When Jackie Cruz auditioned for Orange Is The New Black, she had no idea that it would become her big break. The character she’d auditioned for, a nondescript Latina named Flaca, was only supposed to appear in one episode, a few at the most… That was nearly four years ago.
Now, with three seasons of OITNB under her belt—from which she’s emerged a beloved frequently-recurring character—Cruz is well on her way to becoming Hollywood Royalty, a title she’s fought for relentlessly.
As such, we can expect to see, and hear, a lot more of Jackie Cruz in the coming months. The actress stars in the independent films 13 Steps and Cleveland, both set for release in early 2016, and was recently promoted by Netflix from a recurring character to a series regular on OITNB. In what little free time she has left—an increasingly small portion of her day-to-day—Cruz pours her heart into music, and is working on her second (as-yet unnamed) EP, the follow up to her 2010 release Hollywood Gypsy.
I spoke with the Queens-born entertainer about her passion for music, working on OITNB, and what it means to be a Latina in today’s Hollywood.
Before Orange Is The New Black, you hadn’t yet had been cast in a major role. Can you tell us about the audition and how you got the part of Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales?
When I auditioned for Flaca, all they asked [for] was [a] “Latina” [actress]. They told me to come in with no makeup—I was so scared by that! [Laughs] I had to read two lines and I practiced them for like, weeks…I tried to imitate one of my friends that I know who has this crazy, unique New York accent and [when I auditioned] I imitated her. Two weeks later, [they told me] that I’d gotten the part.
So Flaca is based on your friend in real life?
Yeah. her name is Karina Correa… I remember telling her, “I’m going to play you on TV one day,” because she’s so hilarious. And it really happened!
Part of what makes OITNB so successful is how diverse the characters are. How does it feel knowing you’re making a difference in the way minorities are represented in Hollywood?
I think it’s about time! It was hard for me to get roles [for a time] because I didn’t look like the type that [directors] were looking for. They had this image in their heads that Latina is only Mexican. I was competing a lot with real Mexican women—I’m Dominican—and felt like I never looked the part. So I love that OITNB is showing Hollywood that “Latina” and “woman” can come in every size and color. I feel like we’re opening the door, not just for us, but for the [women] watching us who want to act.
You have a couple of films in the works right now. Can you talk a little about them without giving too much away?
I [just started] working on an independent film called Cleveland. It’s my second film—I shot a film in Canada that I’m hoping comes out next year for the film festival. It’s called 13 Steps. I play a Mexican who runs away to Canada because the cartel killed her family. It’s actually really interesting; I learned a lot about the cartel. [I’m also in talks for] a movie called All The Golden Boys. I hope I get to do it. I’d play a Dominican (which I’ve never done before) and hopefully work with this amazing actor, Amaury Nolasco from Prison Break. I’m crossing my fingers.
You’re a musician as well. Are you working on anything right now musically?
I’m working on my second EP right now, as well as a cover video for Selena’s “Como La Flor.” Selena inspires me, she was an amazing woman and [this year] is her twenty-year death anniversary so I wanted to do something special in her honor. I filmed the video already but I need to re-do the vocals because I initially recorded it in my living room. We shot the video in Harlem. I was scared to sing in front of strangers [at first] but kids started to sing along with me, older people too. It was a beautiful moment. I actually teared up a little bit. I can’t wait to release it.
Who are your musical influences?
I love old-school music: Elvis Costello, Etta James. That’s what inspires me, that passionate, soulful kind of music. I wanted to become a singer and an actor when I saw The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston. I was just a little girl at the time, singing [her songs] in the bathroom. She was so passionate and her voice was so special to me that I believe it was what [inspired me] to become a singer.
Which do you prefer—making music or acting?
Music is my first love, but acting is also my love. They’re both very special to me. [With music] I feel more vulnerable because I’m singing my songs and if people don’t like them, I feel like it means they don’t like that part of me. When I act, I’m [playing] someone else so if I mess up, it’s okay because that’s not who I am. But I can’t say which I love more. I can tell you that I don’t care if I make a dime. I haven’t made a dime singing, ever. But I don’t care, I just love to sing. And I’m lucky that [I get paid to act] on Orange because it’s something that I love to do. I feel very grateful.
Last question: If you ever went to prison for real, what would you miss the most?
Oh, I would definitely miss my family. I won’t say that I’m super needy, but I need hugs, like, all the time. And love. So being away from the people I love would definitely be the hardest thing.
Read more in LADYGUNN #12
Clothing courtesy of Gypsy Warrior
writer / Gillian Fuller
photographer / Spencer Kohn
styling / Alyne Halvajian & Michelle Sylvestri
makeup / Alyne Halvajian
hair / Marc Mena