Laura Gómez on the Fourth Season of ‘OITNB’ and Her Interest in Prison Reform
“Sometimes not knowing helps you to not judge and just create.” These are the words that are soon to make Laura Gómez a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry. The New Jersey-born actress has made a career out of playing some of the most intricate and eccentric characters on television. But it’s one role in particular that has put her on most everyone’s radar (or, well, at least anyone who subscribes to Netflix).
If you are a fan of the hit show Orange is The New Black (and if you aren’t, you very well should be), then you probably know her as Blanca Flores, a disheveled-looking resident of Litchfield Penitentiary who spends her time within the confines of a bathroom stall and working in the kitchen. Blanca may have one of the most talked about storylines of the shows three — soon to be four — season run. However, Gómez, who was raised in Santo Domingo, is a far cry from the crazy inmate she portrays on OITNB — and thank goodness for that (after all, as much as we may love Blanca, we’d rather she remain in the safe enclosure of our television screen)!
And while Gómez has done numerous television spots — including Show Me a Hero, an HBO mini-series that premiered this summer — this avid fan of literature is no stranger to film either. Her newest movie, Daughter of God, which also stars Keanu Reeves and Ana De Armas, is slated to be out at the end of this year.
This may have been the busiest year yet for Gómez, but she has made it her mission to “never complain about work.” Living up to her words and in the midst of preparing for the release of her co-produced film, The Iron Warehouse, Gómez found the time to speak with us about the upcoming season of OITNB, working with David Simon, and her involvement in prison reform.
GALO: I have to admit, it is a bit strange to be speaking with you on the phone right now after having watched you in Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. Not only because you were one of my favorite characters, but your storyline is, well, frankly put, insane. You go from a withdrawn and certifiably crazy person who has tendencies to talk to herself, to this girl just trying to survive and keep her ear to the outside world. It could have been easy to make this character a sort of over the top one, but you have this uncanny ability to humanize her. When you first got called in for the role, did you know what it would entail?
Laura Gómez: No, I didn’t. I went in with no expectations of knowing if I was even going to be in more than one episode. I was just auditioning for what I thought was maybe a one-time thing. So without even knowing anything about the journey the character would have, I thought, like everyone else, [that] this was crazy!
It has been a beautiful thing as an actor to have the opportunity to be in four seasons now and [to] discover who this character is — along with the audience!
GALO: The huge reveal for fans was when we discovered who you were actually talking to in the bathroom. Like some viewers, I was shocked at this revelation. Did you know ahead of time that “El Diablo” would actually be your boyfriend, or did you go into the show assuming your character was actually insane?
LG: No, I didn’t know, except for a note that said, “You’re not as crazy as you may think.” But eventually, once it was discovered that “Diablo” was actually a person, that [was the] moment for me when everything turned around. That [moment] has helped me humanize the character a lot. Here’s this person who is trying to stay connected to the outside world, and [yet] she is pretending to be left alone. It made me wonder if anybody [else] does that and how prison can affect you on those levels. I have met people who have gone to prison through organizations and activism, and I am learning more about what that can be like. It turns out that it [can be] a defense mechanism, which has helped me connect to the character and humanize her.
GALO: You guys are already filming season 4! Can you tell us anything about Matt McGorry possibly returning to reprise his role as John Bennett? His relationship with Daya Diaz (Dascha Polanco) was a hot topic of the last season. The conflict between inmate and guard dating each other is a wild concept, but one that fans can’t get enough of. Any chance we will get to see the romance rekindled in season 4?
LG: Oh my God, if you know anything, please let me know [laughs]! I would love to see Matt back! I love Matt! Honestly, I don’t know. I am not even making that up. If there is some inside information, I don’t have it. But it’s interesting because that story leaves the opportunity for a lot of things to happen…but I don’t know!
I am very good friends with Berto Colon who plays Cesar. [I love] his relationship with Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez). I love how much that character grew in this season, even though it is not a healthy or functional relationship, because here he is raising all her kids, but he has another baby with another woman! I found it to be very interesting, sad and funny all at the same time. I like that dynamic, and also the work of the actors doing the part. Bennett and Daya were very special also — it was the most romantic! In spite of everything, as much as I think that was kind of impossible, I enjoyed that.
GALO: The show tapes just outside of Manhattan. What is it like for you in terms of going from the streets of one of the best cities in the world to being instantly transported to a prison-type atmosphere? Is it harder for you to get into character because of the surroundings or do you have some techniques to block out the rest of the world?
LG: No, it’s not harder. Actually, it’s easier. You see a lot of reality in New York. That’s the reason it’s one of my favorite cities. Walking in the streets there is already inspiration. Back in the day, I used to live in the Bronx, [and now] I’m like, “Oh, I remember when I cleaned this character up” [laughs]. That’s what happens to us. I look a lot and I listen, and it’s really helpful when it comes to the work.
