Exclusive Interview : Abigail Savage AKA Gina Murphy from OITNB
In the last episode of Orange is The New Black, Red’s plans to retaliate against being dethroned from her kitchen backfired and her top minion, Gina Murphy, pays the price for her failure. The character of Gina is wonderfully portrayed by Abigail Savage, a New York City native. Viewers have not learned too much about Gina’s backstory in season one of OITNB, but Abigail, the actress, has had roles in noteworthy film and television projects including Brian De Palma’s Redacted, Precious and Law & Order SVU. Even more impressive is the fact that Abigail is also an accomplished Sound Designer – credits in sound include the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, as well as all of Ramin Bahrani’s feature films, most recently At Any Price with Zac Ephron and Dennis Quaid.
KR: Thank you so much for your time! I heard from Joel [Marsh Garland] that you are a very huge deal! Being a sound engineer that is! From there, how did you get involved with Orange is The New Black?
AS: As soon as I graduated from college I knew I wanted to have a profession outside from acting because I couldn’t just be that person waiting tables trying to get auditions all the time – I’m hard to cast, I knew that even then, and figured I had to find a productive way to spend all the days I wasn’t lucky enough to act. Sound editing kind of fell into my lap because of a room mate I had the summer after college; she was complaining that she had too many internships (one of which was at a post production sound studio). I had done the sound for our senior production at college and it had been fun so I told my room mate I’d take that internship if she didn’t want it. And I’ve been sound editing ever since. It’s awesome because it’s still the film world, and frankly, you can learn a lot about acting from the post side of things – how to be consistent and pay attention to your use of props and behavioral habits, etc. So my two careers have been running in parallel from the beginning.
AS: I got involved with Orange the way any actor gets a job – my agent sent me on an audition. And I found out I got cast while I was at the sound studio – I did a little dancy jig in front of my co-workers; they were totally supportive. My boss at my sound studio has always been very cool about me missing days to shoot Orange – see, I work full-time! I take vacation days to shoot.
KR: Aww…You must be pretty close to Kate Mulgrew at this point.
AS: Here’s a funny story – a couple months after we were done shooting season 1 of Orange, Kate Mulgrew came in to my studio to do ADR for another job she was in! (ADR is dialog replacement for lines that didn’t get recorded well initially or are added after shooting). We had a big hug and I said, “welcome to my other life.” My sound career and acting career rarely cross paths like that.
KR: Aww… You got a Red’s visit! By the way, I got some questions from your fans on Twitter! Here, a question from @jmandeberg: “what was the audition process like for the role of Gina?”
AS: Like many of my fellow cast members, I originally auditioned for another role – Nicky Nichols!
KR: Oh. My. God.
AS: But of course as we all know they got Natasha Lyonne for that, and she was born to play Nicky – I couldn’t imagine a better fit. I guess Production liked my audition well enough that they wanted to find a place for me in the cast. So a few weeks later I got the call from my agent and she said, “They’ve cast you, but as a different character – her name is Gina.” My agent sent along an early draft of episode 1 and I searched through it to find GINA. And – this is hilarious – the description of the character was “ GINA, Italian, late forties/early fifties.”
KR: That’s very interesting because you don’t look like you could be in early fifties! No way!
AS: I thought to myself, hmm. I guess they’re changing this up a bit.
KR: Which was your first scene to film and if you had met anyone before Orange?
AS: My first scene was when I’m shooing Piper out of the way because she’s holding up my sweeping, then I tell her to sit next to the “nice, white lady.” I didn’t know anyone on set, I had come ten minutes late because I misjudged how long the subway would take to get to the studio, so I was apologetic like crazy to the PAs. Actually, I’m like intensely on time, so for me it was downright shameful to come late to set on my first day. But they call you like an hour and a half before you need to do anything so in the long run it was no big deal. So I come late to set, I know no one, but I do know the studio – turns out Orange is filmed on the same stage where an obscure show called “The Return Of Jezebel James” was filmed. It only had four episodes that actually aired. I was hired for a bit role for one of the episodes and had spent a week hanging out in these same dressing rooms and on the same stage, so it was nice to have that physical familiarity. I was really nervous my first day but everyone was so friggin’ nice! The cast, the crew, everybody. I remember getting my hair and makeup done and Lea DeLaria (Plays Big Boo) came in and she was the friendliest, liveliest, most outgoing and yet down to earth person – she put me right at ease. I thought, OK, I can do this.
