Red vs. Vee: An Interview with OITNB’s Kate Mulgrew and Lorraine Toussaint

On June 21, the cast of Orange is the New Black assembled in Manhattan at the delightfully eccentric Crosby Street Hotel for a full day of press interviews. Metro Weekly was invited to participate in several of the day’s round-table interviews along with colleagues from other print and online outlets.

Out of that day came the later opportunity to conduct an exclusive, in-depth Q&A with Selenis Leyva, who plays the show’s cook Gloria Mendoza. Among other topics, Ms. Leyva spoke eloquently and passionately about her transgender sister, Marizol. The magazine were honored to be Ms. Leyva’s first magazine cover. And here’s a Fun Fact: Leyva’s cover, by complete coincidence, appeared exactly a year to the day of our cover interview with Emmy-nominated castmate Laverne Cox. (Metro Weekly was Cox’s very first magazine cover, as well — sensing an OITNB trend here?)

With the popular Netflix show already having been awarded one Emmy — Uzo Aduba, who plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, won for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series earlier this week (Cox and Natasha Lyonne were also nominees) — and up for several more, including Outstanding Comedy Series, writing (series creator Jenji Kohan) and direction (Jodie Foster!) at Monday night’s primetime awards, we thought we’d offer up a few of the round tables in edited form. The questions are denoted as PRESS, as they were posed by multiple participants.

We begin with the pairing of Kate Mulgrew, nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her magnificent, bracing portrayal of Galina “Red” Reznikov, and the superb Lorraine Toussaint, who played Season Two’s feroicious heavy, Yvonne “Vee” Parker.

Kate Mulgrew as Red and Lorraine Toussaint as Vee - Credit: JoJo Whilden for Netflix

Kate Mulgrew as Red and Lorraine Toussaint as Vee – Credit: JoJo Whilden for Netflix

PRESS: If Vee and Red were to meet out of prison and interact, how do you think their interaction would go?

KATE MULGREW: It would go well, as it did initially inside of prison. That’s why it evolved into what it was. There was an immediate attraction. Psychopaths are charming people, charismatic. 

PRESS: Do you think there’s much of a rivalry [between them]?

LORRAINE TOUSSAINT: I think there would be for Vee. I think that is the nature of this character. If there were a reason to compete, if there were a reason to dominate, she would. And if there weren’t, she’d create one, because it’s important to her. That’s an important aspect of it. I think she needs that to thrive. She thrives on conflict. Were the situation inside or outside [prison], that’s her nature. That’s that great myth, that great fable about the scorpion and the frog. She’s the scorpion. She can’t help it. 

PRESS: How much fun was it for you, Lorraine, going through all those emotions? You do everything, whereas some of the other characters just have one sort of mood.

TOUSSAINT: It’s mercurial. Once I realized part of her magic is how quickly I can change directions, how quickly I can flip it, and what that does to her internally, what that feels like, it’s a real charge to flip the switch. As an actor, once I realized, “Oh, that’s interesting, let’s try that,” there’s an enormous freedom in that, because often times I didn’t know what I was going to do. Most of it happened in the moment. I would prepare as little as possible, and go in and play as much as possible. And that is fun for an actor. So often times, I’d get out of a scene and go, “Oh, that was interesting. Oh, I didn’t see that coming. I like that. Let’s, let’s do more of that.” [Laughs.

PRESS: Vee doesn’t seem inherently evil, though, at first. She just seems to be more evil out of opportunity.

TOUSSAINT: I don’t think she’s ever evil. I think she’s just misunderstood. [Laughs.

PRESS: She does an interesting thing. She actually notices and intrudes upon the relationship between Poussey and Taystee [Samira Wiley and Danielle Brooks]. She turns it to her advantage, completely decimating any kind of possible tenderness between them. It was interesting to see that she had that kind of instinct, that she would just disrupt someone’s friendship and potential relationship in that way.

TOUSSAINT: Number one, this character is a survivor — she meets her needs first and foremost, and her need for Taystee overrode everything else. And I think, to the capacity that this character can love — and I do think it speaks to capacity — she loves Taystee. I think it’s interesting that she doesn’t actually destroy the last and only thing that she actually does relatively love. She leaves instead, which is something. She’s jealous, among other things. She’s jealous and [has] the power to destroy. And so what do we do when we’re afraid of loss? Oftentimes, we have the power to eliminate it.

PRESS: I remember seeing the first trailer when it was released, and I saw the two battles in the trailer, where you guys stare at each other. I’m like, “Oh, I’m wondering what’s going to happen between these two characters.”

TOUSSAINT: We wonder, too. [Laughs.]

PRESS: What’s it like the day you guys go in and shoot and you know you’re going to be getting really physical with each other? So what was that day like, before the scene started, when she chokes you out, and then when you guys fight in the greenhouse? What goes through your mind when you read that in a script?

MULGREW: Excitement. Laughter. It’s fun.

TOUSSAINT: Dread. [Laughs.

MULGREW: I’m prepared. I’m ready. I want to do it. I know I’m in good hands with her.

TOUSSAINT: And we went through it, technically, a great deal. I wanted every moment choreographed. I wanted nothing left to chance. 

MULGREW: I can roll with that stuff.

TOUSSAINT: Yeah, Kate walked away. And I drilled it with the fight coordinator, because my comfort zone was in making sure that I could act it, knowing that we would both be safe, no matter what. So I needed the form to facilitate the freedom in it. 

PRESS: Red’s character goes through some significant changes this season — she starts at a place of insularity and humility. It was interesting that she gets together with the old ladies. The show turns it on you, because they don’t turn out to be as harmless as we are first led to believe. Those characters come to life in a way that shocks. I was very, very surprised. Do you feel that the show deliberately plays with our preconceptions in that way? 

MULGREW: No, I don’t. These women are in prison. So you have to know that they are capable of doing bad stuff. But they’re also capable of survival on many different levels. And in Red’s case, I like to think it’s on a high level, a level of excellence. I’m strategic. And I get them together, and I figure it out about the greenhouse. And so it’s full of surprises — the allegiance, the passion behind the allegiance, the madness, the loneliness, the loss of Jimmy.

I mean, [series creator] Jenji [Kohan] just doesn’t take one theme, “We’re gonna put these old women in the greenhouse.” She says, “We’re gonna make this one mad so you’re gonna love her. And then she’s gonna wander away, we’re gonna find out how bad the prison is.” Jenji’s always putting it back into the lap of the prison. But as far as Red is concerned, it’s about absolute survival, with her integrity intact. And that’s what Season Two was for me. 

PRESS: What do you think Season Three will be, any idea?

MULGREW: I have ideas. 

[SPOILER ALERT: Skip to page 3 if you have not watched all of Season Two.]

Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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