GALO: You are also very active in working to help with prison reform outside of your acting. Did OITNB inspire that or was this something that you had been working on prior to your involvement with the show?
LG: Actually, OITNB was an eye-opener. I have been pretty politically aware all my life. I was raised by a family that was very aware of their circumstances and very educated. When I moved from [the] Dominican Republic to the Bronx, I remember seeing all this reality there — all this injustice and inequality in terms of income. When I got into this show, it was an eye-opener in terms of prison reform. Like, the war on drugs is so ridiculous because you have people in jail for selling marijuana, which is now legal in 12 states. How this can affect families, the show has put a light on this topic, and therefore, has connected us to organizations that work toward reform. So because of the message that the show has pretty much created, I can say that I have been educated and I have been trying to stay somewhat connected.
GALO: In an interview with The Latin Post, you said that there are always layers being added to the characters season after season. Since we have seen you transform from a rather dramatic and scary character to one with some great comedy prowess, what layer do you hope we will get to see more of next season?
LG: It just keeps growing. I was actually talking about season four and how everybody is so amazing — it’s like everybody has owned their characters now. I think that the layers — aside from the writing (we have great writers) — are from actors really understanding their characters and owning them. We are going to keep seeing more and more colors and layers. I can’t say too much more without giving things away, but, of course, there are going to be more backstories, which is also what humanizes the characters. It’s so unexpected! There are those wonderful backstories coming forward.
GALO: You’re also starring as Dama Montero in the miniseries Show Me a Hero on HBO. The show is a period drama with its roots deeply submerged in themes of racial segregation and social unrest. How does Dama fit into this world? What is her focus throughout this show?
LG: Well, it is actually a six-part miniseries and then it ends. It is a wonderful character — and, first of all, it is created by David Simon, so you know it’s going to be good. David Simon is like a god of television and good writing.
It is based on a non-fiction book [of the same title], discussing the segregation that happened in Yonkers in the late ’80s. I play a Dominican woman who is part of the projects and who has hope of getting the lottery for this new housing complex that is being built in this well-off neighborhood. It’s the first time I am actually playing a character who is still alive — and I met her. It’s a great thing as an actor, but it was also a beautiful storyline. My sister and I are going through that, my sister in the show [that is]. It is interesting what happens in a family when one [person] is living life in a [well-off] neighborhood and [the other] is still in the projects. It’s very deep. David Simon’s work is very political and very relevant in today’s society.
GALO: While it is placed in another time and era entirely, the issues the show covers hit close to home for many Americans today. In what ways did that change the atmosphere on set during production? Did it play a part in shaping the storyline at all?
LG: Yes! I have been very lucky because I am working with such great material and wonderful people. I am very much aware of what is happening nowadays and I think my shows are a reflection of that. I don’t think we can even avoid the fact that it somehow influences the work.
GALO: David Simon also created The Wire. He seems to have a knack for telling powerful stories that strike a strong chord with a lot of viewers. Being familiar with his work, what expectations did that leave you with for your new show?
LG: Well, to be honest with you, I was just excited! I could have been playing a tree for all I care [laughs]! So, I didn’t have any expectations, I was just excited to be a part of it — and then the experience was really great! It was a great set. A lot of the team that created The Wire was there and I was inspired all along. I was very privileged to be a part of it.
GALO: While we are used to seeing you on the small screen, you are soon to be in the film Daughter of God opposite Keanu Reeves and Ana De Armas. This is different than a lot of the work you have done, especially since it is a thriller. Actors tend to draw from personal experiences in order to truly do their best work, but since this film is set within the realm of the supernatural, how were you able to tap into the human experience? What kind of research did you have to do before filming began?
LG: We shot this [film] last fall — and it wasn’t that difficult, to be honest with you. I’m playing a character that I very much understand, but the difference is the circumstances of this girl who is very religious. [Plus], there is a kind of power that she has. It was actually a great experience because Ana De Armas is a wonderful actress to work with. It was a fun project to shoot. It was [shot] here in New York also. I was shooting Orange and Show Me a Hero all at the same time! I was just in actor heaven! It was a great project. I learned to put an alarm on my phone for everything. It was a very hectic time, but I never complained about the work or the weather — those are my two rules. It wasn’t [shot] altogether; it was over the span of three months. So I’d have two weeks on Orange and another two weeks on Daughter of God and a month on a different project. More and more I learned how to multitask and organize myself better.
GALO: Any updates for your fans?
LG: I am very excited because I am [releasing] a short film I co-produced and directed. It is called The Iron Warehouse and it stars one of my co-stars from OITNB, Catherine Curtin. Hopefully, we start getting into festivals soon! It is the first short film for me as a director — first layer for expanding those muscles. It was a great experience with an amazing cast. Hopefully, [it will be released] sometime in the fall.
Want to know more about Laura Gómez and her upcoming endeavors? Follow her on Twitter @lg_laurgomez!