Michael Harney Talks About Orange is The New Black and His Upcoming Projects
Orange is The New Black is definitely one of the most talked about shows. Since the show was renewed for a third season after its second season premiere, it has won numerous awards and nominations, including 12 Emmy nominations.
The beauty of the show is its ensemble cast and each individual character. Sam Healy, a counselor of Lichfield prison, portrayed by the veteran actor Michael Harney, is one of such interesting and complex characters.
I got a chance to talk to Michael about his character, being on the hit series Orange is The New Black and his upcoming projects.
KR: Congratulations on your show being renewed for Season Three, Michael.
MH: Thank you.
KR: I’m sure a lot of people have already binge watched the current season.
MH: Oh sure, I know some of my friends have binge watched the whole series.
KR: What do you think of binge watching?
MH: I think it’s a great way to see shows. I think that it becomes much more in control, the viewer is much more in control. You know, with our fast-paced lives, I really think that’s the way of the future that’s going to be the norm pretty soon. I think it’s really cool because you can really regulate the way that you watch something by how you’re feeling and what’s going on in your life. I think it’s a much more preferable way of watching television.
KR: We learned in this season that Mr. Healy spoke Russian. Did you take up lessons?
MH: No, what I did was I read something from an English-Russian book, and I started to just get the feel of the language so that I was a little bit more comfortable. There were several different levels of comfort that I had. In the script, one was when I was just beginning to learn it, one was when I would have it for a little while and I felt more comfortable with it. So, I had to really understand the difference between the two and I started just to read Russian words, and I would look at the meanings in English translation so I got the sense of what I was doing, but predominantly, I really relied on the dialect coach. I really work well by ear.
KR: Do you think you are fluent now?
MH: No, no, I’m not fluent.
KR: Let’s talk about the chemistry between Mr. Healy and Pennsatucky. You and Taryn Manning worked wonderfully well together this season.
MH: Oh yeah. We had a wonderful chemistry. We still do. Taryn is a wonderful actress. She really takes a lot of risks in her work so she always gives me a lot to work off of. Whenever actors or actresses taking risks in their work whenever they go for it, it’s really delightful and wonderful for me to work off of her. It’s really really cool and I really enjoy the connection.
KR: I had tears in my eyes watching that particular scene…
MH: The scene on the bench?
MH: That was really something to film.
KR: Did you guys get to improvise, or just follow the script?
MH: You know, we improvised, but the script is so good that I don’t really want to go off the script too much. Sometimes I go off the script a little bit just to make something personal for myself. The script is just so good that I really enjoyed just getting involved the rhythm of the script. It was a privilege for me to serve the script.
KR: Do you have any favorite scenes that you filmed this season?
MH: No, I don’t really look at it that way. Every scene I’m doing is my favorite. It’s interesting that the way I created, like each one is my favorite, like they are all my babies or something.
KR: I was about to say, you really couldn’t pick your favorite child. By the way, that scene at the hospital when Healy went to visit Red and Sister Ingalls and he was asked what happened to him because he used to care more. What do you think of Sam Healy’s transitions over time?
MH: I think as every human being goes through changes, Healy goes through some changes. Healy’s going through changes and I think that the reasons I became a social worker, and chose prison was to help people and I think that conflict, trauma, and pain bring people to where they are really at. I think it really brings them to their center to their heart. And I think that my experience of Healy is coming back to the reason that I got into the job in the first place. And, you know, there are also bumps. It’s not just a clean pathway to that end. There are bumps,detours and mountains to climb. So just like when you try to achieve something: One day you’re on top of the world and the next day you feel like you’ll never ever get it done. So, that’s what I feel.
KR: One thing I like about this season is that they show a more human side of the COs, that they are all just like us. The COs hanging out at Caputo’s gig at a bar scene was really something. You got to film with Nick Sandow. He’s really great in this season.
MH: Oh yeah, we had a great time. I love working with Nick. He just became a regular, that’s terrific and Samira Wiley just became a regular, too. You hear that, too?
KR: Yes, I really am happy for her and actually all of those who got promoted!
MH: Yeah, Dascha [Polanco], and Selenis [Leyva], too! Anyway, that scene in the bar was cool. It was really fun to shoot the scene with Nick and the band was great. We have a great crew, they are top-notch.
KR: You have an upcoming film, Bad Hurt, if you can tell us a little bit about it.
MH: Yes, my character’s name is Ed Kendall and I play an ex-marine who is really struggling to keep his family afloat and has a lot going on. I have a special-needs daughter and I have a son who was in the war; he was also a marine, who came out not in good shape at all and is drug-addicted. So there is a whole series of challenges I find myself in and the script is a really great script by Mark Kemble. It was workshopped at the Actor’s Studio and performed numerous times on stage, and they made it into a screenplay. It’s a really good script and I think it really addresses a lot of the challenges that families in the United States face on a daily basis, and it addresses those challenges in a very profound way.
KR: What would you like to tell your fans?
MH: Well, first of all, thank you for your interest in the show. We just have a wonderful fan-base. Without you guys, we wouldn’t be anywhere. I’m really happy that so many people are interested in our story, predominantly because it takes place in prison. And that people are learning what it’s like to be in prison, what it’s like to live in that type of environment and have to survive. And I’m glad that we’re shining a light on the incarcerated population of our country. I think that that’s really important because I believe for the most part that for people who have been incarcerated, people that are living in jails now, or people that are working in jails now, we really don’t spend much time focusing on their struggles. So I’m really happy that we’re bringing some focus onto that.
KR: Do you have any organizations that you are currently supporting?
MH: Yeah, I do. There’s a really wonderful, grassroots, nonprofit organization that’s helping out right now. It’s called happyditto.com, and what they do is they make these trust journals for kids, and the trust journals are journals that a kid can write in. When kids are afraid to talk about something they can write in the journal and it can between them and just one other person. And they don’t ever have to talk about something, they can just write it down. Then they can leave it someplace and the person that they trust will read it, and maybe write something back to them, and they can have a dialogue. But so many kids, you know, they’re afraid to talk about whether they’ve been abused, or they’ve been getting in trouble, or they may be taking drugs. They may be having some difficulty that would put them in danger of going to jail, and this is a way for them to talk about it without having to sit down with someone and talk about, because a lot of time kids don’t have a tool so they don’t really say anything. So, I’m supporting this and hope that some people would sponsor, some of the books to be distributed to juveniles, prisons, hospitals, families, boys and girls organizations across the country.
KR: Wow! This sounds really cool, Michael. I’m glad that you are doing it. I’ll definitely check it out and get the word out.
MH: Thank you very much. This means a lot to me.
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