Tanya Wright Talks OITNB and Her Latest Project “Hairiette of Harlem”
Every character in Orange is The New Black made the show successful and today I’d like to focus on one in The Burset family, Tanya Wright AKA Crystal Burset of OITNB, the wife of Sophia [the beautiful Laverne Cox], a transgender woman incarcerated in Lichfield prison. Tanya Wright is a bonafide working woman: actress, director, writer and entrepreneur.
We met in a cozy cafe on the Upper East Side. Tanya showed up with the biggest smile on her face as we have been connecting through social media, but this is the first that we met in-person.
Tanya: I’m glad we finally got to meet.
KR: Me, too! How’s it going?
Tanya: It’s been great! I’m really in awe of all of my cast members–everyone is such a strong talent. It’s just exciting. I feel very free with this character and I think that’s a testament to the environment that has been created for the character.
KR: I love Crystal Burset so much. No, actually, I love the Burset family so much. As an audience, I see how well you performed. Even Laverne answered some of the fans during Ask Orange that the scene she did with you was her favorite.
Tanya: It’s my favorite scene, too. I’ve not experienced anything like that before, as an actor. To be able to tell the story with her is really an important part of my career as an actor and to my life, personally. Crystal is someone I deeply admire. She’s really quite A special human being.
KR: Even though, we didn’t see a lot of Crystal, but you really nailed it and it was quite memorable.
Tanya: Well, sometimes it’s not about quantity, you know. I make the most of what I’m given. I try to give as much humanity as I can to this character.
KR: Watching it, I was so drawn to it. It felt so real to me.
Tanya: Crystal is a real person–someone is experiencing the same things she is going through right now. But, I think it’s the testament to the writing because it was written in such a way everyone could relate to this family.
KR: So, you finished watching season two, right?
Tanya: Oh yeah!
KR: Did you binge watch?
Tanya: I binge watched like everybody else! [Laughs]
KR: Nice, how long did it take you?
Tanya: Two days.
KR: It took me a day! Have you started shooting season 3?
Tanya: Yes. That’s all I can say. [Laughs]
KR: [Laughs] I was so close to asking you about it.
Tanya: Nope, that’s all I can say. We just started shooting season three and I’m in season three.
KR: Alright! That’s good enough! At least your fans know you’re back! Tell us about your other projects, Tanya.
Tanya: Hariette of Harlem! Actually, I brought you a comb.
KR: No way, This is something I can be using daily. [Laughs] Thank you!
Tanya: So, Hairiette of Harlem is based of my early days of being an actress in Los Angeles and how I learned to navigate my life via my relationship with my hair. I had to learn to love my curly hair. It taught me a lot of things: patience, resilience, and letting go. I wrote a book called “I Found God in My Hair: 98 Spiritual Principles I Learned From My Relationship With My Hair.” They are a collection of personal essays and a retrospective of my career as an actress, from The Cosby Show to present day. I also have a hair care line that will be out next year called Hairiette and I am working on a web series called Hairiette of Harlem. Check us out on Hairiette.com.
KR: Wow, look at you. I love this. I’d love to visit your set.
Tanya: I would love it, that’d be great if you could.
KR: I’ve been getting e-mail updates about your project and I love it. I’m so excited for you.
Tanya: I mean, I’ve been working on this for a very long, long time and I love that I’ve got great support from both True Blood and Orange is The New Black. I just feel very grateful for the support and you who have been promoting us from the very beginning.
KR: Aw, thank you. I can’t believe we all have come this far. I still remember the first time I met Adrienne [C. Moore] for an interview and now, she has just become a series regular! Isn’t it amazing?
Tanya: Yes, she is the bomb! She’s hil-a-rious. She’s friggin’ hilarious! I was watching season two on her episode, and at some point, I just stopped it and sent her a note on Facebook. I said to her “You’re killing it! I can’t even look at you with A straight face!” She was so friggin’ fabulous.
KR: And she’s hilarious in real life, too. People need to know that.[Laughs]
Tanya: She’s taken it to a whole new level and she’s brilliant at it. When I saw her on season two poster, I said “YES!”
KR: Let’s hope that Orange is The New Black will go as long as Weeds. Give it at least 8 seasons! I don’t care what people think, I’ll continue to watch it. [Laughs]
Tanya: I hope so. I would love to see that happen. [Smiles]
KR: What was it like working with Laverne [Cox]?
Tanya: It was a great pleasure working with Laverne. I do love her. I just love the story. LOVE this story. She’s stunning and more than that, what she’s doing in terms of her advocacy for the transgender movement is really powerful, important and inspiring. And really, for humanity. I think this particular storyline makes people identify with Crystal and Sophia’s struggles because, most of all, it is about family and love — love has nothing to do with gender.
KR: I so agree with you. Both of us could be in that situation, too, if we do something we shouldn’t be doing and get caught.
Tanya: That’s right. One wrong turn, one mistake…
KR: By the way, did it take long to film that heartbreaking scene where Crystal helped Sophia with trying on new clothes?
Tanya: Over the course of one night. It was shot on location and that was one of the episodes that Jodie Foster directed. Jodie, Laverne, and I met prior to filming that scene, and we rehearsed a little bit, but we mostly talked about it; what was going on in the scene… Things like that. It was all there. It was all on the page anyway. When I got my scripts, I thought ‘Wow!’
KR: Tell us about when you found out you booked for the show.
Tanya: When I found out from my agent that I got the part, I asked him about what channel Netflix was going to be on [Laughs]
KR: Wait, you didn’t know it was Netflix, and it wouldn’t available to stream all at once?
Tanya: I knew it was Netflix, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time. So, my agent told me that it’s not a network, Lionsgate is the studio, but it’s not going to be ABC or CBS, you know, those networks are something I’m used to as an actress. So, it was hard for me to have a picture in my mind. “So, it was going to be streaming? I hope someone watches it.” [Laughs]
KR: [Laughs] Seriously. Who would have thought? But, I love watching the series all at once without interruption so this is something for me.
Tanya: I mean, after I saw House of Cards, I was like ‘Well, this show is going to be the indicator for us, in terms of whether or not people were going to take a chance and watch this new show in this new format. Once I saw the response for House of Cards, I said “YES!” [Laughs] I am a huge fan of that show. I watched it in 2 days! I was like ‘Everybody, this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life!’ Until I saw Orange and I was like ‘Oh, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.’
KR: Hell yeah! Anyway, please keep me posted on when you launch your new project, Hairiette of Harlem!
Tanya: Absolutely! I’m really excited to share this news with everyone. I really stand behind this product lines. It’s dedicated to multi cultured women with naturally textured hair.
KR: I like your hair though.
Tanya: I do, too, but it took me a long time to understand my hair. Me and my hair are very good friends now.
KR: I read that you do yoga and try to live a healthy lifestyle, I love that.
Tanya: I do. Also, I try to eat healthy, you know. I wouldn’t say that I work out daily, but I should. Being healthy should come from the inside out.
KR: It’s so great catching up with you, Tanya! Good luck on your projects and hopefully, we will chat more soon!
Tanya: Thank YOU!
Follow Hairiette of Harlem on Twitter!