She’s got murder on the mind.
Having spent the last few years banged up as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on hit Netflix show Orange Is the New Black – actress Uzo Aduba is on release. And her first stop? London to join Jamie Lloyd’s production of The Maids.
Just days after opening the play in London’s West End, we caught up with the two-time Emmy winner to find out how her British adventure is going.
UZO! How’s life in the West End treating you? I’m having the BEST time! But, it’s a steep ride, you know? It’s tough…
The Maids is a difficult journey for both cast and audience alike, then? The other day, I came off stage for the single only time I do the entire evening and suddenly began to question how long I was actually up there on stage for. Because it goes fast, it’s like long-fast, short-long, if that makes sense?
Because we don’t have an interval, you can feel the length of it, so I asked how long it was we were up on stage for. I found out it was an hour and fifteen minutes before I go down for that break. Then suddenly, I understood the aches, understood the energy and the sweat both myself and Zawe [Ashton] feel. And then Laura [Carmichael] comes into the mix. Coming down from that stage makes me feel like I just need to collapse because we’re all just basically running.
It’s like sprinting for an hour and fifteen minutes, but that’s so exciting for us three. I’m beyond excited for the next three months in the West End and the endurance test that comes with it. Because that is what it is.
It’s an endurance test vocally, mentally, emotionally, physically and every other ‘-ly’ that you can think of! It’s that and I’m excited to push myself every night!
— Uzo Aduba (@UzoAduba) March 2, 2016
What inspired you to take on the challenge of this piece, but here in London? Is the role a personal challenge for you? Yes, absolutely! That was certainly a big piece of it. A major piece of it, actually. But it’s not like Genet plays are done everywhere. Most actors know of his work, but sadly haven’t done any of them. So when I found out that this was coming, I was really excited and immediately terrified, too. [Laughs]
Why’s that? I was so excited at the prospect of being able to do this part because I knew what it could potentially take to pick it up, but also what it would take out of me. You’re ramping it up the entire time, not just myself but Zawe as well, with long long speeches and multiple times. There’s no five-minute speech and then that’s the thing. It’s like five minutes, seven minutes, six minutes, four and a half minutes and that’s before we do the eleven minutes at the end. The energy that is required outside of the traditional scenes that you’re playing out. For me, that’s exciting.
I was also really really really reaaaaaaally — all those really’s, however many there were — really excited to be invited to the West End.
Has the West End been a dream of yours? It’s hard to say without it sounding fake and cheesy, but it was. I moved to New York because I wanted to do theatre. New York or Los Angeles in the US is a bet if you want to do theatre. New York put me in control to come and do theatre and as I became better and more rehearsed with the different theatre scenes, both regionally and then eventually globally, the West End sat at the top. It’s the top. And I dreamt about it, but to be here actually doing it’s just CRAZY!
With a wealth of experience in live theatre in New York – do you think a lot of people are surprised to see you’re a musical theatre and live performance actress, as well? I think the answer I’d assume is yes because the reach of television is so much further than that of the theatre. However, many people were in our theatre tonight and can talk about our play, say compared to the millions of people signing on to watch Orange [Is the New black] at the same time. The demographic is different. But I read that surprise to other people. I’m almost not surprised [Laughs]
Why aren’t you surprised? Because I was living my life prior to Orange in live theatre. People find it surprising when I tell them that my resume is actually quite small for TV by comparison to live theatre. Orange was my first job, minus a few student films.
Was there ever any pressure on you as an actress to show another side of your acting ability – rather than just replicate Suzanne? It never actually entered my brain to showcase other than Suzanne. Well, “Crazy Eyes”. When I go to work as Suzanne, I really think of it just as the character. This is the part that I play. And when another job comes, I really wind up picking jobs based on if I like them or not.
Being recognisable – people will automatically expect a certain performance from you now, no? Say, I like that story, or that part sounds interesting, or if it’s something we’ve all seen before, I have an interesting idea about how I think that could look. That’s I think how I approach it.
