Orange Is The New Black’s Jackie Cruz: “I cried while filming season six because it felt so real”

"The prison system is terrible so if you think where we were before was terrible, now it’s even worse"

Season five of Orange Is The New Black – which played over three days during a riot – was less Prisoner Cell Block H and more Prisoner Cell Block WTF?, and ended with some of the inmates (including main protagonist Piper Chapman and Alex Vause) hunkered down in a bunker that had just been charged by swarming CERT officers, while others – such as Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales – were loaded onto buses heading to a new location. Series six, which is available to stream from Friday, sees our characters as “cookies” – the term used by lags for newbies – in the nightmarish maximum security prison (known as “max”) down the hill from their old home of Litchfield. Ensconced in a swanky hotel room in Berlin, Jackie Cruz, aka Flaca, tells NME that things are about to get a whole lot darker for the characters in the OG addictive Netflix Binge Series.

The last season ended on a cliffhanger. Where do we pick up?

“Pretty much just how it ended, you know. Starting in a new fresh place. Like Litchfield is over. I remember being new in High School. That’s what it feels like. Like scary – you don’t know anybody. It’s intense, this season.”

What does season six have in store for Flaca?

“I can’t go into specifics but I can just let you know I’m in it. (Laughs) And I believe it’s just starting fresh, almost like the first season. So it’s going to be really interesting to watch how the characters interact with the new people and it’s going to be a scary place. We saw the trailer yesterday – it kept me wanting more. My character – she’s going through some things.”

What has it been like moving to a new set?

“That was awesome. We’ve been working on the same set for pretty much five years so to see it [the new one] and look and it – it felt so real. It was intense and scary and I cried a little bit because it felt so real and pretty much when I’m in there, it feels like I’m really, really in there. How do I say this without spilling the beans? (Laughs) This season just felt so different and like I’m starting a whole new show. You’re going to be interested and want to know what’s next.”

How does season six compare to the last series? There were some complaints season five went quite dark…

“Well, that’s our show. We talk about a lot of important things that are happening in the world. Jenji [Kohan, the creator] is so smart and the writers she picks are so unique and incredible and talented. So this season is dark too but you have your comic reliefs – you know, I’m always going to be there. (Laughs) For now. So I make you laugh but it’s like reality. There’s always something funny in a world that’s terrible but it’s just keeping it light a little bit. But to be honest with you, it’s Max so what do you think Max is? I mean, the prison system is terrible so you think where we were before was terrible, now it’s even worse. So I love that we get to talk about the real things that are happening in the prison system. It feels like slavery. And I’m just happy to be part of a show that’s bringing awareness to these problems and hopefully try to change them in a way. I feel like my show is something that we get to open conversations and start talking about how we can make things change. It made us all activists so I think it’s kind of incredible that what Orange Is The New Black gave us is a voice. Most of the cast are activists – Laverne Cox is making such a huge difference and making history. That’s what our show has made already and is continuing to make. And this season is something to the next level.”

If Donald Trump was watching the show, what would you hope he takes away from it?

“He’ll probably watch because he likes the gossip, right? (Laughs) Lord! So I want him to take away how terrible people are treated in prison and there’s a lot of things that are going down. It’s crazy what power can do to a person. They’re still human beings and that’s the whole point of the show. It’s showing you their life and how they got there and putting a face to the colour – because we’re all wearing different colours. We talk a lot about what’s happening right now, so I can’t go deep into the conversation but I hope that Trump understands that this is an issue. And hopefully that we can make a difference in more than one person’s life by changing the system. But it feels impossible with Number 45 – the president – right now, so we’ll see.”

Orange Is The New Black was at the forefront of inclusive casting. Now we’re seeing  increasing demands for inclusion riders. Has it been heartening to be part of a show that’s been so trailblazing?

“Absolutely. I just got chills when you said that. Because it was funny, when we first got the audition, they were like ‘Netflix? What is that? I’ve gotta watch it online?’ It felt like a web series, and the next day [after it came out], people were just like ‘What the heck?’. Number one, we invented binge-watching almost. An addition! We invented ‘Netflix and chill’ (Laughs) so it feels amazing to be a part of a show with all these beautiful women that come in a different array of colours and sizes, all different unique personalities and representation. We’re pioneers in so many different ways – streaming, in diversity, in women starring in and creating the show. It just inspired me to do the same. I started my own production company, Unspoken Film, because I feel that there are so many women’s stories that we need to tell.  And especially being a woman from Latin descent, we all come in different colours as well, and Hollywood is just used to seeing one time of Latina – Orange Is The New Black showed you eight different types of Latinas in one show. So I hope that Hollywood picks up on that. So far, Netflix has – they have so many inclusive shows right now. And I love how Orange Is The New Black kind of started that. We feel like godmothers.”

The show has been commissioned until season seven. Would you like to see it go on or is that a good time to bow out?
“I mean, my mother says she hopes I get four more years, but who knows? The show has made a mark already on Netflix and in my heart and my life so I feel like however far it goes, I’ll be satisfied regardless.”

Is there anything you’d like to see your character do?

“I always talk about this because Flaca loves music, just like me, so maybe in the future she’ll write a song and sing it. On camera. We’ll see. ‘Cos I write my own music with my co-writer, Feefa. Right now, I’m working on my album and my last single came out last month, ‘La Hora Loca’. I write about what’s happening to me, what I’ve been through and this show inspired me so much as well Flaca. Her love of music helped me create my own music.”

OITNB is  a worldwide phenomenon. Where’s the most unusual place you’ve been recognised?

“The bathroom stall. She recognised me at the SAG [Screen Actors Guild] Awards right, but then I asked her to come inside because I couldn’t take off my dress – so this woman saw me naked. It was a cupcake dress I had to get up, she was holding my dress. She’s like ‘Oh My God, this is so cool’. I’m like: ‘Don’t watch me pee!’. Too much information – I just woke up.”

Orange Is The New Black Season 6 is on Netflix from Friday July 27