Diane Guerrero of ‘Orange is the New Black’ On Fighting to Get More Latinas on TV

The hotly anticipated second season of Orange is the New Black is about to drop. We can barely contain ourselves. This weekend we’ll binge-watching, binge-eating, and binge-drinking. We hope you will too. To tide you over till then, here’s a little treat. We caught up with Diane Guerrero who plays tough-girl Maritza on the show. We tried to get her to spill the beans about season two but she was tight-lipped about the whole thing. Instead, we talked about how  different she is from her character, her Orange is the New Black BFF, and a new TV show she’s in, Jane the Virgin. An English-language remake of a Venezuelan novela, it premieres later this year.

I know you can’t share much, but what are you able to share about your character in Season 2?

It is definitely a lot more intense than first season. I think you’re definitely in for a treat. My character, Maritza, she is shown a lot more in the second season. You are going to see a little bit more about Maritza and more of her relationships with people, especially with Flaca who is her best friend in jail.

She’s a fun character. She is gossipy, she likes to laugh, she is funny and sweet all at the same time. I think you’ll see less of her being, you know, the super tough girl. And, that is all I can say about that. (laughs)

Any similarities between yourself and the character you play, Maritza?

Wow, I see a lot of similarities. Like, definitely her sense of doing anything just to get a laugh and to smooth over a situation. I think that she wants to make the best of living her life in jail and to be as real as possible. That’s how I try to live my life as well. I really try to make the best out of every situation. I just find the humor in it because, at the end of the day, it is better to laugh than to cry, even though I do a lot of the crying. She so desperately wants that human connection and I think that that’s how I live my life too. I love to make connections with people. I love to be loved and that has come to bite me after at times because trying to be well-liked all the time makes people not to like you. (laughs)

How are you different?

Well, I think that I am more of a leader than a follower in real life. Maritza is quite a follower and obviously when you are in jail you kind of play roles accordingly so that, you know, so that you are not stepped on by your group. I have a pretty strong personality. And, I think we’re kind of different in the sense that she is kind of, on the dumber side but she is sweet. I think [in jail] I would act differently [than Maritza.] Like, I would show my smarts when needed and kind of be silly when I needed to be. I would be interacting with other groups, not just the Latinas. Maritza likes to stay in her comfort zone with the people she knows. She doesn’t really talk to anybody else.

Recently, there has been controversy with other TV shows that have prominent Latina roles like Devious Maids. Some people feel these shows are perpetuating stereotypes about Latinas. What was your first reaction when you heard about this project, that you were playing a Latina in jail?

Absolutely. I auditioned for Devious Maids and I wanted the part so bad. I honestly thought, what a clever idea. And, I hear those concerns about perpetuating stereotypes. But, the reality is that a lot of Latinos in America do have a lot of these jobs. I think the way that Devious Maids is portraying it; they have a lot more going on than has been portrayed in films and TV in the past.

“I’m happy about some of the shows coming up and I’m happy to be a part of them.”

Also, I think, one of the main characters is actually a lawyer and she is undercover trying to exonerate her son or trying to get her son out of jail or something. Although, I do understand those concerns but I think it is a great thing to show this side of us, a positive side. But, I also expect Latinos to be shown in another way. In like, the lawyer, the doctor, the professional, the one who has help instead of being the help. I also want to see those roles come to life. I think they are showing strong women who work hard and that there is nothing wrong with these jobs. So yes, I don’t have a problem with that.

The same thing goes for Orange is the New Black. People might ask: what do you think about Latinas being portrayed like this or people of color being portrayed like this? I go: it’s true, but this is just a side of us, just like it is a side of white folks or black folks. It is just a story being told. Now, after this, I certainly expect [different roles] — I’ve been seeing a lot more women of color in comedy and in other things coming out.

Like in the new series that I’m going to be in the summer called Jane the Virgin. I play Lina. You know, it is just a regular family. We are portraying a regular story about a regular girl and her regular friends. It’s not just the Latina in jail. So, I’m happy about some of the shows coming up and I’m happy to be a part of them.

