'Orange is the New Black': Meet Crazy Eyes

Uzo Aduba (Handout photo)

Uzo Aduba (Handout photo)

Sean Fitzgerald, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:20 PM ET

If you’ve watched Orange is the New Black, you’ll likely have an opinion about Crazy Eyes.

Throughout two seasons of Netflix’s popular prison series, Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren has become a fan favourite for her strange combination of humour, innocence and intensity. But Uzo Aduba, who has earned kudos for her three-dimensional portrayal of the character, will never use the ‘Crazy Eyes’ label in interviews.

“I’ve never latched onto that name,” says Aduba, who visited Toronto recently to discuss the show, which returned for a second season earlier this month. “She’s Suzanne Warren, that’s what she calls herself. That is how she knows herself to be.”

Aduba, 33, says she sees the character as a family member, and that using the nickname would be like talking behind someone’s back.

“I feel so protective of her at this point,” she says. “I know her so well.”

Our perspective of Suzanne Warren – who we first meet as an peculiar inmate with bulging eyes, odd mannerisms and a love for poetry, who tries to make Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) her prison wife – deepens in Season 2, as we learn more about the character’s childhood, the origin of her hairstyle and the complicated relationship with her adopted mother.

Aduba, who recently won a Critics Choice Award for her work on Orange, has been promoted from a recurring actor to a series regular for Season 2. And aside from the show’s upcoming third season, the performer says she isn’t thinking about pursuing other projects at the moment – because she has too much reverence for the character that changed her life.

“What I’m most focused on is being honest to her,” she says, “and giving her as much attention as she has given to me these two seasons. It would be irresponsible somehow if I gave half of myself to her right now.”

Aduba’s parents left Nigeria for the U.S. in the ’70s, and called their daughter Uzoamaka, which translates to “the path is good.” After making a name for herself in the theatre world, Aduba started reading scripts for television and film projects. In 2012, she appeared in the CBS police procedural Blue Bloods, and auditioned for Orange is the New Black.

Now, the huge success of Orange means that she can’t wear her hair in her character’s signature bantu knots without getting mobbed by fans in public.

“I will never wear my hair like that,” she says with a laugh. “Since taking it out, I get a lot of double-taking on the street. They’re looking at you, and it’s kind of like, ‘Is that? Isn’t that?’”

And with Suzanne Warren’s intense stare and wild physicality, you’d think it would be difficult for Aduba to leave the character behind and transition back to real life. But the actress says she takes 20-minute walks after work, where she mentally disengages from the hallways of Litchfield Penitentiary.

“I think of it like a toy chest,” she says. “And you pull out the pirate costume, you pull out the superhero cape, you pull out all the toys and you play with them and they’re all scattered around the room, but at the end of the day, you have to put everything back into the chest and close it. So when I’m done with Suzanne at work, I take that 20-minute walk, and I put her back, in a way. I think of it almost like a doll. And I put her back on her shelf, until we play with her again.”

Twitter: @SeanDFitzgerald

sean.fitzgerald@sunmedia.ca

 


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