Listen: Danielle Brooks Talks Playing More Than a Stereotype on ‘Orange Is the New Black’

Success right out of college came as a shock to Danielle Brooks. “I thought this ain’t going to happen until I’m 40, 45. I thought I was going to have this Samuel L Jackson story,” the “Orange Is the New Black” star told Variety‘s TV Take podcast. 

Brooks landed the role Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson in “Orange is the New Black” in 2013, two years after graduating from Julliard. Initially, the actress had her reservations about the role. She didn’t want to play a “stereotype.” When first reading the script she saw a character she described as a “black woman in prison and she’s sassy.”

But as she read more, she saw the depth in the character. “You’re reading  and what they’re asking of this character and bringing out of this woman were things I’ve never seen before,” she said. She didn’t want to be that “one person of color” or “just that sassy black woman.” 

Brooks had to adjust to overnight fame. “Literally when that show dropped, 13 hours later I had become famous,” she said. She quipped, “I feel for those ‘Stranger Things’ kids.” 

On set she formed a tight-knit community. She recalled an experience coming to set and expressing disappointment to an “Orange is the New Black” script supervisor in a music video she had just shot for her song “Black Woman.” Immediately, the script supervisor rallied crew members to help Brooks out with a reshoot. She said, “They [lent] me their services for free to shoot my first music video. That’s just a testament of community. I’ll forever be appreciative of that moment.”

Brooks began her career in theater and often returns to the stage. She discussed starring in a Shakespeare in the Park production of “Much Ado About Nothing” while several months pregnant: “Carrying a child, especially when you’re doing Shakespeare in the Park, when you’re out in the elements in the rain, you have to do a show come rain or shine. It’s cold one day its hot [another]. You got bugs in your face. You’re going up steps. My feet are swelling. I’m tired. I can’t breathe. But my baby just reminded me it’s not that deep. Enjoy it, have fun, breathe, take care of yourself. I think really truly the beginning stages of motherhood got me through being the lead of this production.”

And what of the future for Brooks? “I pray for longevity, number one, past 30, 40, 50. Second of all, I want to break barriers. I want people to relate to me, to say Danielle Brooks did that in the same way I look at Queen Latifah’s career or Octavia Spencer’s career or Viola Davis. I’m like these women broke barriers and that’s what I want to do.” 

She concluded, “I want to stay true to the fact that there are millions of millions of black women out there that have millions and millions different stories and I want to be a vessel for them.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Steven Knight

    BBC Orders Steven Knight Drama Series ‘SAS: Rogue Heroes’

    The BBC has ordered “SAS: Rogue Heroes,” which is being adapted by “Peaky Blinders” creator Steven Knight, Oscar nominated for “Dirty Pretty Things,” from Ben Macintyre’s book. The drama series will tell the story of how the British special forces unit, the SAS, came to be formed. The series is being produced by Kudos, whose [...]

  • Masters of the Universe: Revelation

    Kevin Smith Announces Anime 'He-Man' Series for Netflix

    Kevin Smith surprised audiences at Sunday’s annual Power-Con convention by announcing a new anime “He-Man” series for Netflix. The new series, titled “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” will take place in the Mattel toy inspired world and will focus on some of the unresolved storylines of the classic ‘80s show. Smith will serve as showrunner [...]

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

  • Maisel Day

    My Mostly OK Maisel Day (Column)

    When Amazon announced its first-ever Maisel Day, I was intrigued. For one day, Aug. 15, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fans and Angelenos (fangelenos?) could hit up various restaurants, theaters and retailers throughout Los Angeles for special deals, all at 1959 prices. Among the gems: $2.50 makeovers, $0.99 pastrami sandwiches and $0.30 for a gallon of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content