Exclusive Interview: Selenis Leyva AKA Gloria Mendoza from OITNB
Power: What you don’t see can be as important as what you do see. The same can be said for the Kitchen. The role of Head Cook in prison gives you resources, a strong role, and most importantly, a place. The inmate who gains control and changes the dynamic of the kitchen is Gloria Mendoza. Portrayed by Selenis Leyva, this actress nails all her memorable one- liners as her character takes on a bigger and bigger role in the series. Especially her most famous, “Another fucking coconut!”
KR: You know? Gloria has been one of my favorites from the get go.
SL: Aww. Thank you!
KR: It’s something about her I can relate to. She’s quick and always says things that make me laugh. She would always say something that would crack me up…
SL: She’s a wise ass. I’ll say it for you. [Laughs]
KR: [Laughs] That’s a great way to put it, “Another fucking coconut,” I remember Gloria’s one-liners by heart.
SL: I have the best one-liners I think. It wasn’t just one. There were several one-liners. Every episode I had maybe one line, but it was precious and so great that people remembered. The coconut line is the most famous one. People really connected to the coconut line. Not one interview that I do and people don’t speak about the coconut line. And that was my first day on set. I remember seeing and reading the scripts and I thought, “Oh, this is fun!” I had fun with her. I didn’t know what was going to happen with Gloria. She was supposed to be one of the fillers. Then little by little Gloria’s role is developing.
KR: I saw Gloria in the teaser for season 2 and wow! She is in charge!
SL: Yeah! I’m in the kitchen! I’m still in there!
KR: I asked your fans to submit questions and one wanted to know if you cook? Because you know how great Gloria is!
SL: [Laughs] You know, I do cook, but I’m not somebody who does it every day and night. I do every once in awhile. When I do it, I have gotten very good reviews! I prefer baking. There’s something about the smell of baking that I find not offensive. I have rules in my house.
KR: Really? What rules?
SL: Like no fry foods. I don’t want the house to smell like it, but baking…it’s nice and inviting. No making fish in my house. [Laughs]
KR: [Laughs] What are your favorite dishes?
SL: I love baking banana bread with chocolate chips. I love–love making it and am very good at it. I also make really great pumpkin cookies. They are amazing. The other day I made spinach lasagna and it was really good! I have to say it dot great reviews. I also make really good shrimp gumbo!
KR: You made me hungry. Tell me more about shrimp gumbo. [Laughs]
SL: Every year, my brother would ask me to make it for his birthday. So, I’d say it’s pretty good.
KR: Do you follow recipes?
SL: I always start of with basics and then after two or three tries, I would do my own thing. Like, I’m a big fan of cinnamon so I’ll add extra cinnamon on my banana bread. For shrimp gumbo, I would add more spices because I love spicy food and instead of adding pork sausages, I would add turkey sausages. I kind of mix it up a little bit sometimes. I dabble. I dabble in the kitchen.
KR: You have to wear jumpsuits for the show, but you look fabulous in real life. How do you stay in shape? You look really great.
SL: Wow! Thank you so much! I really appreciate it, especially, after the long winter and a lot of hibernation. [Laughs] I try to be as healthy as possible. I have a child so I try to be healthy. You know, in the wintertime, it’s hard. I’m not going to lie to you. Last night, I think I almost put myself to a “Carb” coma! I had pizza. I was a mess last night. I’m glad that I don’t look like I’m a mess.
KR: You look great! Don’t worry!
SL: You know what, the jumpsuits are great. You go on a set and you don’t have to worry sucking it in or getting into Spanx or even makeup. It’s very relaxing. There’s something about the wardrobe that leads the actors to concentrate to the acting. It’s refreshing! But, those boots suck. I’m sorry. [Laughs]
KR: Were they super heavy?
SL: They were so heavy. After 14 hours on set on those boots, I swear I had done a work out. But, they did the job.
KR: Did you get to work with Jodie Foster?
SL: I did not! That was the only episode that I wasn’t in. But, she was on set prior to coming in for episode three. I thought that was lovely of her to come in to get the feel for the show and what it’s all about. Even though I wasn’t in, it’s still really nice to see her and meet her. She’s an icon! And I knew that the show was going to be special if someone like Jodie Foster was signing on to do an episode.
