Laverne Cox Dishes to JET
Laverne Cox continues to break boundaries. As the first transgender woman to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine, she is shifting the way America views transgender people the best way she can: on screen. But did she imagine all of this would happen? Never. We sat down with the Orange Is The New Black star to find out more about the actress outside her orange jumpsuit.
JET: How does it feel to be a positive face for transgender people to those outside the LGBT community?
Laverne Cox: It is overwhelming. It’s a lot of different things at once. What’s wonderful about it is that so many transgender folks are inspired to live their dreams. I’m in an acting class called Act Out, which offers both support and training for gay actors. Before there was Orange Is The New Black, there were like two transgender folks in the class. Now there’s five transgender actors in the class.
There’s this 19 year-old transgender actor in the class. She started transitioning at age 17. And she said, “I always wanted to act and didn’t think I’d be able to do it as a transgender woman, so I gave it up. And then you came along.” And now she’s in the class pursuing it.
So there are those little moments like that where I’m getting letters and meeting people that are transition and people who are not trans. There is a woman who wrote a blog last year and said her ideas about transgender people changed because of this show and this character. She thought they just existed for all these different reasons and had all these negative things to say about transgender people and those things changed because of this character. That is a lot to take in and process. I’m responsible for that? I really believe that God is working through me and that it’s not about me. I’m a vessel that’s being used. It’s my job to get out of the way and let God work through me.
JET: What advice do you have for young transgender people?
LC: Find support. Find healthy support. If you don’t live in a community where’s there’s transgender folks, there’s the Internet. It’s a great resource. You can find transgender folks online who can be really supportive. Connect with positive people in terms of where you are in your transition. And hopefully you can model that behavior. And most importantly, stay in school. Figure out a way to get an education. Especially for kids of color. So many kids drop out because they are bullied to such an extent that they don’t want to go. Figure out how to stay in school because if you are Black and without an education, it’s not cute. If you are Black and transgender without an education, it’s really not cute for you. Stay in school and value that education.
JET: If you could play another character on Orange is the New Black, who would it be?
LC: “Crazy Eyes”! She’s so complicated and fabulous. I just love crazy characters. I did a student film 10 years ago where I played Marsha P. Johnson, who is a transgender woman who was a part of the stonewall rebellion in 1969. She was a transgender activist in the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s. She was murdered and her murder is still unsolved. She was schizophrenic and often homeless. I find mental illness really interesting and fascinating. There’s so much sanity there. I find that “Crazy Eyes” is called “Crazy Eyes”
but there’s also something pure about why she does what she does. In season 2 when “Vee” corrupts her, it’s about her wanting a mother and wanting to be accepted and loved. And in season 1, when she throws the pie for Piper, she just wants to be loved. She just wears her heart on her sleeve.
JET: People binge watch OITNB, but which show did you recently binge watch?
LC: I just caught up with Nurse Jackie – the new season. Jackie Peyton is a mess this season. It’s the best season to watch.
JET: What song are you currently obsessed with?
LC: “Driver roll up the partition pleaaase…”
JET: What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
LC: My intelligence.
JET: What is the last book you read?
LC: Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. My friend Janet Mock suggested I read that since I’m writing a memoir.
JET: What inspires you the most?
LC: Courage inspires me. Courage and vulnerability. CeCe McDonald, who is the center of a documentary I’m working on, is an African-American transgender woman who served 19 months of a 41-month prison sentence. CeCe inspires me because she has such an amazing attitude. She’s been through hell. She fought for her life on the streets of Minnesota.
JET: Who is your hero?
LC: My mom (obviously) and Leontyne Price. She is an African-American opera singer. The first international prima donna assoluta. Marian Anderson was the first Black opera singer to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955. I say she opened the door for Black opera singers, but Leontyne Price blew it off the hinges. At her first Metropolitan Opera debut, Price got a 45-minute standing ovation. This was in 1961, with racial tension and she was so good that she was able to transcend race and she made it better for singers that followed her and I always dreamed and imagined that I would make things better for people that follow me.
About Dara Adeeyo
Dara is a freelance writer, nail art addict, and uncertified Beyoncé expert. She loves a good workout, but also love eating Nutella out of the jar. Follow her daily adventures on Facebook or Twitter @dadeeyo.