Samira Wiley Q&A: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’
“I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!,” proclaims Samira Wiley during our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above) about her breakthrough roles on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Wiley hit the big time on the hit Netflix prison drama, especially during its thrilling fourth season, after her character Poussey was shockingly killed by a guard. The actress then joined the cast of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood. In that show, she plays Moira, a woman caught up in a near-future dystopian America where fertile women are oppressed and forced to reproduce for the wealthy commanders and their resentful barren wives.
“I feel like I am still so young in my career. ‘Orange is the New Black’ was the first thing that I had done and it thrust me into the public consciousness in a way that I never thought imaginable,” Wiley says. “My cast mates on my new show ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ are all so talented. They make me feel like I need to step up to the plate.”
Wiley reveals that she did have some reservations taking on this new role. “I had just come off of playing Poussey and I didn’t want to be typecast after that. I wanted to steer away from gay characters, just because I think of the actors that I admire and they don’t play the same kind of role all of the time,” she reveals. “But I had a conversation with my wife [‘Orange’ writer Lauren Morelli] and Margaret Atwood is her favorite author and she told me ‘that doesn’t apply here!’,” the actress laughs. “I am so happy to have listened to her. What an amazing role and how stupid it would have been of me to have given it up for something so trivial as that.”
A year after her beloved character on “Orange is the New Black” was killed off, Wiley agrees that it was, and remains, difficult to let Poussey go. “I’ve made peace with Samira moving on, and I love what I am doing right now, I love ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ and being able to do parts in different projects, but that role; ‘Orange is the New Black’ gave me my entire life. I grew up on that show, I became a woman on that show, I found my wife on that show. The character of Poussey is someone that lives in me and will live with me forever. I miss her as if she is separate from me. Because she is. She is her own person, and we all had to deal with her death.”
As sad as it was to say goodbye to Poussey and Wiley, audiences were treated to a special send off for for her, as she stood in front of a gleaming New York City skyline, looking directly into the camera with a smile that signaled to viewers that she was finally free. It was an image that many fans point to as a highlight from the show. “We’ve never done that on the show, that is not the kind of show ‘Orange is the New Black’ is. I remember being on set that day with the skyline of New York in the background. In order for them to give me notes someone would have to run down to where I was and tell me what they were saying,” the actress reveals. “Someone runs down and said [creator/showrunner] ‘Jenji [Kohan] said look in the camera right at the end,’ and I was like ‘no she didn’t say that! That’s ridiculous, she didn’t say that,’ and they were like ‘no really, she really wants you to do that.’ And so, in my head I was thinking, OK I’ll do it once, obviously they’ll never use this take. And, as you all know, they did use that take,” she laughs. “Sometimes, someone just has the foresight to see how something is going to land, when you can’t see it. It’s powerful. And I am just happy that Jenji was able to see that and able to know in that moment so definitively ‘you need to do this. You need to look at us because we’re never going to see you again.’”