“Getting beaten up and then being punished after you’ve been assaulted is the ultimate insult,” is how Laverne Cox describes the circumstances that we see Sophia in at the beginning of Season 4 of “Orange is the New Black.” But Cox does realize that this is an unfortunate truth of our society: “That actually happens to a lot of transgender women in prison.”
Cox plays Sophia Burset on the Netflix series, a trans inmate who is in Litchfield Penitentiary for committing credit card fraud in order to finance her gender confirmation surgery. She was nominated for an Emmy for Best Comedy Guest Actress in 2014 (beaten out by co-star Uzo Aduba) and has won two SAG Awards as a member of the ensemble of the show.
Season 4 streamed last summer, and Cox explains that when she received the script and saw that her character would be in solitary confinement that it was very important for her to understand what it was like to be isolated from all human connections. She says, “I did a lot of research on the psychological effects of solitary. There’s paranoia, hallucinations, half of the solitary population is suicidal. So I went to layer all those elements in to the moments in the subtext of the scenes for the season.”
Cox also says that she wishes she had more screen time with her Emmy winning co-star Aduba: “We have a scene together in the new season and I was like, ‘Oh my God! We haven’t really done anything together.’ It was one of those things where I watch her work and I’m just in awe of everything she does.” That episode will be part of Season 5 debuting on June 9. Cox also has a lot of praise for the variety of actors that she has gotten to share time with including Selenis Leyva, Yael Stone and Emmy nominee Kate Mulgrew.
She also talks about what’s next for her in terms of her advocacy for the rights of trans men and women throughout the country: “I’m mixing advocacy with building my career as an actress which I feel goes hand in hand.” She explains that she’ll be producing more scripted materials and telling stories with more control over them. But she views her very presence in the entertainment industry as a platform for change as well. “Just me being alive and having the opportunity to thrive as an openly black, transgender woman is activism. Me coming forward with the truth of who I am and getting to play diverse characters on film and television is activism.”
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