Sashaying into the incredibly fancy Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Paris, Laverne Cox rattles off some pleasantries in what sounds like fluent French then says: “That’s all I got.” That ain’t all Laverne’s got. The Orange Is the New Black star has got the lot
Add in the fact that she’s Hollywood’s most high-profile transgender actress who campaigns for LGBT causes, and it’s no wonder she’s been hailed as a role model. Not that Laverne, 31, likes being called that. “In fact I hate the term ‘role model’. I think it’s presumptuous to think anyone should model their life after me, but I do like the term ‘possibility model’ and thinking about what’s possible.”
She cites Candis Cayne, who played Carmelita on Dirty Sexy Money in 2007, as an inspiration. “She was the first transgender actress to have a role on a primetime TV show,” Laverne marvels, “and that moment made me believe it was possible for me to be an out trans woman and have a career as an actress. That changed my life. It created a possibility for me, so I like the idea of possibility.”
All eyes are now on Laverne, as they were on Candis, thanks to her wonderful turn as Sophia Burset on the critical and commercial success that is Orange Is the New Black – the Netflix-streaming, eyebrow-raising, envelope-pushing, altogetherbrilliant comedy drama set in a women’s prison. “So yes, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure,” the actress admits of how her profile has been upped since the first series aired in 2013. “I feel that pressure and it’s challenging and difficult and scary and all that stuff.”
She needn’t worry. Her portrayal of Sophia is brilliant, with plenty of sass and humour alongside all the issue-raising about transgender health care and a heart-wrenching storyline about her trying to be a mum to son Michael from inside Litchfield Penitentiary. Laverne’s in Paris on a promotional jaunt for the third series, which is on Netflix now, and she says we can expect lots more Sophia as show creator Jenji Kohan continues to expertly juggle a huge ensemble cast.
“Sophia’s storyline definitely heats up in the third series,” the actress smiles. “This go-round, Jenji was interested in the themes of faith and motherhood. Those are the themes that permeate the series, so in the first episode, you see a glimpse of Sophia negotiating motherhood from behind bars. She’s negotiating trying to be there for Michael in the best way she can. Her desire to protect her son begins to threaten