'Orange Is The New Black' Star Uzo Aduba On How Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren Is Changing The World
While it may boast a character known for her, well, "Crazy Eyes," Orange Is the New Black rarely treats anyone as truly crazy — not even the generally despicable Pornstache got that blanket treatment before he left the series. It's no wonder then, that beyond the series' push to educate viewers about prison life and its strides in promoting diversity, Emmy-winning Orange Is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba credits her series for educating audiences about mental health in a way that we've not yet seen on television. While promoting the May 19 release of Orange Is the New Black Season 2 on Blu-ray, DVD, & Digital, Aduba was kind enough to speak with me about her character and how she's changing our conception of the word "crazy."
"I think that the next terrain that is beginning to provoke conversation is with mental health — a topic that is often ignored —but I’ve started to see it often bubbling up a lot more," she says. "I think the range of mental health — the scope of it is so large — I think that it becomes overwhelming for people often to know how to tackle, but people are now interested in provoking those types of conversations [thanks to Orange Is the New Black]."
It's a subject that's inherently tied to Aduba's beloved character Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren, who, in Season 1, showed up as a foil to Piper — from throwing her pie for Piper to peeing on the floor outside of Piper's bunk, Suzanne certainly appeared to be a one-note character when we first met her. However, as the series continued, we learned more about her — how she was actually very hurt by the name "Crazy Eyes," how she was well-educated in literature and poetry, and how she'd developed stage fright among other dependence issues thanks to her mother pushing her too far as a child. The series, in many ways, asks us to examine Suzanne as a character by pitting the reality of her life against the way other inmates talk about her. This was especially true when Vee tried to get Suzanne to take the fall for Vee's attack on Red: It became heartbreakingly apparent that throughout her life, Suzanne was trampled on by her mother figures. So while she did make it out of the psych ward, which likely made people feel okay to call her simply "crazy," the series has asked us to question what we think and understand about Suzanne.
But there are still those who crave an answer to what's going on inside Suzanne's head: Take a look at this thread on reddit, which includes theory upon theory about "what's wrong with Suzanne." The answers range from insensitive, to insightful, to so bad I'd never dream of repeating them, but ultimately, Aduba sees the shades of goodness in the persistent discussion.
"I think that is the jumping off point for the greater conversation that needs to happen," she says. "We’re so interested in our culture in defining people and putting people in boxes that we can understand in, like, very traditional normative practices."
What Suzanne accomplishes as a character is blurring the lines and making viewers think a little harder, rather than just assuming it's so easy to know someone's unique and complex experience. It's something Aduba says is necessary to truly understand a person like Suzanne — or anyone, really.
"The reality is people have so many different sides and layers and tiers that it’s easier to wrap your brain around something if you allow it to be fluid, if you allow it to just be rather than trying to contain it for your own convenience and comfort," says Aduba. "I think that’s a part of Suzanne: If she has a mental illness, I think it’s for her to discover, it’s for the writers to explore when they feel ready. I think that mental health, generally, it’s so shapeshifting, you know? It can take on so many facets and faces that it’s not always easy to just diagnose that you’re this or you’re that."
And while it was clear when we spoke that Aduba has a great deal of respect for her fan-favorite character and the minds that she's working to open, it's not the only thing the actress loves about the little Netflix show that could (like, really could).
"I’m most proud of the faces that I see reflecting back in a literal sense, that have been invited to be a part of this story," she says, adding, "I’m most proud of the bravery that [OITNB creator Jenji Kohan] exhibited in choosing to tell this story...at the time when she was met with this story, this did not exist and she said, 'Still, I wanna tell that story, this is what I wanna write about,' and she did it anyway."
But ultimately, Aduba says it's not just one thing that sticks out in Orange Is the New Black's sea of accomplishments and good deeds. "I feel proud of the work, I hope that feeling never leaves me. I feel thankful and grateful to have been given this gift," she says.
And I think I speak for every OITNB fan out there when I say, we're pretty thankful for it, too.
Images: KC Bailey/Netflix; Getty Images