Lea DeLaria has been slaying audiences from the stage for over 25 years, whether performing stand-up in a comedy club, acting in a Broadway musical, or transporting jazz fans as a vocalist. The triple-threat who launched her career by billing herself “That Fucking Dyke,” is now reaching her biggest, youngest audience yet as Carrie “Big Boo” Black in the show we’re all obsessed with, Orange Is the New Black.
I had a list of questions that covered all the above, but we ended up talking about screwdrivers, butches, and Big Boo’s hypothetical Season 2 love interest. We also wrote a storyline for that elusive chicken. And yes, I asked her about Laura Prepon.
AfterEllen: You originally auditioned for the role of the mean prison guard, but they recognized your awesomeness and cast you as the cuddlier Big Boo instead. Do you think people see butch women as either hard and mean, or soft and cuddly?
Lea DeLaria: We’re all of the above. All butches are cream-filled. And don’t get me in trouble! Because some lesbian, somewhere, is going to freak out that I said that. But the reality is, we’re all a little cream-filled. We have a very tough exterior but inside, we’re all teddy bears.
AE: Why is that?
LD: Well, because we’re women. And that’s going to get me in trouble, too. But you know, we’re not transmen, we’re not men. We are butches. It’s a completely different gender, a completely different way of being. We’re taught by our uncles – and by that, I mean our dyke uncles – to be tough, to be able to do things, and get it done. And, we’re supposed to be loving and gentle with our friends and our lovers.
AE: Ironically, it’s the complete opposite with femmes. The ones I know are soft and girly on the outside, but tough and bossy on the inside.
LD: You bet. But they only show their soft side to their butch. You know?
AE: Or, they get even worse because they’re topping from the bottom.
LD: [laughs] Yup!
AE: Did you expect Orange to become as big a hit as it is?
LD: Who expects that? No! First of all, this is the direction that television is heading: the internet. [It's] never been done before, and we certainly hoped it would be well received, but who expected that? Within 24 hours of the show airing, I could not walk down the street. It’s crazy. It’s amazing.
AE: The only other place you can get that kind of immediate reaction is live theater, which you’ve also done.
LD: With live theater, people get you walking out the door because they’ve just seen it. I’ve been a success in live theater, and had my picture taken, and my autographed asked for. But certainly not on this level, and not like this. I’m running into people who’ve seen Orange Is the New Black five times. Five times! And it hasn’t even been on the air for two months yet.
If I stand still for five minutes, somebody recognizes me and then it’s like sharks. All of a sudden, I’m on the corner and 20 people are asking for pictures and autographs.
AE: It’s a feeding frenzy. You’re like chum.
LD: It’s amazing! And they’re all young, straight girls. How happy am I? How happy am I?
AE: Pretty happy! Why are young, straight girls responding to you and the show this way?
LD: It’s surreptitiously feminist, you know what I mean? We have a lot of women on our show of every shape and size and age. I think it’s something that young women can relate to. You don’t see that that much on television.
AE: There are many behind-the-scenes pictures of the Orange cast. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast. Can you talk about the camaraderie on the set?
LD: We are having a blast! Everyone says it seems like it’s fun. It’s so much fun and it’s translating onto the screen.
AE: Have you ever worked with so many women at one time?
LD: It’s not just women. There are lots of lesbians, as well. It’s interesting, especially in television, to have that much estrogen.
AE: Are all your cycles synced up?
LD: I believe we all synced up this last month.
AE: Very good.
LD: I was talking to [Natasha Lyonne] about that. I had gotten my period. And I had terrible cramps. I was complaining about it, which is what I do these days because I’m too old to get a period. It’s infuriating. I’m a 55-year-old butch dyke! Who needs a period less than me? So, I was on this tirade – really funny stuff, I had everyone laughing – and Tasha says, “You know Lea, our periods are all sunk up now.” Hilarious.