Danielle Brooks of Orange Is The New Black: 'We Weren't Going To Sugarcoat Things'


By Samantha Henderson

She steals the show as Taystee in Netflix's prison drama. Before beginning season 2, Brooks talked about her experience on the set and her on-screen female relationship

Photo: Ira L. Black

We fell in love with Taystee, Danielle Brooks’ character on Orange Is The New Black, as soon as she showed up onscreen, exclaiming about the main character’s boobs. Then we fell in love with the talented actress herself the moment she walked into our office and began dishing about the show. Rated as the top character by various blogs, Brooks has just been made a series regular along with Uzo "Crazy Eyes" Aduba, and it's no wonder: She's a scene-stealer, and once you get a taste of Taystee, you can't get enough.

OUT: Congratulations on becoming a series regular! When did you find that out?

Danielle Brooks: I found out about a week before it was announced to the world, so that was very recent.

A new ranking on E!Online names Taystee as audiences' favorite character. Does that surprise you?

DB: It happened so fast, and to be acknowledged for the work that you’ve done and for people to say, “We really rock with you and you’re number one” is pretty amazing. I’m shocked, especially since I just graduated from Juilliard two years ago.

When you were offered the part, did you think that Taystee would receive so much love?

DB: I auditioned with the first scene of episode one, the shower scene. The first thing the casting director, Jen Euston, said was: “Don’t play her mean.” I knew what she meant by “not mean” and that she had a joyous spirit. It just gelled really well and I knew that working with someone like [show creator] Jenji Kohan that I wasn’t just going to play a black woman in prison. I didn’t know anything else about Taystee until they told me I got the job. Once I got it, I said, “Ok, I can rock with this.” Knowing from the jump that I wasn’t going to be the only black woman on the show was cool to me, as well as knowing that it was different ages and sizes, and that the LGBT community was represented nicely—people were getting to see the misfits, the underdogs, and getting to know them on a deeper level.

When you say it gelled well, do you mean that you find similarities between you and Taystee?

DB: I think what I meant with the “gel” is that I found immediately a way to relate to Taystee. I also have a really big personality. My mouth isn’t as foul as hers, and I’m way more careful with what I do, but that innocence and that bubbliness is in my nature. I have a deeper side that I don’t share with everybody, and I don’t think [Taystee] does either. She only really shares it with people she feels closely with, people like Poussey.

Speaking of Poussey, Orange is also very much about interpersonal relationships. Do you think that one of the goals of the show is to prove there is a deeper, natural connection between women?

DB: I think the goal of the show is to remind us that we’re more than what we appear to be, whether that is gay, whether that is black—I think that’s really the purpose of [it]. As far as relationships, I feel like there is something when it comes to prison where there’s a lack of connection, there’s a lack of touch, there’s a lack of feel, and I think Taystee and Poussey are both longing for it... But I don’t know where their relationship is going yet. They’re both young and naïve in some ways, and very wise in others. It’s not physical—it’s something more than that that they have. I’m going to be thinking about this for a while now...

How far in advance do you get the scripts?

DB: If you’re lucky, a week. It feels like you have to get ahead of yourself because you don’t know if you have a big scene for the next episode. Things switch around a lot.

Is it different to shoot a series for Netflix as opposed to a show for network television?

DB: Netflix allows the show to have freedom, which is awesome. If you feel that something might not exactly work with that character, you get to ad-lib a little. [The line] “Ain’t nobody got time for that” was me, and the spin, the "Taystee twist", was my thing. Getting to add our own flavor adds to the show and it trickles down to the audience because you get a chance to watch what you want to watch, or watch it 100,000 times, or knock it out in 24 hours. To get to be a part of a new movement is almost like playing spades and you have the joker. You’re at the top of your game.