KR: Did you know about her being one of the directors from the get go?
SL: No! I only knew on my first day on set. People told me Jodie Foster would be directing an episode and I was like “What?!” And of course, I wasn’t in that episode, but I knew that there was something about the energy of the show. Even though, I met everyone in the show for the first time, but there was something really special.
KR: Really? I thought you had met some of them before!
SL: Not really. I had worked with Jessica Pimentel (Maria from OITNB) and Laura Gomez (Blanca Flores AKA Crazy lady with the cell phone from OITNB). Oh, and I bumped into Elizabeth Rodriguez (Aleida Diaz from OITNB) in LA in the auditioning scenes.
KR: Your performance together just seemed so organic. I honestly thought everyone had known each other!
SL: I was asked that a lot, “Did you guys know each other?” And I was like, “No! We just met!” [Laughs]
KR: I’ve seen a lot of picture of you and Dash [Dascha Polanco]. I see you guys are besties!
SL: We met on set! That first week of me working and she was in that scene of me saying the coconut line. That was the first time I met her! We’ve become really great friends. We’ve been on vacations together. She’s my buddy!
KR: Which is your favorite scene to film so far? Don’t tell me anything about Season two or you’d get in trouble. [Laughs]
SL: I know. I was about to spill the beans and go whoa! No, I really can’t wait to be able to talk about season two. A lot of really great stuff, but in season one, I think that coconut line moment for me is nice because I was setting the tone for who Gloria was becoming. It’s how I saw her. I really enjoyed that and also, the kitchen takeover and me staring down to Kate Mulgrew (Red).
KR: The kitchen takeover is a great twist. I wonder who would take over the kitchen in Season three. Well, I hope for Season three. It needs to happen!
SL: I hope so. We haven’t gotten the official word, knock on wood, but I hope that it would because there are so many characters and stories to be told. Even for Season two, we introduce new characters, we’ve gone deeper with those that we thought we knew… So I’m hoping for Season four, five, and six…
KR: How about 10, just like Friends?
SL: I know! I’d have been in jail forever! [Laughs]
KR: By the way, I know that you do voice-overs as well?
SL: Yes, I did a lot of ADR groups. A lot of voice-over work for animation.
KR: You did Epic.
SL: Yes, I did Epic, and the first two Ice Age films. I’ve done a couple of them. I loved it. I had a lot fun.
KR: Would you say that had to do with a daughter, so it made these projects more fun?
SL: You know, when she was younger she thought it was really cool to have her mother’s voice as a deer or a bee in a movie. She would say, “Oh, that’s my mom!” She would bring her friends to the movies with us and would recognize my voice, or I’d be practicing at home and she would love that.
[Our conversation interrupted by the coffee we ordered. Selenis commented on my macchiato that it was so cute with the little heart foam and asked me to take a picture.]
KR: Why don’t you have an Instagram? Do it! You do tweet often so add one more thing.
SL: Once you started tweeting, it was almost like an addiction. I have to be honest; I only started a Twitter account because of Orange is The New Black! We had the “After Hours” with fans, and I didn’t have a twitter account before that. I was forced [Laughs], and I say this because I don’t have Facebook either. I’m not big on any of this stuff! I was forced and I love the fact that I get to connect to the fans in that form.
KR: They love you too! Every time I tweet about Gloria, I get great feedback.
SL: I love them! They are so wonderful. It’s so rewarding whenever I come across a fan that loves the show. It’s a lovely experience. And yes, I’m hearing about Instagram. I know, I know, I guess I will eventually. Season two, that’s when! [Laughs]
KR: Which character are you rooting for? You can pick your character, but let’s give others a chance.
SL: I think to be very honest; I’m rooting for everyone because I think that everyone is so unique. They are so different. Everyone’s story is different even though you would assume that the Latinas are all the same. I think we’ll discover more of that.
KR: We’ll learn more about Gloria in Season two?
SL: Yes! You’ll learn A LOT more about me. A LOT MORE! So, I’m rooting for everyone. These are really great women. They made mistakes and some of them based on circumstances or just stupidity. Whatever it is, but they are good women. The reason why the show is successful because it’s really showing these women’s flawed, but good. They turned to each other for support. I love Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning). That little crazy nut, I want to put her in my pocket and take her out every now and then to scare people. But, really, everyone is great.
