EXCLUSIVE: Dascha Polanco Talks About Her Role on Netflix’s ‘Orange is the New Black’

Nina Duncan

Tell us a bit about where you’re from and how you got into acting?

I’m Dominican, born in DR. I was raised in New York, and then moved to Miami in my teenage years, returning to New York later on. I had done theater during high school and college, but with my life and everything I had going on I decided to go for the health field, where there were stable jobs. Honestly, it had a lot to do with self-confidence issues. I knew that my shape and looking a certain way, that [acting] path would be even harder, and I needed to have a paying job. But a couple of years back, with the encouragement of my boyfriend [now fiancé] I registered for an acting class and later booked a manager. I started getting a few roles and booked Gimme Shelter [with Vanessa Hudgens] and that’s when everything kind of started.

What drew you to the project?

Listen, anywhere my manager tells me to go, I go. [laughs] I was looking to book anything that came along that allowed me to act, whether that was selling pampers to a kitty litter commercial. So I get this audition opportunity and I just thought, ‘I would love this.’

What was the audition process like?

The audition was on a Saturday. I was coming off from an overnight shift at the hospital, and I actually read the audition time wrong, so I had to get to Manhattan from Brooklyn in 15 minutes. And I did it! But then I’m looking around and I’m like, shit, I didn’t get a chance to change. All these women were dressed and wearing heels, and here I am wearing scrubs and sneakers with my hair all curly and crazy. So I audition, and I get a callback on Monday and I just think ‘I have to kill this now.’ After that, I got a call from my manager and I had been cast and we were both just so excited. I thought this really can’t be happening. I’m such a fan of Jenji. It was really a moment of excitement and just, validation, you know?

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