Oscar Wilde may have said that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life," but not for Lea DeLaria. Going into Orange Is the New Black's third season, the actress was shocked to discover just how closely the history of her character Carrie "Big Boo" Black resembles her own.
"When I got the script and read the script, I called Lauren Morelli, who wrote it, and just kind of basically said, 'What, did you read my f--king diary?'" DeLaria tells TVGuide.com. "Pardon my French. I can't believe how much of this is from my actual life."
In the episode, Boo attempts to convince an evangelical reverend that she's reformed in order to con him out of monetary support. But the ruse only serves to stir up memories from Boo's lifetime of having to defend or apologize for who she is, particularly to her mother. In the end, Boo realizes that no amount of money is worth sacrificing her identity or dignity, even temporarily, and gives the reverend a much-deserved verbal lashing.
"I was literally having a Twitter war with the Westboro Baptist Church [when I got the script]. Craziness, right?" says DeLaria. "It mirrored my life so much that it was frightening. But I can say this, if you're a butch lesbian like I am, you have very shared experiences. There are a lot of common experiences between butches. The thing about the clothes, that's always a big fight for us. I used to run when Easter Sunday came around. I would run and hide because I knew that they would make me wear that damn dress."
In real life, DeLaria's parents came around, accepting their daughter for the badass butch she is. Unfortunately for Boo, she never received the same recognition from her parents, fueling her anger and filing her with regret for never saying goodbye to her mother. It was an emotionally vulnerable episode, the likes of which DeLaria had never gotten to experience on Orange before.
"I'm used to everybody saying, 'you were hilarious,' 'you were this.' But when people say I made them cry, I don't even know how to respond to it," DeLaria says. "I'm not the Strasberg girl, not even remotely. I know Kate Mulgrew and Taylor [Schilling] and other people literally went to prison and talked to people. I'm not that actor. I'm not going to the zoo to find my spine. That's the sort of thing I generally make fun of ... But it's like, 'Look, I've got to bring my A game.'"
But not everything DeLaria did this season was about heartbreak and poignancy. It was also about breaking new ground when Boo enjoyed strap-on sex with her girlfriend in a flashback. "I'm just very happy that I got to have sex with a human instead of an object or a dog," DeLaria jokes.
Though DeLaria is quick to laugh about the scene, the importance of it is not lost on the actress. "That's never been done on television before, so that's a big deal," DeLaria asserts. It's just for DeLaria, humor and politics go hand-in-hand. This is, remember, the same woman who made history as the first openly gay comic on television when she proudly declared "I'm a biiiiiiig dyke!" on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1993.
"How far we have come, right?" DeLaria says. "It's like I've died and gone to lezzie feminist heaven."
"I've been on American television for 20 years. I've had to turn crap and make it into, you know, a purse that crap can give you. It's like, 'Here's a big pile of poo. Now make it funny.'" DeLaria says. "And we don't have to do anything in this show except say the lines. It's amazing. And every week, every time we show up on the set, they churn it out and it's funny, it's hilarious and touching and moving and real and honest. You don't find that in this industry."
DeLaria seemingly can't help but gush about how lucky she is to have found a home on Orange, where the writers and producers are not only talented, but of the same mind as her politically. "My entire career has been 'Don't judge a butch by its cover.' That's what I've been trying to do," DeLaria says. "I have been out there trying to effect change on this planet... and get laid, of course. Those are my two biggest things."
Much like Boo, DeLaria has always refused to be invisible or stand idly by when faced with prejudice. In November, the actress made waves when a video of her confronting a homophobic man on the subway went viral - a moment eerily similar to a flashback in which Boo went after a homophobe on the street. Only in real life, DeLaria was celebrated by her fellow riders, while her Orange counterpart was condemned by the woman she had been taking home.
"I thought I'd get more people making that connection," DeLaria notes. "The thing you have to understand is - this is me slapping my community a little bit - butch lesbians and nelly queens are sort of the pariahs of my community. There's a lot of middle-class mainstream assimilation of gays out there who don't like it. They want to sweep us under the carpet like a dirty secret ... We need to overcome this self-loathing that we have and this internalized homophobia, if you will, and accept who we are because we are our own community. We don't need to mimic the straight world. We don't need to mimic anyone. We just need to be us. And the more we accept who we are, the more other people will accept us."
DeLaria's ability to switch between thoughtful reflection and foul-mouthed one-liners is the reason so many viewers have fallen hard for her this season. "It's been crazy," DeLaria says of the reaction she's received. "I've gained, like, 30,000 followers since the show aired and that's not even a week. It's craziness. And it's overwhelmingly positive. I've been getting a lot of thank-yous from teenage lesbians - tons of those. 'Thank you so much for sharing that story.' And lots of people calling me a role model, which is frightening. Because if I'm a role model, then gays are in trouble."
Beyond the overwhelming waves of gratitude, DeLaria has also been enjoying the more lighthearted side of the fandom. "I couldn't wait for the memes that were going to come out of this one," DeLaria says. In fact, she's even making her own T-shirt based on Boo's beloved "lord of the lesbians" line.
"I also love 'My people are stage managers.' I love that line because it's very inside," DeLaria explains. "It's me - who starred in several Broadway musicals and tons of off-Broadway musicals - talking to Beth Fowler - who was the original Mrs. Potts on Broadway and won a Tony - about musical theater. I'm sure that when I uttered that line, somewhere a queen exploded. Somewhere in the world a musical theater f-g just exploded over that scene, I'm sure of it."