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Lorraine Toussaint, who plays Vee on season two of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, talked with #pretapodcasts about her character’s pivotal role this season and the last-minute note from creator Jenji Kohan that deemed her “psychotic.”
“It was a great talk,” Toussaint recalled, “and somewhere towards the end of it, she said, ‘And, you know, being psychotic … ‘ and I said, ‘Excuse me? She’s psychotic?'”
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Toussaint also dished on working with Uzo Aduba, a.k.a. Crazy Eyes (“One of the loveliest and most generous actresses I’ve worked with”), and wrestling in the rain with Kate Mulgrew, who plays Vee’s nemesis Red (“We didn’t want to talk to each other or see each other”).
And what does she think of the season’s final ending? “I think by the end what we did actually shoot does give Jenji maybe a little bit of an out.”
Could this spell the return of Vee in season three?
Listen below for the full episode of Girls on Orange, or read the entire transcript below. And be sure to subscribe to #pretapodcasts on iTunes.
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Jessie Katz: So you’re calling from Atlanta, right?
Lorraine Toussaint: I am.
Katz: And you’re shooting Selma? What’s your role in that film?
Toussaint: The film is called Selma. It’s about the march to the [Alabama state] capitol [in Montgomery]. It’s all that led up to that famous walk from Selma to Montgomery. I play Amelia Boynton, who is a historical character who has invited Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma to basically stage this confrontation with local and ultimately national authorities that gave rise to the march from Selma and helped the Voting Rights Act to actually be held up.
Katz: You must be all wrapped up in that world. Is it weird to have Orange is the New Black exploding all over the entire world while you’re in a civil rights frame of mind?
Toussaint: It’s really odd because I’m kind of sequestered in small towns in Georgia.
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Katz: Are people recognizing you?
Toussaint: When I’m in Atlanta, yes, but oftentimes we’re in these little tiny towns that make you feel like you’ve gone back in time.
Katz: They’re not watching Netflix to the same degree.
Toussaint: No, not necessarily. So I have this odd, viral vibration that’s going on that’s kind of thrilling, but I feel oddly disconnected from it. It’s interesting.
Katz: Where do you live normally?
Toussaint: Los Angeles.
Katz: Okay, so whenever you come back, it’ll hit you like a brick wall.
Brandon Kirby: Yeah, everyone will have binge watched it by then. All of the city will be looking at you, “Oh, my god, it’s Vee. Run!”
Katz: It’s all we hear about and we’re not related to the show, so I can’t imagine what’s in store for you.
Toussaint: I went out to lunch with my 9-year-old a couple of days ago in Atlanta and a woman walked up to the table and said, “I just want to kill you.”
Katz: But you were already killed!
Toussaint: My only response was, “Hello. … This is my daughter. She’s nine. How are you?”
Katz: Have you watched all of season two yet?
Toussaint: I’ve not had a chance, but I really dislike watching myself.
Kirby: We’ve heard that from a lot of the Orange folks.
Toussaint: Yeah, so I’m going to watch to watch it in a very odd way, when I’m forced to. Or I can have someone look for other people who I really, really want to see, who I really admire on the show, whose work I love and who I love. I think Danielle [Brooks, as Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson] is brilliant and Uzo [Aduba, as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren] is thrilling and Samira [Wiley, as Poussey Washington] — oh, I was so sad when I had to say such mean things to sweet Samira. And Adrienne [C. Moore, as Cindy “Black Cindy” Hayes] and Vicky [Jeudy, as Janae Watson], they’re such great women and talented beyond belief.
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Katz: They’re all back in New York gearing up for the new season, right?
Toussaint: Oh, yeah. They’ve started back on three.
Katz: Are they texting you like, “We miss you,” “Where are you?”
Toussaint: I got one today. I got several yesterday. We’re pretty much going back and forth at this point, going, “Oh, I miss you, I love you.”
Katz: I guess this confirms that Vee is really dead, and it’s not just that we assume she is, and then she’ll appear in season three. You’re really putting that myth to rest.
