Exclusive Interview : Lolita Foster
When I watched Orange is The New Black‘s pilot, like Piper chapman, I wasn’t ready. I felt intimidated by the desk corrections officer, Eliqua Maxwell. She wouldn’t give anyone the time of day. Her demeanor commanded authority, as though she was bothered by everything and everyone that went against her procedure. I almost couldn’t believe that this amazing actress I met was the same person. Lolita Foster, who plays the recurring role of corrections officer(CO) Maxwell, has done everything from theater, to independent film, and now a part of the new hit series “Orange is The New Black.”
I mentally prepared for my meet-up with Lolita and tried not to show that I was intimidated. Meeting a person who plays an absolutely mean character on a show really threw me for a loop. As an OITNB viewer, one is used to that impression of the performer, but then getting to know them and learning their true-self, shows their ability to project another soul. Unlike her character, Lolita has a great sense of humor and is absolutely witty, smart, and generous.
KR: You said you were from Virginia, right?
LF: Uh huh.
KR: when was the last time you went home?
LF: Hmmm back in August? Beginning of August. It was work related. But, I got to see my niece who is 16 months now and I got to hang out with my brother and his wife, my sister in law. It was cool. Hang out with my parents who still live in Farmville, Virginia, so that was fun.
KR: How many brothers or sisters do you have?
LF: Yes, I have 1 sister and 3 brothers. All older. So, I’m the baby.
KR: Aww, me, too! We are the youngest! So, did you go to acting, or art school?
LF: When I was in high school I went to The Governor’s School. Do you know what that is? You take advanced classes in courses like Trigonometry and Chemistry so you can get college credit while you are in high school so I did that, but never anything artistic. I didn’t even start acting until my final year of college…
KR: Oh. Wow…
LF: [Cont] And I remember the first play I was in—Marisol—I played a bum [Laughs] And I didn’t have any lines. I just rolled around in a box…
KR & LF laughs hysterically
LF: [Cont]… It was in the second act and I crawled towards the audience, extended my hand in anguish and had a moment. And the director was Betsy Tucker. And then the final show I did of my 4th year, I was the lead. I played ” Isabella” in Measure for Measure ….. for the same director……so I did a 180. That was cool.
KR: So you started out in Virginia?
LF: Yes, I started in Virginia.
KR: So when did you move to New York? Was it because of work?
LF: No, I graduated from the University of Virginia… then I spent one year at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, DC as an acting apprentice. And then I came to New York and I’ve been here ever since! A lot of my friends have moved up. A lot of my friends from University of Virginia…? One is Emily Swallow …an amazing actress who’s on the Mentalist right now. Other one is James Seol who is a terrific actor as well. He graduated from Julliard and just finished Around the world in 80 days. Back then we all got an apartment together.
KR: Oh that’s so cool!
LF: Yes. It was like a Real World apartment…where we painted it red and there are 2 bedrooms on either side and one room in the middle. Then we had a common space. We had a foosball table, a dart board …
KR: Wow! That was quite a dream apartment!
LF: It was! Looking back it was SO cheap. Honestly, if I could live there, I would still be there and save tons of money.
KR: So how did you score this role of CO Maxwell?
LF: It was Labor Day weekend, I believe. I was in New Jersey going to a barbecue. And I knew I had to come back into the city for this audition and I originally auditioned for Wanda Bell who’s being played by Catherine Curtin. I researched the role and I knew that Taylor [Schilling] was going to be playing Piper. So I was thinking ” I’m 5’2. I’m not going to intimidate Taylor…”
KR: I think you could, though.
LF: Well, on camera I won’t look like it. Actually, I had a friend who saw the show and he goes: Is it possible that you actually look shorter on the show than you do in real life?
LF: [Cont] … I knew that what I could bring to that scene is to just shut Piper down. She’s looking for a friend. She’s looking for someone to reach out to and I’m not going to be that person for her. And that would be frightening. Piper is going to prison. She doesn’t know who to trust or who to turn to and she would think I could comfort her. The least I could do is to not pay attention to her—you know, that I’m bored and I’m done with her already….So I didn’t get Wanda Bell. And once I knew that Catherine was cast and I knew why. [Laughs] but I did get a call later for Desk Corrections Officer. And I said that’s great! It’s the pilot episode and it’ll be great! And then I did that episode and a few days later my manager called me and she said ” Great news! They want you back for another episode!” And then the writer, Gary, came up to me and he goes ” I don’t know if anyone told you, but we liked you so much from the first episode that we want to keep bringing you back so we’ll be writing more stuff for you”. So I get to keep coming back!
KR: Did you know anyone before Orange?
LF: No, I didn’t know anyone! Actually, Catherine [Curtin] was the first person I met. We were working on set the same day.
KR: What was it like working with her?
LF: She’s great at what she’s doing. She’s been in this business for a long time. She’s really, really talented. She absolutely knew what she was doing. She told me she had just done some work with [Martin] Scorcese before she came in so she was really excited about that.
KR: Very nice. She told me that she had just finished an indie film. So, what about Joel [He plays CO O’Neil] ? I heard that you guys play Scrabble.