KR: The show has a really great cast and ensemble.
SL: And they are all classically trained. We come from a theater background. A lot of the girls come straight from Julliard, or graduated from Julliard. It’s also a beautifully supportive environment. People didn’t know a lot of us, I’ve been working for a long time, I did years in television before. I did Law & Order, Elementary, The Following, Blue Blood, and many more. I’ve done shows on the stage before. I’ve done theater.
KR: Are you working on anything else?
SL: I have films coming out, hopefully in 2014, one with Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, and Bill Murray. I have a supporting role.
KR: Wow! That’s huge!
SL: That’s pretty big! It was shot right before we started the second season, literally. I shot the movie on the weekend, and did Orange on the weekdays. It just worked out. It was an amazing experience. The first time I saw Bill Murray sitting next to me in the makeup chair, I couldn’t even look at him. I had my head down, I didn’t want to be intrusive, and he just turned to me and offered me some French Fries. [Laughs]
KR: [Laughs] I would totally go for it. What’s the name of the movie?
SL: “St. Vincent De Van Nuys”. And the other one I did was an independent film called “Living with the Dead”. I love it because it’s a lot more serious, and I play a Psychiatrist. It’s a very different role from Gloria Mendoza.
KR: Nice! You’re playing a White Collar.
SL: It’s very different from what you will see in St. Vincent, where I’m a hot mess. [Laughs] It’s nice to show that I have another level to me. So those are two movies that literally came right in the beginning of Season two and I had to juggle. But, again, people from the movie wanted me and they made it work. I was able to shoot on the weekends. I got pretty lucky with that.
KR: I assume that season two is going to be much darker?
SL: It’s going to be filled with a lot of surprises. I think some people will be upset. And then there are going to be some wonderful moments. This year, this season is deeper. We’re going deeper into who these people are or what makes them tick. There are some introductions of new characters as well in the prison that really shake things up and makes it a lot darker.
KR: It’s great that you mentioned that. I am curious to see more about other characters as well.
SL: And that’s the beauty of our show! Jenji [Kohan] and the writers do a wonderful job. This is an ensemble piece. And I think that season two really comes across. You’ll get to know a lot of other characters that you may not have known of. It’s something for everyone. You might be rooting for one person and then switch to the next.
KR: Which is your favorite scene to shoot?
SL: I had a lot of fun with that scene when I was brewing the special thing for Daya.
KR: [Laughs] I love that scene! I had no clue what Gloria said or what it meant, but I loved it! Was it in the script?
SL: Yes, it was in the script. It was from the conversation that I had with one of the writers. And that was the beautiful thing about our writers. They listened to us, and I think that’s how Gloria developed. They were interested in what I was doing with her. We had a conversation one day and I told them I dabbled in some ingredient. I also loved group scenes even when I had no lines.
KR: You always stood out though. Your facial expressions were great!
SL: You know, as an actor, you always want to hear that you stood out and you made it right for you. That for me is a dream come true. You had no idea that Gloria Mendoza was going to develop. Season one for me is a dream come true. I’m so excited. I’m really proud of the work and I’m really happy that they gave me a chance.
KR: Did you originally audition for Gloria though?
SL: No, I auditioned for something else, which I won’t say. I was upset, of course. But then a couple weeks went by… Then I got a call and they told me they wanted me to play Gloria. I think they wanted me to be one of the Latina group, like filler. But, I went with it.
KR: And you nailed it!
SL: Yes! If you were going to give me one line, I will nail it.
KR: One of my favorite Gloria one-liners is “I’m not stupid, I’m going to watch the stupid,” I used that a lot on Twitter.
SL: I remember doing that scene. Every time I said the line, the crew would laugh. Gloria has the best one-liners ever!
KR: Let’s talk about your hobbies.
SL: I LOVE to dance. Whenever I can I take dance classes. Salsa, or whatever else, I love it! It makes me happy. Music too. Oh, I love reading. I need a good book to read.
KR: I can recommend you movies or TV shows instead. [Laughs]
SL: [Laughs] I’m addicted to Netflix. I watched every show on Netflix.