Toussaint: Listen, you’ll have to crawl inside the mind of Jenji Kohan for that answer because I’m going to continue doing what I did while I was shooting for the second season. I wouldn’t even read episodes ahead of time; I really waited up until the last minute to reveal what the next episode was going to be. I was often reading a script going, “[gasp] Oh, my god! Really?” Certainly the fans are suggesting that they would like it, but they’re also saying they wouldn’t like it. “We want her back; we don’t want her back. We don’t want her back. … I think we want her back.”
Katz: I think it’s that a lot of people want you as an actor back on the show.
Kirby: But you can just reemerge as a different character.
Katz: You can play Vee’s sweet twin who gets incarcerated.
Toussaint: That would be great — the good twin.
Kirby: How did you get cast in Orange?
Toussaint: I was cast very simply and very, very quickly. My manager at the time sent me some material that he received from Orange and said, “I want to put you on tape tomorrow and send it to Orange is the New Black.”
Katz: And it was for Vee, specifically?
Toussaint: Vee, specifically. I had sort of kind of heard of Orange is the New Black. I’d seen a lot of buses going by with women in jumpsuits and posters everywhere. It was definitely in my peripheral awareness. So when my manager mentioned the show, the first thing I said was, “Well, can I get a script of it? What’s it about?” The next day we put together two scenes that got into the backstory of Vee in one of the episodes. And we put it on the tape and it was sent off to Jenji in New York and that evening they called back and said, “We love you. Can you travel in two days and be prepared to spend the next six months?”
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Kirby: Did you hesitate at all?
Toussaint: Yes, I did. I’m a mom. There were so many things to work out in those two days and I kept on some level saying, “I can’t do this. There’s no way I can do this.” With all credit to my team, they did whatever it took to make sure that I got on that plane that Sunday. I got there Sunday evening, did a fitting Sunday evening and I was shooting Monday morning.
Katz: I’m glad it worked out — and I guess this is the true hallmark of a great performance — I cannot imagine anyone else playing that role. It was all meant to be, I guess.
Kirby: Vee is the iconic character of this season. You truly blew it out of the water.
Toussaint: Thanks, guys. It’s so nice to hear that, I have to tell you, because you’re sort of in the trenches, buried away, in Queens. … In the fall, in the snowy, dank winter, you’re traversing the subways and you’re getting to work in the wee hours of the morning before the bakeries are open. I remember walking to work one morning — I had several different apartments while I was there — it was not a comfortable shoot necessarily, but I was walking to work one morning, I think it was 4 o’clock in the morning on the Lower East Side, and I was constantly saying to myself, “What am I doing here? Dear God, what am I doing?” I was walking by and the only guy who passed me as I was walking to the subway said, “Yeah, I lost my virginity tonight!” Oh, God, I’m in the bowels of New York.
Katz: [laughs] You were a big part of that person’s life for a moment!
Toussaint: Once I was in it, I was in it. Once my daughter was stable, I was okay; then I could hustle in the city. I lived there twenty years ago and it kind of comes back to you, how to hustle in that city.
Katz: And then you have to wait so long for people to finally see it that it must feel like a lifetime ago that you even shot it.
Toussaint: You have this idea of a character and you’re weaving it as you go along — and especially with the way that Jenji’s script came and the way in which I chose to know and not know what I didn’t know — there’s a spontaneity in the putting together of the bits and pieces and at some point, probably around episode 7 or 8, I was able to then look at the first season. That was the point where I needed information. I had to gather from some of the other characters’ history that Vee would know by now.
Katz: About Red?
Toussaint: About Red, about the demise of Red, about those relationships. … When I got into maximum manipulation mode, it became important that I gather more information. I was no longer new; being now seasoned, in that facility, I’d know. So I went back and I’d watch a bunch of the episodes and go: “Oh, my god. This show’s really good!”
Katz: I think that was everyone’s reaction to the show. “What the hell is this? … Okay, I’ll give it a shot. … Oh, my god … can’t stop watching.”