It never occurred to me about stepping outside of Suzanne for it. And in this part, I did not feel any obligation to bring any part of her to this and that’s what was so interesting about this role.
How much did you know about your co-star’s Zawe Ashton and Laura Carmichael? Well, I watch Downton Abbey! [Laughs] So, I knew Lady Edith. I was less familiar with Fresh Meat, but then I made myself familiar. We don’t have it at home, but Zawe and I video called before I moved to London. She sent a message via our director saying we should connect. We talked for a few hours and instantly clicked. Then when I met Laura, the same happened there. We immediately got on from the second we met.
Is it nice to be championing girl power? YES! Next question! [Laughs hysterically]
The Maids allows us to see a totally different side of your acting ability. One that is very dark; all under the direction of Jamie Lloyd… YES!
Is it great to be able to join one of his productions? I was so glad! He was doing another play, The Homecoming, that I got to see and I was really glad I got to see it. When you’re inside the play, I can imagine in my head what I think it looks like. But, I’m still outside it. So it was so great to see what his aesthetic is. This edgy, punk kind of vibe to some more traditional pieces and I was very impressed with his work and style.
Even more than that, I think what I really liked is just his working relationship with all the actors. The entire creatives in the room and the crew. He just is very calming, approachable and has a real collaborative presence. I think is very important, especially in this kind of play, when you think about it. This play, each actor – there’s nothing else to lean on.
You’re literally in a box… Literally! There’s not even glass in the box for us to lean on; NOTHING! You feel that he’s on your side and it’s really quite unique.
I don’t know if you know but female prison drama’s are quite popular with gay men… REALLY?!
Really. I didn’t know this is a thing! Well, kinda did. I mean, I do have A LOT of gay fans. Shout out to the gay fans – we at Orange love them! [Laughs]
Why is it that we just can’t get enough of you girls on the inside? [Laughs hysterically] Here’s the thing. So, I can’t speak for other shows, but for Orange — it features strong women. Strong women that gay men can have an appreciation for.
Our show features strong women, in addition to a strength, and there’s an intellectual strength and command, plus ownership of self. I think that’s a story that’s also relatable. And then this feeling of overcoming. You’re rooting for somebody. That’s what I think is strongest about our show: it highlights different types of women who, at their root, have those things happening within them. That’s what’s exciting.
The greatest strength about Orange Is the New Black is the bravery that Jenji Kohan, our show creator, exhibited and displayed in so many different types of people, sexualities and personalities. I think that’s what audiences seem to be drawn to about the show. That is at its core and I think that’s great!
Do you walk down the street here and have fans screaming “Crazy Eyes” at you? When we first started, that happened a lot of the time. People just yelling at me. It stopped a bit after I did the NBC version of The Wiz. Did you get that here? Have you seen it?
What do you think? [Laughs] Of course you bloody have! I love you guys so much you don’t realise. I’ve just gotta say — shout out to my gays! [Laughs]
We’re going to put that as the answer to every question… Seriously, I love you guys. You don’t understand. Equality is so important to me. It really is.
This interview hasn’t gone to plan… Sorry, sorry, sorry! OK, so I did The Wiz and now people know my name is Uzo Adubo. [Laughs]
As well as all these incredible things, you’ve also won just a couple of small awards… So, so bizarre! Just weird.
To get such recognition of an Emmy Award once is incredible. But twice? It’s bananas! Even hearing you say that right now, it’s making me smile. Not because i’m necessarily happy, but because I’m very baffled. I’m very uncomfortable to think about, but I’m truly very grateful. Grateful to my community for that recognition and it’s something beyond what I could have conceived. I just never thought about it.
Are they at home? Some of them are. Well, the SAG’s are now with my publicist who is is holding onto them as it was when I was travelling around to come to London. They’re really, really heavy. Like, seriously heavy.
And finally, for anyone wanting to come see The Mads – what can they expect? They get adventure. They get a ride. They get torture and thrill. They get an experience unlike anything else happening in the London stage right now.
Read our full review of The Maids here.
GT will hold a special evening with the cast of The Maids. Further information, including how you can attend, can be found here.