So you are getting to play different kinds of characters?


What about the other actresses on Orange is the New Black? Do you all hang out outside of the show? Is there anyone who you spend more time with?

It’s funny, we all get along so well. Everybody has been so busy now that no one has time to be like, let’s go grab a coffee. But, I think I have gravitated towards all of them at one point. Jackie Cruz is one of the first people that kind of welcomed me and I felt a connection to. Then, I think, a friendship with Dascha Polanco started developing. More recently, on the second year, I think that now we are all very close. I don’t hang out with one person more than another, it’s just when it presents itself we hang out and it’s amazing.

When did you know you wanted to be an actress?

Well, for me I think that I’ve always had the bug. I’ve always fantasized about being on stage or on TV or singing or presenting. As a kid, we couldn’t really afford acting classes or at least steady classes so I would just take advantage of anything that was free or in the neighborhood or anything they offered after school. That was kind of my escape. I don’t think I ever realized that it was a possibility for me. I don’t think that anyone said, “You can really do this” or even myself I don’t think I believed in myself enough to say, “This is my path. This is what I want to do.” It wasn’t until later, until I went to college that I had these aspirations. Even though I went to a performance arts high school in Boston, called Boston Arts Academy…

So, you grew up in Boston?

“I have to try this because if I don’t I’m going to be miserable.”

I did. I grew up in Boston. I went to this performance arts high school where I was in the music department. I was still really shy but I think my senior year, I kind of remember I was letting go, was being on stage, and singing with my jazz group. I was really kind of opening myself in that way. Then when I was applying to colleges and selecting a path, I picked political science and communications. I wanted to be some sort of reporter. I wanted to work with the government in some way, or maybe some kind of social work. I knew I wanted to help people. But, I remember thinking to myself, “Maybe I should have applied to a conservatory or a theater school.” That stayed with me all throughout college. Even when I got out and I started working in a law office because then I had the crazy idea that I wanted to be a lawyer. One day, I was looking through auditions online and I just said, “This is really what I want to do. I want to be an entertainer and I want to be on TV and I think I can do this.” So, I moved to New York and started my life here.

It was a lot of back and forth. Of saying, “You can’t do this. This is not for you. You can’t afford to do this.” And then finally saying, “You know what, if I have to eat dirt then I am going to eat dirt. But, I am going to be happy eating dirt. I’m going to do this and I’m going to die trying. I have to try this because if I don’t I’m going to be miserable.” So, that’s what I did.

When did you move to New York?

I moved to New York around 2011 and I started going to Susan Batson Studios and studying with her and just taking different acting classes, doing little showcases until I met my manager Josh Taylor. He expressed a lot of interest in me and said, “I think you really have something and I’d like to work with you.” And we’ve been working together ever since. He’s helped me go up for different kinds of roles, different kinds of Latinas. We just finished shooting in Nantucket. It’s this film called Peter and John where I play a Cuban woman who’s a confederate spy, set in the 1800s. It was loosely based on the life of Loreta Velazquez.

You aren’t Cuban though. Where is your family from?

We are from Colombia.

So, you get to play all sorts of Latinas then?

Oh yeah! I just played this Cuban chick and had like a Spanish accent. In Orange is the New Black, it’s not specified but I think I’m playing Puerto Rican.

I think that’s a pretty good assumption.

It’s funny. I don’t speak a lot of Spanish in it but I feel like I’m channeling some of my Puerto Rican sisters when I play her. I definitely haven’t been playing Colombian there, that would be a whole different situation. But again, it hasn’t been established. But, she grew up in the Bronx so, I’m sticking with Puerto Rican.

There are more now, but there weren’t always a lot of Latina role models for young actresses to look up to. Did you ever see being Latina as an impediment to getting into acting?

