of being in love with someone who doesn’t see you and who’s completely wrong for you. That’s the magic for the show! She’s a character that you’d make fun of and laugh at, but she has so many layers and so much depth; she’s unbelievably human. This show is magic because it shows all these women who are “disposable,” or “they don’t matter,” but then, through the course of the show, you realize they’re humans, who live and love and hurt.

That’s an amazing take on the characters of Orange is the New Black! But before we get to Sophia, tell us a little bit about you. Who is Laverne?

Laverne is just a girl living in New York City. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m cheesy, first of all. I grew up in Mobile, AL with a single mother and twin brother. I started dancing and performing at a really young age. It’s what I love, and what I’m passionate about. It’s challenging to build a career in the entertainment industry, and I’m not saying it’s impossible, but being transgender does make it a little bit harder. I now live as a single woman in NYC, but I do have a fantasy about meeting the right guy one day. However, I can’t imagine having a boyfriend right now! He would never see me!

Actually, I’m okay with being single right now. I’m not even sure what being in a healthy relationship would look like. I had a boyfriend earlier this year and he was sweet but it just wasn’t right. There is a time for everything and now is not the right time for it. I’m really passionate about my work, and what I believe in. I am a transgender activist, as well as an actress, and I travel around and talk about equality and justice for transgender people. I want people to understand people like me. This show is changing hearts and minds. And that’s really exciting and incredibly humbling.

How did you prepare for the role of Sophia? Being a transgender woman, and playing one on the show, did you feel any pressure to live up to any expectations from the Trans community?

Ya know, I always get nervous when I play a character, but my job is to humanize that character and be true to the script. The script is beautiful and smart, and my job is to honor that. For me, as an artist, the character I play might use a word that I don’t like or be in a situation that me, Laverne, would never be in. But, me as an artist, I have to go there ‘cause it’s true for my character to go there. As an artist, I have to leave that behind. The show’s script is not politically correct, but it’s genius. This show is magic because it shows all these women who according to society are “disposable.”

How was it working with Academy Award winning, gay icon Jodie Foster on episode 3 of Orange is the New Black?

Well, she just confirmed her status as a gay icon, kinda. But I wouldn’t call her just a gay icon. She’s just a film icon to me. She’s a brilliant artist, director, and actress. Working with her was just a dream come true. Imagine your fan girl moment earlier and multiply that by 1000. I had a full on out of body experience when I met her. She was just so chill and amazingly smart and she does an absolutely brilliant job. She’s just a really regular, chill person who’s exceptional at what she does. When I first met her, I lost my mind. Luckily, we had 3 meetings with her, before filming, and it gave me time to chill out and get used to her before filming episode 3.

Well, speaking of episode three, what was it like to have your twin brother portray you, pre-operation?

I actually don’t really like the term “pre-op” – I prefer “pre-transition.”

My mistake!

Oh, it’s not an issue. It’s just one of those little things. As far as my brother goes, we actually didn’t get to work together; we shot on totally different days. When you have a twin brother growing up, people are obsessed with the whole “the same person” thing. And my brother really hates it. And I get it! I would prefer to see people talking about me for something more than something I have no control over, like being a twin. Luckily, on set, it didn’t become a twin thing.

But I am really proud of him! I think he did a great job. He’s not an actor, and he’s very much into doing his own thing. I prefer him playing me pre-transition rather than someone else. I would have done it myself, but Jodie didn’t think I was masculine enough. (Laugh)

Was your family supportive of your decision to transition?

My brother was unbelievably supportive! He has trans friends, too, so it wasn’t a big deal for him. My mom, I actually didn’t tell until after I started. Initially, she had issues. I mean, she saw me in dresses and makeup and all that, but she really freaked out about her child having surgery. And it took a while to get gender pronouns down, after so many years. But she’s supportive now and really cool and just a good example of how to become accepting. I’m still the same person I was before I transitioned, I’m just more myself.

There were several topics brought up within the script of the show, such as the discriminatory remarks that some people make about trans women and men. “He/She”, “It”, that kind of stuff. Do you feel that they addressed the issues properly in the show, or is there room for improvement?

I think what we’ve done in the show is the reality. And the reality is, there are a lot of people in the world who have issues with it and they’ve show that transgender people go through things in life. This show shows the trials they go through, and show that we are humans. Showing the reality of life in trans America is important. Even living in NYC, I’ve been called all kinds of stuff on the street, on the Internet, etc. Our show is showing that we’re people, just like everyone else.

Is there anything about the trans life that they did not touch on that you would like to add?

The idea of “transgender life”, I have an issue with. There’s no one “transgender life.” Everyone has their own path. I’m actually really curious about what they’re going to go with Sophia. Jenji Kohan, the creator, is absolutely amazing and knows how to keep interesting! What’s fun about being an actor, is you don’t have that much control in what happens.  We show up and we do our job, and it’s a lot of trust. It’s almost a spiritual practice. But I’m not worried; I’m in really good hands.

Would you like to play regular female roles, as opposed to being cast as a transsexual in shows? Or do you feel roped into a category like Hollywood is limiting you?

For me, I just wanna act, regardless of trans or not. Labels are so limiting, ya know? The right role will come along, if I have the faith in myself. I’ve been mostly playing Transgender. But I love being able to tell stories, so trans, nontrans, whatever, I would love to stretch myself and my acting abilities in whatever direction they may go.

You’ve inspired so many people, simply by being on this show and proving that Trans people can be accepted in mainstream society. How does it feel to now be an icon for the LGBT community?

I’m an icon?! Thank you for that, but there’s a lot of work that has yet to be done and lots of things left to accomplish. I’m hopeful that this is just the beginning! The advocacy part of me is for the LGBT community, not just gay, not just trans. I want to include everyone.

Like I said, it’s flattering and lovely but I have a lot of dreams and work left to do and I just can’t get full of myself. If I were to say “Oh, I’m an icon,” how douchey of me would that be?!? [Laughs] I appreciate it, that’s something for people to say about me, but not for me to say about myself. There’s a lot of work left for my career, and for trans women of color.  Just because I’m on television does not mean that the lives of trans people of color are automatically better. I’m enjoying the success of the show, but I’m also trying to keep it in perspective.

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As you can see, Laverne Cox is not only an amazing actress, but an activist for equality with a heart of gold! For more information on Laverne, you can go to lavernecox.com. Be sure to catch her on Orange is the New Black available on Netflix now!

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