EXCLUSIVE: Selenis Leyva on ‘Orange is the New Black’ & Latinas in Hollywood

Orange Is the New Black is a huge success. What attracted you to the project?

I was actually contacted when Jen Euston, one of the casting directors, gave my manager a call. I didn’t know much about the project at all, just that Jenji Kohan was behind it, so I was all for it. I auditioned for another character that I didn’t end up getting, but I heard from them a couple of weeks later saying they’d like to offer me Gloria [Mendoza]. And I was like, “Who is Gloria?!” But that was it. I was on board with the project – how could you not be?

How did you envision Gloria?

You know, when I got the script I didn’t know much about her; she didn’t have very many lines, but they were gems. Great one-liners. The line, “Oh, great, another f*cking coconut,” has really stuck with viewers and also stuck with me. It really formed my basis for this entire character – she definitely has a smart mouth and she’s very proud of being Latino. So as the series goes on, there were more of these one-liners, and I milked them. I had fun with them. And I kept hearing from the writers that Gloria was starting to grow, to really develop, and that an executive producer was asking for more of it. I mean, when that’s happening, it’s exciting!

We know that the actors don’t get the scripts until right beforehand. And like viewers, you know very little about Gloria other than her lines – you don’t know the backstory. Do you hope she gets a backstory like some of the other characters in the series?

Of course I would! Obviously, like any actor, want more time on screen with my character. But I really have no idea what’s going to happen. But the stories never get stale. Every script that comes our way, we all get so excited for. We get them at least a week ahead of time, and we shoot for nine to twelve days, but we don’t see another script until, like, the tenth day of shooting. It’s all so hush-hush.