Toussaint: Yeah. I was very pleased I was on a good show.
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Katz: Burning question for you: Who came up with Vee’s hairstyle in prison?
Toussaint: That’s me, because when Jenji told me — a half an hour before we started shooting, I might add — that Vee was indeed psychotic …
Katz: You had a half an hour to digest that one?
Toussaint: It was on Monday morning. We went to the side in the corner while they were lighting for my first scene and I said, “I just have to have some basic character questions answered before I start today.” Thank God it wasn’t a big day, but I needed it. We talked and it was a great talk, and somewhere towards the end of it, she said, “And, you know, being a psychotic …” and I said, “Excuse me? She’s psychotic?” She said, “Yeah! She’s clinically psychotic.” And I said, “Oh. Well that’s going to put a bit of a spin on things.”
Katz: What had your take been [on Vee] before that?
Toussaint: I thought, like most characters… I knew she was going to be there for drugs, I knew she had some bad things. I’ve sort of prided myself on playing characters with conscience. The first way I go about creating a character is looking at that area of conscience. What have they done, and what has it cost. What have the events in their lives cost them that has brought them to this point. And then it’s a matter of how I plan to layer the “peekaboo” between the character and the audience. So when I looked up the definition of sociopath, it is very, very interesting. Because the way I go about working on characters with traditionally wired conscience mechanisms… That’s not going to work for Vee. That’s kind of challenging. It was morally challenging.
Katz: But Vee is sympathetic to the audience for a while. You feel like there’s something to distrust there, but…
Kirby: It was funny because I was watching — I was behind on episodes, and Jessie had already finished — and I said, “Vee’s so sweet taking Crazy Eyes underneath her wing,” and Jessie was like, “Uh… Think again.”
Katz: [laughs] But it’s true. You can have some compassion for her for a while and then I guess there comes a point when you realize she is psychotic because she is so manipulative of people who she should have some feeling for. And she just seems to go cold on them.
Toussaint: She’s learned how to mimic feelings, as opposed to have them. But even within the parameters of that, I think she does have feelings for some of those characters — or, even worse, she doesn’t know the difference between mimicking the feelings and the ones she actually has until they’re tested. I think, ultimately, when the relationship with Crazy Eyes is tested, you realize that’s the one she mimics really well… But when the relationship she has with Taystee is tested, I think, surprising to her, even, that may actually be the relationship that is true. As much as this character can love, I mean.
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Katz: That she actually expects that Taystee will understand that she has to be kicked out of the group, that this isn’t personal, it’s just what has to happen. It’s not that she doesn’t love her, it’s just that her understanding of love is very fucked up.
Toussaint: Yeah, it’s crazy. She’s crazy. I always thought it was an interesting choice of Vee’s to run. That’s an interesting choice to me and I want to think that choice is rooted in love. I would like to hope that it’s rooted in love — for Taystee.
Kirby: Who do you think will be ruling the prison come season 3, now that Vee’s gone?
Toussaint: I don’t know.
Kirby: I guess you’d have to crawl into Jenji’s brain for that one, too.
Toussaint: I’m so curious, because somebody’s gotta take Vee’s place.
Katz: I feel like Red had a moment of “What am I doing? What am I fighting for? This is all pointless,” so I wonder if there will be a new ruler of the kingdom.
Toussaint: She’s had to come to Jesus, yeah. It’ll be interesting to see what Jenji does in the third season.
Kirby: How was it working with Uzo Aduba, who plays Crazy Eyes? The way Vee manipulates her is so hard to watch, how was it working with her?
Toussaint: Oh, gosh. Uzo’s one of the loveliest and most generous actresses I’ve worked with, all of those women are; I can’t say enough about their kindness, their generosity, their availability, their courage in front of the screen, it’s thrilling to be around. Uzo — my heart just swells even saying her name because I love her so much. I hated having to do the things I had to do to Uzo, and Crazy is like a puppy to Vee. It’s like kicking a puppy. That quality that she has mastered in this show, and Lord knows there’s a ying-yang to her, too, in a few scenes, but that sweet, puppy quality, that naiveté, that innocence… I don’t think anyone will ever be able to convince her that Vee did her wrong.
