Lorraine Toussaint still hasn’t seen her work as violently unhinged den mother Vee on the second season of “Orange Is the New Black.” She’s too scared. “I don’t want to see it. I have my own fantasy about who she is and I’m going to hang with that for a while,” says the actress. Auds were terrified too, but thrilled to every twist and turn in Vee’s season-long saga, which reached a fever pitch in the penultimate episode revealing the depths of Vee’s past (arranging the murder of her surrogate son) and present (brutalizing one-time friend Red). Toussaint talks us through her process.
“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)
Season 2 ep. 12, “It Was the Change”
Written by Sara Hess; directed by Phil Abraham
LORRAINE TOUSSAINT: “I didn’t want to know too far in advance what Vee’s next move was going to be, because I really loved how easily she was able to change direction in ways that didn’t necessarily have a logical trajectory. I could trick my brain to commit to a particular direction fully, and then shift and go in a completely different direction. One of the ways I could do that is by not really knowing what’s coming next. Kind of like life, you know? We actually don’t know what’s coming next.
“Episode (12) was shocking. When I read it, I thought, ‘Oh dear God.’ And then right after that I thought, ‘I have to do what? Oh no, there has got to be a way around that.’ The whole scene with my son … but then it was so quintessentially who and what she is. There was no way that I could avoid that awful collision. Once I reconciled myself, I went straight down the barrel.
“When I clicked into her zone, where she lives, pretty much anything was possible. To (showrunner) Jenji Kohan’s credit, we were able to push that envelope pretty far. In some ways it was maybe one of the easiest characters to play because there’s a kind of simplicity and elegance to her that I really valued. I really loved that. She’s not that complex, you know? She’s complex when you view her, but from the inside playing her, not terribly complex. You either commit to Vee or you don’t.
“(When I read the nude scene …) I’m 55 years old. I thought that ship had sailed, and happily so. I went through a whole process of elimination, honest to God, trying desperately to find an alternative. But I owed that scene to Vee and I owed it to me. I owed it to the work I’d created up to that point. One tiny little lie will dismantle the entire house of cards. And so there I went, ‘Oh man, I’m going to have to show my tits. Oh for the love of God, somebody help me.’
“At the end of the day it’s like birth, death and nudity on film. You’re alone, man. It’s you, that camera and your tits hanging out. I was actually quite comfortable after a take or two, disturbingly comfortable.
“There was one scene I thought, ‘Oh gosh, how am I going to do that?’ And it was when I really do go after Red, Kate (Mulgrew), with that lock. I remember thinking ‘Oh, just do it.’ Don’t angst about it. Don’t think about it. Vee wouldn’t angst about it. She wouldn’t think about it. She would do it while she was sucking a lollipop.
“I have not seen it. I don’t watch my own work. I’ve peeked at some of the other people’s work because I have such extraordinary respect for the other actors — you know, Samira’s backstory and Uzo’s backstory and these masterful, young actors. But I’ve not watched my storyline at all. Vee’s too scary. She’s too scary for me to watch. I don’t want to see it. I have my own fantasy about who she is and I’m going to hang with that for a while.
“I am going to save that for when my daughter gets to her teenage years and I want to put the fear of God into her. Maybe I’ll sit her down and have her watch the season.”