LF: He’s my Scrabble buddy! Joel is a big, big sweetheart! I adore that man. When he’s in the room, he can make everyone feel like they’re special. Like, you are the most important person in the room and I just want to talk to you. He’s just a happy, happy guy! And he makes you happy.
KR: Nice! Oh, remember when we talked last time? You mentioned that Jason Biggs said thank you to you after you guys were done filming the pilot?
LF: Yes! It was the pilot and you know? He didn’t have to go out of his way to say anything. But, he said ” Thank you for everything and thank you for your work.” He’s a good guy.
KR: What about Taylor?
LF: I think Jason was done for that day, but Taylor had to the scene with Catherine. The old drop and squat. So, I never saw Taylor again that day but Taylor is a doll. She will always say hello to you.
KR: Orange is definitely not your first. I know you’ve done some other work, too. I saw a trailer of this indie film called ” Pearl”— will we be able to see the movie?
LF: It premiered in New Jersey last weekend at this gorgeous old cinema house called the Landmark. So, they are doing the festival circuit with it right now. And I actually did it when I had a broken foot last year.
KR: Oh no!
LF: Yeah. At the time I was wearing a soft shoe for the injury, but I didn’t know it was broken. [Laughs] It was a wonderful experience—the movie, not the broken foot. That was awful. Everyone on set, again, was very lovely. It was an indie film with a very low budget, but they turned it into a well-made thriller—a really engaging film.
KR: I believe you! I actually saw the trailer last night. I thought …Wow! This is something! Are you working on any other projects? I know that you are very busy and you have a full time job [Copywriter]
LF: I am busy. I think I have been pinned for this project that could be very big. You know what pin means? It means that they could have maybe 5 people in mind and you’re one of them so they want to know your availability… The director is an Oscar and Emmy award-winner so IF I get it, that’d be amazing.
KR: Ooh… Let’s knock on wood. By the way, how many times have you watched OITNB?
LF: I have gone only one round and here’s the thing, I know that it won’t come out till Spring or Summer of next year! So, we got time! Just like you watch Games of Thrones. You watch it and then a year later, who is that character? [Laughs] I don’t remember. And why does that guy hate him so much….? [Laughs] So, yeah, I’ll probably brush up on it again right before season 2.
KR: Do you have a favorite character?
LF: Yes and no. Every episode I watch, I think I have a favorite then someone surprises me with something.
KR: Yeah! Same happened to me.
LF: Hmmm certainly, Uzo [Aduba] who’s amazing. She plays Crazy Eyes. I had to email her because I had never worked with her on set. I wrote her one day and said “Girl, you are absolutely killing it!” And she responded “I don’t know you either but I will know you soon on set. Let’s hang out and we’ll talk” and also, Pennsatucky played by Tarynn Manning. She’s phenomenal! I can’t really single them out. I think everyone on the show is absolutely amazing. And they’re all doing a great job!
KR: I know! I feel like you can’t lose even one character because everyone makes OITNB a great show!
LF: Even Joel [Marsh Garland] in the pilot didn’t have any lines, right? Oh man, he came in …
KR: Click click click and left!
LF: Yeah! Who’s this dude? I want to know this dude! And you get to know more about him. Everyone just adds their own little creativity and energy to the show! And kudos to Jen Euston casting for consitantly finding all these amazing actors and actresses—people who don’t necessarily have a extensive resume but are so tuned in to the work. I just love to be a part of an amazing show with these guys!
KR: I have been asking the cast this, who do you want to play for a day? Man or woman?
LF: I’d probably want to play Crazy Eyes. You have to want to have that abandon, right? Want to have that artistic freedom and go anywhere you want to go.
KR: I’m picturing… Go on…
KR: Oh I went to Paleyfest recently with my husband and it was very nice to meet Jenji [Kohan] and Lisa Vinnecour [Producer.] Finally met 2 mama bears in one night!
LF: Lisa is amazing. She’s great. She’s from the west coast and she has never seen snow. So this year I said ” Lisa, when it snows again, you and I are going sledding! I have a sled. We will be 10 years old again!” Also, I need to give Jenn Rogien, our costume designer a huge shoutout for the costumes. She’s doing wonderful, wonderful work with both civilian and prison life. I was joking to Catherine on set about our uniforms because our belts were PRETTY high! Above your waist, Steve Urkel style. But it’s your true waist so there’s nothing you can do! [Laughs]
KR: I’m going to be Pennsatucky for Halloween.
LF: You are going to be Pennsatucky? Pre or post beating?
(KR & LF Laugh hysterically)
KR: Oh my gosh! Something to think about! Thank you!
LF: Pennsatucky! Episode 13! All beat up! [Laughs]
KR: I was looking for stuff for Pennsatucky online and my husband told me I should make one like her [Laughs]
LF: Just cut up some sheets! You will be fine.
KR: What would you like to tell your fans?
LF: Thank you for watching. Thank you for continuing to support us even during the off months! You guys are THE BEST! We are here and we are coming back because of you!
KR: Maxwell is totally coming back I know.
LF: Yeah! Maxwell is definitely coming back!
Follow Lolita on Twitter @WCG_Lolita
IMDB Lolita here
Lolita’s demo on Vimeo