Yes. I did. I had a huge issue with the idea of whiteness and being brown. I guess where I grew up and seeing that if you were brown you didn’t get the same kind of opportunities as some of my white girlfriends, or even black girlfriends. I just always felt separated from everybody else and that confused me. You grow up to be so proud of your heritage and of who you are, but then you are out there in the outside world and you feel like an alien. You know, people are like: you are a wetback or you’re just off the boat or you’re too brown, don’t get too tan. I had different phases of feeling like my brownness was a hindrance to me. I wanted so much more for myself and I felt like, “Well, I’m not going to get this because I’m brown and everybody looks at my like I’m less than.” Even with my Latina friends who were a little lighter than me, I felt like they were better off. I hated to go in the sun. It’s such a terrible thing to say, obviously I don’t feel that way now, but as a young kid if you got a little too india then you would feel like you were too dark to play with the white kids. You know what I mean?

Yes, I totally do.

“I also don’t want to be part of a storyline where the main story is: she is the Latin girl, go and shake some maracas.”

And I didn’t see a lot of Latina actresses playing regular TV roles. Like, I would watch Friends and never see a Latino on there. So, I would say, “This is the show that I like to watch. This is the show that I think is funny but there’s no one that looks like me. So, that means I can’t do it.”

But, I also don’t want to be part of a storyline where the main story is, “She is the Latin girl, go and shake some maracas.” I want to be an actress like any other white actor, not an actor based on the color of my skin. Then, I started seeing Jennifer Lopez doing stuff and then, Eva Longoria and Eva Mendes but they were very few and far between.

What about your other acting projects that you recently wrapped. In the movie Emoticon 😉 you play Amanda, a Latina in high school who was adopted by a white family but is discovering her roots. You look so young, really like a teenager! How did you prepare for that role?

I definitely had concerns. I thought, “I can’t play a girl in high school. I’m too old. I can’t do it. My boobs are too big” which is ridiculous because my boobs were huge in high school. There were a lot of monsters in my head but then I saw it and I was like, “Oh my God! I do look really young.”

To prepare, I just thought about everything I said to you about my identity issues about whiteness and brownness. Those experiences, I used to play Amanda but sort of in a reverse way because Amanda is Mexican but she is adopted by white parents. All she knows is this kind of life but there is something pulling her to her roots. Although I had already experienced a white world and a brown world, I was often caught in the middle and feeling like I was betraying one or the other.

It was an interesting role. I took on this feeling of someone who’s hurt and so desperately wants to connect and feel normal. She just needs to feel like she belongs somewhere.

What about Jane the Virgin? Can you tell me about your character Lina? And about Gina Rodriguez who plays Jane, she is a great actress. I love her. What was it like working with her?

She is just fantastic. She is just indescribable. She is such a beautiful soul, such a beautiful person. I’ve been in New York and I’m been kind of experiencing the Latinas in my community here but going out to LA and meeting her, someone who has had such great success and someone who really cares about the craft was really special.

So, Lina is Jane’s best friend and she is spicy, surprise, surprise. (laughs) She differs from Jane because she she’s lived a little bit more than Jane. I mean, Jane is a virgin and Lina claims to be a little bit more knowable about sex and relationships. She definitely tries to play the part of being very outgoing and down for anything or like Jane’s therapist. I don’t know if you saw the trailer but one of my lines is, “You’ve been dating for three years and you haven’t boned?!”

We’ve only shot the pilot, so I don’t know much about her yet but she is funny and flirty and she’s cocky. I think she is going to add a lot to the funny tone of Jane the Virgin. Everyone I’ve met on that set has been great. The cast is wonderful. The writer, Jennie Snider, is fantastic and so smart and sweet. The director, Brad Siberling, is just a delight. Jaime Camil, he’s a big Mexican star that I’m excited to work with. Juanes is doing the music for the show. When I heard about that I was like, “Oh my God. I hope Lina has longevity and importance on this show. So, it can last a while.”