“I don’t know when you’ll see one. It was a good try though,” laughs actor Michael J. Harney when asked when his character Sam Healy on “Orange is the New Black” would get the show’s signature flashback treatment. Flashbacks have thus far focused on the inmates and Healy is a prison counselor, so that may explain his lack of backstory, but Healy is no minor character. Harney is one of only three cast members who have been billed in the main cast of all three produced seasons, along with Taylor Schilling and Kate Mulgrew, who each reaped Emmy nominations for their performances last year.
A self-described journeyman actor, Harney does not take lightly this first series-regular role of his career. He says, “I’ve been doing it thirty-seven years, so to be given an opportunity to be a regular on a show—that’s a big deal for me.” Of his eighty credits on IMDb, Harney most fondly remembers his recurring role during the nineties on “NYPD Blue” as Detective Mike Roberts and one particular day in which he got the opportunity to improvise and really seized it by putting his fist through a window to the chagrin of the crew. “I was so green,” Harney reflects. “You know, there was a purity of work that I had experienced, that I brought to that.”
Harney was able to draw on his past volunteer work at a maximum-security prison in upstate New York to put himself in the right mindset for his “Orange is the New Black” role and also sought out videos of prison life. “I tried to get documentary-style footage, even some footage where people didn’t know they were being filmed; that’s my preference,” he explains.
The third season of “Orange is the New Black” premieres June 12 and although Healy’s earlier life will not be seen on screen, Harney does have his own ideas about how his character came to be a prison counselor. “Well, that’s backstory that I don’t really want to share,” he teases.
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