Katz: When she was crying at the end, that was a killer.
Toussaint: Yeah, she’s got major blinders on. It was wonderful working with her; I’m not a person who’s lost for words, but gosh, she’s brilliant.
Katz: What about with Kate Mulgrew [who plays Red]? Your characters were basically just trying to off each other by the end. Was it tense, did it carry over at all when the cameras weren’t rolling or was it chummy when you weren’t filming?
Toussaint: Oh, no. Kate and I know each other. We’re like the old broads in the game here. I’ve known Kate for many, many years. We were actors out in LA. I worked in her husband’s theater 20 years ago; I’ve had group parties at their house. I haven’t seen Kate, though, in a good ten or fifteen years, before Star Trek. It was really nice to have an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time.
Kirby: It was like the real Vee and Red.
Toussaint: It was very Vee and very Red. Those kind of love-hate. … And I like that relationship a lot because, from Vee’s point of view, there is fondness, there is respect. But, more than any of those, Vee is a survivor and will do whatever it takes to survive. It ain’t personal. I do remember the night shooting that wretched scene on the docks. I didn’t want to do that. That was a hard night. We were very, very cold and we were very, very wet. At some point, in our four or five of us killing each other and going at each other’s throats and going at it from different angles … There’s the first level of choking, and then there’s choking on the ground, and then I slip her [24:21], oh, my god. At some point, I was so angry and cold. … I was mostly angry because I was so cold and so wet and covered in mud and we kept doing it over and over. I’ll never forget. By the end of that evening, I went my way and she went hers. We didn’t want to talk to each other or see each other. We had to go home and bathe. A hot shower, alone. Not a communal shower anymore, please. Alone. I have a great respect for Kate; she’s an exquisite actress.
Kirby: I want to bring up Vee’s demise again. Some critics have said it feels too tidy that Rosa’s van just plows her over on the side of the road. Do you wish that Vee had jumped out of the way? What are your thoughts on Vee’s ultimate demise?
Toussaint: Well, I know that when they were shooting it, Vee got less and less dead as we went along with the scripts. … At some point, you could see the van go over her, bumpity-bump, and you saw her guts squeezed out or something, I don’t know. I think by the end what we did actually shoot does give Jenji maybe a little of an out. I don’t know what she has in mind. It could be that great moment where, like in that James Cameron film, Avatar, [the film’s protagonist] Jake’s eyes open at the end. You know? It could be one of those, you know, where Vee blinks or something and you go, “Oh, god! No! She’s not dead!”
Kirby: Yeah, I wanted that moment. I wanted the hand to come up or something.
Toussaint: Just the hand to twitch or something.
Katz: It would be a middle finger, not just the hand.
Toussaint: Oh, yeah. It would definitely be a “f— you” finger. She’s such a survivor. I don’t know.
Kirby: So they made it more ambiguous than it was originally written?
Toussaint: I think so, yeah.
Kirby: Her guts didn’t spray out everywhere.
Katz: We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Kirby: Totally fingers crossed for the return of either Vee or Lorraine in a different role.
Toussaint: Maybe Lorraine in a different role. [laughs] It’s hard to play that level of evil all the time for a long period of time. She’s really raw evil. That circumstance in which she finds herself, that arena, she survives on animal brain only. And animal brain takes its toll.
Katz: She really was like a tiger just pacing in a cage.
Toussaint: Oh, by the way, you asked me that question about the hair, and I wanted a mane. She really is a predator.
Kirby: Someone on Twitter actually compared Vee’s mane to Scar, from The Lion King.
Toussaint: Oh, exactly. It’s a mane. She’s a predatory, cat-like thing.
Katz: Well, cats have nine lives, so we’re waiting for the next eight.
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