KR: What are your favorites?
SL: I love House of Cards.
KR: Oh my god. We have so much to talk about!
SL: It took me three days to finish Season two because I forced myself. I didn’t want it to end. I could have sat there and watched it in one sitting, but what was I going to do for the rest of the weekend? [Laughs] I had to stretch it out. But, after I finished that I started another one. I just finished Bates Motel. Now, I’m late to the game, but I’m watching The Walking Dead. I started watching it last night. Knowing me, I will be finished by next week! I’m telling you, between Netflix and life, I can stay at home all day [Laughs] Okay, I watch E! I am a big fan of E! I love Fashion Police. I’m a little obsessed with The Kardashian clan. Chloe is my favorite. I know it’s so wrong, but it’s my guilty pleasure. I know it’s like eating a bag of chips. You know, it’s not good for you, but I can’t stop eating it. That’s how I feel. It keeps me entertained.
KR: Let’s talk a little more about Orange. You guys are really funny.
SL: We all are and we are really loud. [Laughs] We get really loud. We need to get together soon. Joel[ Marsh Garland], Lea [DeLaria], Emma [Myles], and I recently tweeted each other about getting together.
KR: Emma kills me. This girl is really hilarious.
SL: Emma makes the best peanut butter cookies in the universe! I’m salivating thinking about them. I think she puts cracks in them. [Laughs] Emma has given the cast of Orange the crack cookies even though she swore that she only put peanut butter and chocolate chips in them. I knew it was a lie! It’s crack! [Laughs] because it’s so addictive!
KR: I had tried those! They were so good! I was lucky enough I was invited to Adrienne’s birthday and Emma had brought the gluen- free peanut butter cookies! They were so good!
SL: Adrienne is amazing! Again, everyone is amazing. But seriously, we genuinely like each other. We like to be around each other. We are fans of each other.
KR: If you could cast anyone and bring him or her to the show, who would that be?
SL: I would make Idris Alba a CO. And I would demand that Gloria gets a little loving. And I would love to have Chelsea Handler as like an inmate. I love her. She’s such a hot mess, but in a good way. I’m a big fan of her and I think she would be perfect in jail. [Laughs] But the good thing about this show is that you don’t need a big actor or actress because the writing itself is on point. We don’t need to use the gimmick of big star. It’s just working. It’s refreshing!
KR: Is it selfish of me that I don’t want anyone to leave the show? I’m so attached to the original cast that I think I may have a hard time adapting to the new faces.
SL: I could be in jail forever. [Laughs] I’ll accept the new ones. I think it’s hard, even for us. There’s a special bond. But I think that Jenji and Jen [Houston?] (Casting Director) really bring quality cast. The energy on set is also amazing and no one would come in with any BS. It’s not going to work here.
KR: No diva around!
SL: As much as we all are really nice, we all could check people really quickly. I think that anyone who really wanted to come along and be a diva, it won’t work here!
KR: By the way, how long did it take you to finish the first season of Orange? It took me two sittings instead of one, which I blamed work and life for it. [Laughs]
SL: I finished it in one setting and I remember emailing Taylor [Schilling] “Get ready, girl!” And she was like “Oh my god! Thank you!” And I’m really happy that she was recognized, you know, golden globes nomination, and many more to come! And I also think that other stuff will come for everyone.
KR: Any interesting fan encounter stories?
SL: Recently, Adrienne, Dascha, and myself went to a comedy and after the show, we were on the street and we got stopped by a group of guys and suddenly it turned into chaos. Everyone asked for a picture, and next thing we knew we got bombarded. I felt like we were the Beatles or something. [Laughs] I kid you not; we were stuck in that corner for more than 10 minutes. The fans were all very excited.
KR: What would you like to tell your fans?
SL: I would definitely tell them I am so appreciated and I just wanted to say that we have the best fans. They are so kind and loyal. Maybe I’m having a bad day or something and I come across someone tweet me something sweet and kind. Everyone on the show is really lucky to have the best fans and they make the show a hit! So I just want to say, keep watching, please! Please keep watching us!
KR: Go Gloria! Hashtag Go Gloria!
SL: I feel really lucky we have the best fans, and thank you.
KR: Your most welcome! Thank you for such a fun time