SLEDGE­HAM­MER BABY

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - BY RANDEE DAWN cal­en­dar@la­times.com

NEW YORK — She’s no in­génue, but the rise of Uzo Aduba has been noth­ing shy of me­te­oric. Her scene-steal­ing turn as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” War­ren in “Or­ange Is the New Black” earned her a Screen Ac­tors Guild card and, as of last Au­gust, an Emmy Award. Aduba kicked off her high-heeled shoes (lit­er­ally) and kicked back to talk about her twin pas­sions of act­ing and sports, and how she came to love the ter­rific gap in her smile.

When you were in col­lege, you ma­jored in clas­si­cal voice but also ran track and field. Is there a con­nec­tion be­tween those two dis­ci­plines for you?

I’ve been in both worlds my whole life. My fam­ily is big in sports and arts, and both groups are sim­i­lar. You’re very fo­cused and dis­ci­plined in what you do, and it’s a pas­sion that’s re­quired to do ei­ther. A lot of what I learned from my coaches I ap­ply to my art as well.

So do you still run and sing?

I just ran the Bos­ton Marathon for the first time. I ran 5 hours, 3 min­utes. And I still do sing. But when I think “sing” these days it means more than just mak­ing mu­sic; it’s like how your spirit wants to make sound. It’s some­thing I put down over here and am now cir­cling back to again. Just be­cause the leaves come off in win­ter doesn’t mean the tree is dead.

How have things changed for you since you won the Emmy last Au­gust?

It only just hit me. I was walk­ing in my apart­ment, went to the fridge, then went back to the other room to look at it and thought, “That hap­pened.” I don’t know if it will ever fully seep in.

You weren’t au­di­tion­ing for Crazy Eyes ini­tially, but when you landed her in­stead of the part you au­di­tioned for, they said, “Keep the hair.”

It was just an idea I had; I was grate­ful that [show run­ner] Jenji [Ko­han] wanted to keep it. Plus, it’s pro­tec­tive.

Pro­tec­tive?

They’re called Bantu knots. It pro­tects the hair it­self, it keeps it out of the way and it’s been for­ever that style. I think hair can be such an in­ter­est­ing way of in­tro­duc­ing your­self with­out say­ing a word, and see­ing some in­tri­cate styles grow­ing up as a kid, I love that you can say dif­fer­ent things with­out speak­ing.

Crazy is like no one else on TV. How did you get a han­dle on her?

When they in­tro­duced her char­ac­ter, they de­scribed her as be­ing “in­no­cent like a child, ex­cept chil­dren aren’t scary.” This im­age flashed in my brain of an adult per­son with a paci­fier in her mouth and a sledge­ham­mer in her hand. Her in­ten­tions are pure, be­cause chil­dren have no agenda. The thing I con­nected to with her is that I have loved that deeply be­fore. I know that feel­ing, to love and to lose.

You’ve done quite well for your­self de­spite hav­ing what some might con­sider a flaw, that gap in your teeth. Were you ever told, “You’re not go­ing to make it if you don’t get braces”?

Nu­mer­ous times. My mom said it’s a sign of beauty in Nige­ria, but I said, “We live in Mas­sachusetts.” When I was in high school and get­ting my se­nior class pic­ture taken, the pho­tog­ra­pher said, “I like your gap. You have a beau­ti­ful smile.” That se­nior year I could not stop smil­ing in pic­tures. I feel like I’m mak­ing up for lost smiles, years of not smil­ing. I had a flip­per at one time — like the girls on “Tod­dlers and Tiaras” — and on my first day of “Or­ange,” I said, “I have a thing that I could put in to cover it; I don’t know if it’s dis­tract­ing,” and they’re like, “You’re fine the way you are.” I’m fine the way I am.

‘I know that feel­ing, to love and to lose.’ — UZO ADUBA, on how she re­lates to her TV char­ac­ter, Crazy Eyes

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

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