Laverne Cox on ‘Orange Is the New Black’: ‘It Provides a Platform for A Lot of Different Women’

Laverne Cox is having a moment. Having parlayed a career on VH1’s reality programming (I Want to Work for Diddy and TRANSform Me) into a fan-favorite supporting role on Orange Is the New Black, Cox finds herself in a rare position: reality star turned working actress.

On the Netflix-original show she plays Sophia Burset, a transgender inmate who stole credit card numbers in order to pay for sexual reassignment surgery, landing her in FCI Litchfield. In real life, Cox is transgendered herself, one of the first trans women with a role on such a high profile television series.

I had the chance to speak with Cox about OITNB, its success and Cox’s role as a trans activist. Just don’t call her an icon. (“I feel like there’s so much more that I’d like to accomplish before, you know, icon status,” she said.)

On OITNB’s portrayal of LGBTQ issues:

“I think it’s important for trans folks specifically, but for anyone really who’s not really seeing their stories told on television to see their stories told up there and see people like them on TV. The wonderful thing about our show is that it provides a platform for a lot of different women who we don’t get to see and hear from a lot to be able to tell their stories through these characters. So as a trans actor, I know that’s important. I know that visibility matters for my people. I know it’s all really important. So I’m super grateful for the opportunity and I take it all very seriously.”

On why the show is catching on:

“The writing is incredible. It’s really smartly written and I think the general public is not given enough credit a lot for being able to, like, really embrace smart shows. I mean, we see a lot of smart TV on now and I think that the public has really just been craving hearing women’s stories and seeing women who look different. And then to see that those stories are being told with such humanity and such multi-dimensionality, the public has really been craving that. I know the conventional wisdom in the business is that oh, no one wants to – you have to be – look a certain way and whatever. And we’re – our show is, you know, challenging all that.”

On the female anti-hero:

“Women are just as complicated and just as flawed as men are and just as, you know, powerful and wonderful. I think people relate when they see that, you know, the characters that they’re watching on television are like them, that they’re deeply flawed, that they make mistakes, and that’s what’s really human and that’s what people connect to, I think.”

All 13 episodes of the first season of Orange is the New Black are available on Netflix.