Orange is the New Black’s Jackie Cruz is a relative newcomer to the in-crowd of the television world, but it has been a long time coming. She was first bitten by the acting bug as a little girl and with the support of her mother has worked her way through the ranks to get where she is.
Her experience working on the Nexflix original series, Orange is the New Black has reflected that journey. She was first hired to play a Latina inmate with only two lines and gained more and more screen time as Marisol “Flaca” Gonzalez, the feisty Latina inmate with an eclectic taste in music and a fondness for dark eyeliner. Season 3, which was released June 11, reveals more about Flaca than we ever knew before with her becoming a major fixture on our screens. In Episode 5 we learn Flaca’s backstory and what exactly put her in prison (selling fake LSD to her high school classmates and one of them having a bad “reaction” and jumping off of the school’s roof). Jackie has now been promoted to a series regular for Season 4, which is about to commence filming.
I spoke to Jackie recently and she was very eager to share all about her journey into acting as well as her passion for music and her experience in the acting master class that is Orange is the New Black.
Imagista: How did you first decide to become an actress?
Jackie Cruz: Well, I was about seven years old, living the Dominican Republic and my mom took me to the movies to see The Bodyguard. It was dubbed in Spanish, but I just fell in love with Whitney Houston and her singing and her acting. I told my mom on the walk home from the theater that I wanted to become an actress. My mom was like “Oh, my daughter wants to be creative, lets see if she has something to offer,” so she put me in drama classes, and vocal lessons, and I played the saxophone for about 10 years. I was in a drama class with older students because my professors thought that I could handle it. I just fell in love with it.
I was also watching a lot of TV because my mom was studying to be a doctor and I felt like TV was sort of like a babysitter to me, so I watched a lot of Saved By The Belland Charles in Charge, things like that. It was a dream for me.
Imagista: So you fell in love with it really young?
Jackie Cruz: Yeah, at seven. My mom and I then moved to Hollywood when I was fifteen so I could pursue my dream. I was very lucky to have so much support.
Imagista: What do you think is your favorite part about acting?
Jackie Cruz: Oh, just that you can be anybody. How cool is it to be someone different from yourself? You get to explore all these feelings that you’ve never felt before through someone else. You get to tell stories, inspirational stories, and people can connect with them because maybe something like that happened to them. It is very, very cool. I love that you get to explore more about yourself when you become someone else.
Imagista: You are probably most known for your role as Flaca on Orange is the New Black. Let’s talk about that a bit. What is your favorite part of working on the show?
Jackie Cruz: Oh, man, the people. I get to work with some super talented women. I feel like it is a master class every day I’m there and it is such a friendly environment. We all love each other; we are like a family. That’s my favorite part, the people I get to work with.
Imagista: How did you get this role? What was the audition process like?
Jackie Cruz: I only had two lines in the beginning because I don’t think Flaca was going to be a big character. That’s the thing about this show – they write as they go, so if they see something in you, they’ll write for you.
So I just had two lines and my character was for a feisty Latina. I’m also a feisty Latina, but I pictured one of my friends that would come into my work and tell me these crazy stories. So I pictured her when I was preparing the role. She had this really unique New York accent, so I added that and put a lot of flavor into it and went into it with my heart.
I was asked to wear no makeup, so that was really scary, going into an audition with no makeup. I had to just be raw and it was amazing. After two weeks I heard I got the part and I was so excited.
Imagista: You touched a bit on listening to stories from some of your friends to help you develop your character, Is there anything else you did to help you prepare for the role?
Jackie Cruz: I definitely watched a lot of Lockup and documentaries on women in prison. I haven’t gone to a prison recently, but I had been to one before. Its really hard being taken away from your family to be in that place. I got more involved with the Women’s Prison Association and I got to listen to the stories of women that have been in prison and gotten a second chance.
Before maybe I was a little more judgmental and now I am definitely not because anybody can make a mistake, you know what I mean? Even my character being in prison, it is messed up.
Imagista: We have definitely learned a lot more about your character this season…
Jackie Cruz: Yeah, I got really lucky. Honestly, I didn’t know why she was in prison until I was reading it because they never tell you.
So, I was just thinking it was because she got involved with her boyfriend selling Molly. But it was definitely not that at all – I got myself in trouble. I was very excited to learn why I was in there, and I was very surprised. And the ending of her episode was really messed up.
Imagista: How similar do you think you are to Flaca now that we know a bit more about how she was before she was in prison?
Jackie Cruz: Well, now I definitely know that we have a few things in common. We share the same passion for music. I always say that she is cooler than me because I wasn’t really a huge fan until I became Flaca, and now I listen to The Smiths and Depeche Mode. And I love her sense of style; she loves to stand out just like me.
Imagista: You are a musician as well as an actress…
Jackie Cruz: Yeah, I would definitely say that music was my first love.
Imagista: Do you think if you weren’t an actor you would be focusing mostly on your music career?
Jackie Cruz: Well, I think acting is also a love of mine. I feel like they are both intertwined. If I’m doing either one I’m happy. I love to sing at cool clubs in the city, and that’s enough for me just as long as I can sing my songs and see how people react to it. It’s really special to me. So I’m not going to stop doing music just because I’m an actress, you know?
I actually just did a show two days ago for the Women’s Prison Association and it went really well.
Imagista: What do you think is your favorite part of making music? Is it the performing aspect? Getting able to share yourself though it?
Jackie Cruz: Yeah, I like that it’s a little different from acting because in my music, I play myself. I write songs about things that have happened to me, so I’m shy when I sing them because if you don’t like my songs, then you don’t like who I am. That’s why I’m more vulnerable when I sing my original songs. People have been really liking what I’ve been doing which has definitely given me more confidence when I’m onstage. I’m really happy that now I have that confidence to sing my own songs.
It’s a little different to be myself, and it’s scarier to be myself than someone else.
Imagista: Who do you think has been your greatest inspiration in you career in terms of people that you look up to?
Jackie Cruz: Rita Moreno is somebody that I really look up to. She has broken a lot of barriers for us Latinas and she has won every award possible and she is just so talented. She stands up for what she believes in. I’ve met her once, but I really want to have a one-on-one conversation with her.
Imagista: In terms of people that you know personally, who do you think has been most influential on your career?
Jackie Cruz: Over the past few years I would have to say Uzo Aduba (Emmy and SAG award winner for her part as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren) has influenced me a lot because we spend a lot of time together on and off set. She’s just such an incredible person and actress. We talk a lot about our personal lives and about our careers. I get to watch her work. Even Selenis Leyva (who plays Gloria Mendoza, mother figure to the Latina inmates), just being on set with them I feel like I become a better actress. They are both amazing.
Imagista: So, what’s next for you?
Jackie Cruz: Well, I start shooting Season 4 next week, so that’s exciting.
Imagista: You’ve been promoted to a series regular for next season…
Jackie Cruz: Yeah it’s going to be really cool. We are all a family, but it is really cool to know that they have seen my work and they enjoy it and they want to write more. And to have that locked down, that to me is the ultimate gratification. I am so happy.