Less than three years ago Uzo Aduba was crying on the subway. Returning from an audition, she resolved to give up acting and re-train as a lawyer. Just 45 minutes later, she got a phone call. “It was 5:43 p.m. I’ll never forget it, Sept. 14, 2012. It was a Friday” she says. She was up for a job. It was the role of Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren in Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is The New Black. In 2014, Aduba’s emotional Emmy acceptance speech won her a standing ovation from her Orange co-star Laverne Cox and this year, Aduba is nominated once again. She is currently filming the fourth season of Orange, and with her opera-trained singing voice, just beat out Beyonce to play Glinda The Good in NBC’s live staging of The Wiz.
It’s been some wild ride – how does it feel to be nominated again having won last year?
Bananas. I’m not even joking. Bananas. I wish there was another fruit I could use. Apples? It’s scary, it’s very humbling and overwhelming. I don’t even know if I have the words to capture the volume of what I’m feeling, because the reach back to where I stood two years ago–it’s not like, two years ago, ‘oh, I was working on this show on HBO,’ I was…
You were giving up
Yes. When I think about it, that’s where my head goes. It’s not just this distant thing from my reality today. I can feel it, and know what has been…I have been gifted. No one’s entitled to anything in this life, you know, but I feel it, and I just want to say, thank you.
What happened that day that made you decide to quit?
I’d been auditioning for film and television that summer. I was doing Godspell, here in New York, and my manager told me, ‘you ever done pilot season before? I think you should give it a try.’ So I did, then all I was hearing was, no, no, no, and I was watching my bank account and I was trying to figure out, what am I going to do? Even the theater jobs before that were few. I wasn’t seeing a lot of myself, or people like me, in theater or television at that time. Then I had this audition for this show, a TV show, Blue Bloods, and I was 20 minutes late because I got these wrong directions, which we all know in audition land is a big no-no, being late. I got there, and I read, and I remember feeling like, ‘this is going really well,’ and I walked out of the room, and I said, ‘but you’re not going to get it, because you were 20 minutes late, and this is God’s universe telling you, this is not for you, and you need to stop trying to take something that is not yours.’
Did you have a plan–what did you think you’d do instead?
My family’s from Nigeria, and when I was a kid, my parents always thought I’d be a lawyer because I talk a lot. So I prayed it up. I said, ‘if you can make the way for me to go and become a lawyer, I will go.’ But I definitely was in a place of despair. I was crying on the subway all the way home, and not like, loud, audible crying, but the tears, the ones where you just can’t stop them from coming down your face. I just couldn’t stop it. I was sitting on the train, and I said to myself, ‘this is it, I’m done.’ I had never in my life before quit. Then, 45 minutes later, I got home and I got a phone call. I’ll never forget it for my entire life. I could be 98, and my grandkids can be like, “Grandma, when did you get Orange is the New Black?” and I’ll say, “5.43 pm. September 14.”
You just beat Beyonce to the role of Glinda on The Wiz–how did that come about?
Well, I got that role. They called me, or called my manager I should say, and they offered me the job. Basically, that was what went down. I’m so grateful for that. And you know what’s crazy, is, the week before I got this call, I had just been having a conversation with a friend, and I was like, ‘man, you know what I would really love to do right now? Sing.’
I’m seeing a pattern here of the universe helping you out at certain moments
I mean, do you have something you want prayed up?
Speaking of singing. How did you come to be on stage with Taylor Swift at her concert recently?
Well, we met backstage, and we hit it off, and she asked me to come up, which was so generous of her – she’s amazing. She’s so lovely, and very, very gracious, and so kind, to share her space like that. You know, that’s an audience of 60 thousand people that she has, over there at the MetLife stadium, but it was so much fun. As soon as you get out there, I mean, I’m not joking you, you could almost cut it with a knife. The love and the energy is so thick.
What’s up next for Crazy Eyes – at the end of season three she was romantically involved…
I can say that this season is pretty exciting. It’s almost like it comes out running, let me put it that way. Like a bullet out of a gun. That’s how this season started, started, so, I can’t even imagine where it ends. I think Suzanne–we’ve watched her over these three seasons–her evolution has been interesting to me, and I was really happy to see, at the end of season three, that she still believes in love. You know, Jenji’s season three was about faith and motherhood, and she was dealing with the loss of her prison mother (Vee), and her loss of faith, and faith in love. And by the end of the season we saw her collect herself, and she’d come out the other side of the grieving process. Because of her inner evolution, it will be interesting to see whether she decides if that is her love or not. Before, she was just taking whatever she could get.