Uzo Aduba on Suzanne’s chance at love, “The Time Hump Chronicles” and coming close to quitting acting

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Uzo Aduba can’t stop smiling, and she said it has a lot to do with how close she came to quitting acting, on the very same day she found out Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan had written a role for her.

“The reason why I feel that way is because the train that left the station to Quittsville is like two stops away. It’s not years and years and years, decades, decades, decades—this faint memory, you know? It was the other day. It feels so close,” Uzo said. “All these amazing things that have happened to our show—myself, my fellow actors—that’s a piece of a story for a lot of people in that cast. I’d quit—not getting ready to quit—had quit the day I got this job. I had made peace with it. And I’m never going to forget, or can’t forget right now, that train ride with the tears, boo hooing, saying ‘I give up.’ And I was done. It is the thing I love so much, and coming to terms with and really making peace with the fact that that was not for me, but now here I am and I’m doing it, is like, I hope that feeling never goes away, ever.”

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Not only is Uzo acting, but she’s killing it as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren. Last year, she won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series and she’s nominated again for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series this year. (Orange is the first show to be nominated in both drama and comedy categories.) As Suzanne, Uzo has created a beloved character who is both goofy and violent; romantic and unpredictable; pushy and scared. To play this kind of role on a show like Orange is, as Uzo said, “Incredibly satisfying.”

“I wish there was a more glamorous or complicated way of saying it. It is just that simple,” Uzo said. “There’s something to be said about when you have the opportunity to see yourself reflected back at you, and in an authentic honest way. And for me, in the reading and watching of the show, that’s exciting to see so many women who have so many different points of view as actors, and different points of view their characters have that they get to bring into the show and watched them all get fleshed out in such a solo way that’s exciting.”

Part of that has to do with Orange being a show helmed by women, which Uzo said helped to shape new ideas about her career.

“I didn’t even know that I had an opinion of my possibility until I saw what was possible,” Uzo said, sharing how castmates often go to the Village together between scenes and return to set feeling like they’re all still hanging out.

“We’d go back there and it would be Jenji and [producers] Neri [Kyle Tannenbaum] and Lisa [Vinnecour] and Sara [Hess] and whatever director we had that day working, [Lauren] Morelli—this beautiful ensemble of women operating behind the scenes—[Netflix VP] Cindy Holland—who were doing this very smart and exciting show and it just made me start thinking differently about my own possibility.”

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As for Suzanne’s trajectory in Season 3, Uzo enjoyed the chance at getting to play the object of someone else’s romantic affection. Shy Maureen (Emily Althaus) takes an interest in Suzanne, someone who is used to being the forward one with those she takes a shine to, like Piper in Season 1.

“It’s because she has no reference point for the thing. So, can you imagine being an adult and all you ever hear about is—you know what sex is, and know it’s this amazing thing but you’ve never done it yourself?” Uzo said. “It was exciting to me. It made sense to me why she’s chomping at the bit constantly for a love interest. I went, ‘Okay, this is who this woman is. She’s also intimidated by sex, which I think is a natural way to feel when the opportunity really—because she’s never had the actual opportunity so when it has presented itself, ‘Oh, this might actually happen,” I thought that she kind of now wants to check and double check herself if that’s actually something she’s ready to go into.”

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Season 3 also had Suzanne exploring sexuality within her extraterrestrial romantic fiction, The Time Hump Chronicles.

“When we first got that part of the story, when it came in that script, I was like ‘Oh, OK—we’re going there,” Uzo said. “But I was really excited because in the past, we had seen Suzanne—Suzanne fancies herself a bit of a wordsmith and a linguist. It was interesting to see her in Season 1, what she does with someone else’s words and how she uses that to craft her artistic nature and then in this season, when she’s kind of free to create her word choices, this is what she decides to come up with. She wants to write adult erotica, set in outer space, just to change it up.”

Uzo said that she had to take the story from the script and write it out onto paper herself .

“That’s my handwriting—all of it,” Uzo said. “I was crossing things—just how I would imagine trying to pen this story and so I was crossing things out and drawing—because it’s supposed to be illustrated—drawing pictures and writing all the longwinded and adding I don’t know where I was going, we are just going to let your imagination go.”

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Uzo doesn’t think the writers have written an entire Time Hump Chronicles story outside of what ends up in the episodes, but she has heard that fans have “next leveled” it, which she finds fascinating.

“How can you not go home after work and wonder what’s going on with Rodcock? You can’t not start to fantasize about it,” she said. 

Another large part of Suzanne’s arc in Season 3 was her dealing with the loss of Vee.

“For Suzanne, she has always bowed at the church of love, and has been this idle worshiper in seasons past that we’ve sort of have gotten to watch her worship and put Piper on a pedestal and Vee the same, and that can get complicated when those people don’t live up to being the gods that you think that they are,” Uzo said. “And so at the start of Season 3, after having lost Vee, which was her most recent idol and love, she is at the start of the season in a really fractured place because she has never wanted this thing called love, and she doesn’t know what to do with it now. She can’t figure out how to place herself—does she still belong to the ghetto dorm tribe? She’s lost the one thing so there is that transition phase for her out of that, and I think it’s the normal transition that people who are mourning a loss—that disbelief, denial, anger, sadness, sheer wreck before you pick up the pieces again and put yourself back together. And I was just really glad in Season 3, she’s chosen to put some of her love into herself and her writing, and the door is not closed on love. By season’s second half we start to see she’s deciding for herself, this time around now, whether to love or not to love and not to just take whatever love people are prepared to give her.”

But through the tragic loss of a mother figure, Suzanne found a sisterly love for Taystee as well, which Uzo was excited about on a personal level.

“They became family. Vee was Taystee’s mom on the outside, she became Suzanne’s mom on the inside so by that law, they’re step-sisters or cousins at the very least,” Uzo said with a laugh. “I thought it was really wonderful and I love Danielle [Brooks] in real life so much, like that is my sister friend, my ace boom—I love her to death. I love her so, so, so much. And I thought it was interesting that that’s who the other decided to find comfort in when they both had a huge loss. And friendships sometimes are built out of that or made out of that tragedy, when you start to look at somebody a little bit differently and see some of their humanity in a different way. They’re forever married because of that tie of Vee.”

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Having so many nuances to Uzo’s character alone while part of an ensemble show is a testament to how talented Jenji Kohan is, and how dedicated she is to telling rich stories about complex women. Uzo said she is a fan of watching the show just as much as she is of being a part of the cast.

“The experience you all get to have in the watching of the show, or the audience in the watching of the show, is the experience we have when we’re making it, right? So, when I’m reading the script and watching my castmates, fellow actors, play out the scenes, I feel excited because I’m constantly reminded of the idea that I’ve just never seen anything like this before,” Uzo said. “I don’t know another show where they’re writing fake erotic stories. I don’t know where that’s happening while simultaneously on the same show, you’re watching characters deal with affairs and the legitimacy of a pregnancy—all of that sort of handled and negotiated and balanced in a way that doesn’t feel like commentary. And that’s what’s exciting to me. I’ve just not seen anything like it before, and it feels when I read the scripts, like people—Jenji spearheading that ship—who are interested in doing something other, because they’re primarily telling a story about people we treat as other. So they’re not confined, pun intended, to any sort of understandings or rules of what television is meant to be. They’re already starting from a place of ‘this is not television.’ I guess it’s s-vision—streaming vision, I don’t know. There are no rules so you can sort of make them up, and that’s exciting, to watch people write and say what they feel like writing an saying.”