KR: Aww… well done, Lea! Here’s another question from your fan, @ft_collins: I like her attitude on OITNB! I wonder how badly was she burned? And will she be back in season2?
AS: Thanks for liking my attitude! My dad was shocked at how mean Gina is when he started watching the show – it’s really not like me at all. About what happened after Gina got burned? I can’t tell you any secrets about Gina’s condition but I can tell you I’m back in season 2, fo sho. [Laughs]
KR: Yay! I heart Gina! Anyway, how much of yourself do you see in your character?
AS: Well, I think of it this way – we’re all multi-faceted people, and when you act, you kind of distill and magnify a couple of facets of your own personality into the character you’re playing. So Gina and I certainly have some overlap. We’re both socially awkward, steadfastly loyal, all business, and hard workers. I’m much less badass and mean, though. Gina reminds me of one of those yippy, territorial and aggressive dogs that thinks she’s as big and badass as a German Shepard. I’m more like one of those little dogs that shivers when it’s cold out and always looks a little overwhelmed.
KR: Very well-said. I like that!
KR: How is it being Red’s right hand woman?
AS: The best job in the world. Until she burned me, that is![Laughs]
KR:[Laughs] Damn you, Red! Ugh, I still love that woman! Ok, So far, what has been your favorite scene to shoot?
AS: I love shooting the scenes where almost the entire cast is there, along with like 100 extras. They’re pure chaos I’m sure from the production point of view, but they’re pure joy from our point of view! But specifically, it would have to be the auditions for the Christmas Pageant – everybody was hi-la-ri-ous. And it was my first time seeing Adrienne Moore (Black Cindy) in action. When she did her first take of the beat boxing and then dropped the pick at the end a la ‘dropping the mic,’ I almost wet myself with laughter. And Emma Myles’s (Leanne’s) dolphin is not to be believed. And Lori Chinn’s (Chang’s) tribal dancing! God, that whole day was wonderful. It was my last day on the set of season 1. And I stuck around to watch some of the Christmas Pageant, and every time Samira Wiley (Poussey) did a take of Amazing Grace, I ended up in tears. Every Single Take!
KR: Yeah, I wept for that scene as well! So, how many times have you watched Orange?
AS: So unlike most people, I’ve only watched the season once! And I did it over the course of two weeks as opposed to two days. I’m almost ashamed of the fact! To me, watching the same show one epsiode a night for two weeks straight IS binge-watching.
KR: Do you have your favorite character?
AS: My favorite character… Do I have to choose just one?
KR: Sadly, yes.
AS: It would have to be Crazy Eyes. What Uzo Aduba puts into that character is just jaw-droppingly brilliant, if you ask me. But Poussey [Samira Wiley] comes a close second!
KR: Are you currently working on any projects besides Orange?
AS: Acting-wise, no – anyone got something for me??? [Laughs] Sound-design wise, I’m currently working on this awesome documentary about deep cave exploration. I think it’s coming to the Discovery channel at some point.
KR: WOW! Please keep me posted on that!
AS: Of course!
KR: Why do you think Gina has been so loyal to Red?
AS: I think prison in general is a good fit for Gina – the fact that it’s institutional and structured and regulated – the army-like aspect is probably healthy for her. And Red is like her commander or sergeant; Red is Gina’s magnetic north in this place. I can imagine Gina was a little lost and not in a good way when she arrived in prison, and Red was there to straighten her out and give her focus and rules to follow. The regimental aspect of the kitchen, with Red as the commander-in-chief, makes prison make sense to Gina, and Gina knows how much that’s got to do with Red personally, and is deeply grateful to her for that.
KR: Aww… I love it! Anything you would like to tell your fans?
AS: Thanks for being so awesome! And you should always feel free to approach me when you recognize me – the novelty of that has yet to wear off! And don’t worry, Gina’s back in season 2, squirrely, badass attitude and all.