Pidge is the New Black
By Jay S. Jacobs
Imagine this. You’re a huge fan of a TV show. You binge it as soon as it hits Netflix. Then, suddenly, you’re offered a role on the series. How cool would that be?
Ask Miriam Morales, who was an Orange is the New Black viewer long before she was a character. She was brought onboard in the fourth season to play Ramona “Pidge” Contreras, one of the new Dominican inmates in Litchfield Penitentiary. Her character role has been expanded in the new fifth season of OITNB, sticking Pidge into more exciting and dangerous storylines around the season’s hostage storyline.
In the meantime, Morales has gotten a role on another streaming series, the Bryan Cranston-helmed Amazon series Sneaky Pete with Giovanni Ribisi, Marin Ireland and Margo Martindale.
We hooked up with Morales a few weeks after season five of Orange is the New Black dropped, to catch up with her on life as an actress and life behind bars.
You joined Orange Is the New Black in the fourth season. How familiar were you with the show before you joined up?
Very familiar. I was a fan. A fan, completely obsessed with it! It was the show that I wanted to be on, the show that I envisioned myself on. Every time a new season came out I would start binge-watching. I would immediately text my manager and remind her that I needed to be on the show, that I was going to be on the show, and to get me in the room. (laughs) So yeah, I was very familiar with it.
Once you finally made it onto the set how surreal was it? What was it like to join in on an established cast? They had been going on for three seasons before you got there.
Extremely surreal, because like you said, they were already so established, and so popular by then. Very tight-knit. So, [I was] definitely excited, overwhelmed, nervous. I just wanted to go in and do a good job, and master a level of professionalism and talent and respect. It sounds really corny, but it was a dream come true.
I am sort of new to the Orange Is the New Black world, so why don’t you tell our readers a little bit about Pidge as a character?
There’s not that much written about her life, well at least not in season four. We learn a bit more in season five about who she is. But in terms of her in this world, we know Pidge is extremely, extremely loyal to her friends. To her group of other Dominican inmates. She’s tough when she needs to be, but she also knows when to chill and relax. She also has a little comedic side to her that comes out. I would say her loyalty is also her downfall. She’s so loyal she doesn’t know when to really pull back, how that’s going to affect her, and what the consequences of that would be. She’s so gung ho for anything.
I’m sure as the actress portraying her you’ve got a way that you see her, and you’ve probably given her a backstory and everything, but are you sometimes surprised when you meet fans with different ideas and understandings of her motivations?
A little bit, a little bit. I think with season five we get to see so much more of Pidge. People really get to see how fun she is, like she’s funny. It’s a nice duality. I say she is funny, but she’s tough when she needs to be. I would say in season five that really comes out because she’s guarding the hostages with Ouija (Rosal Colón). You see that fierceness in her. She’s so serious about it. It’s not a game. Then you also see her just being silly, and sorting the coffee. It all comes from a place of… this is surreal for her, you know what I mean?
Did the show writers let you know going into season five that Pidge would have so much bigger a role, or was it something you just learned while reading the scripts? How does it make you feel to know they think her character is so interesting that they will do more with her?
Great! (laughs) It is one of the things that they don’t tell you that you’ll be in it so much more. Every time you get an episode and you read it, you learn how much more you have to play with. As I was reading episodes, I would obviously get really excited like “Oooh, yes! Pidge gets to play.” I would write down my notes of any new information that I would get from her. Like I said, in season five we do learn a little bit more about Pidge’s life. We learn that she has a sister, and her sister has a pet chihuahua, and his name is Hannibal. So I wrote that down, okay that’s good to know. (laughs) I have a sister out there. Good. Okay, that’s cool! It was great.
What ways would you find Pidge similar to yourself, Miriam, and what parts of her are harder for you to get a grasp on as an actress?
A similarity is definitely the loyalty part; that I could very much relate to. I wouldn’t say it’s hard to get a grasp on the other aspects, because I think I have that in me, too. They just don’t come out as often. So, if anything, it’s actually fun for me to be tough and to exert that. Not really care and to just go there. For me that’s actually fun. It’s freeing. It builds up parts of me that I don’t necessarily always get to play with in my day-to-day life. When it comes out in Pidge it’s like, “Oh yeah, I can do this.”
Did you do anything special to prepare for playing the role of a prisoner? Maybe talked to some prisoners, or some law-men, or even toured a jail?
I have had family members in the system, so I am familiar. I did talk to them and ask them what it was like, because they were in two different facilities. I just wanted to get an idea in general of how it is. Obviously, it’s two different places and things, but I just wanted to get a gist. I visited them in prison, aso I already had my own ideas of what it’s like to walk into this place and how different it is. It’s a completely different world than the real world, so I tried to bring that with me. Incorporate it into Pidge in a sense of “okay this is my life now, this is my world, this is my family,” and act accordingly. Now, it’s about survival and just making it through this time.
Why do you think people are so fascinated by what goes on behind prison walls?
What Orange has done is, through these characters, their lives in prison, and through the flashbacks, you get to learn so much about their backstory, and it just makes you realize that everyone is very relatable. They’re human, and these are very real stories. We can’t judge someone just because they are in prison. That is the magnet. That’s why people are so interested. It’s not necessarily what goes on behind prison [walls], but just to get an idea of the life in there. You can also see these are real people. They have families. They have kids. They have fears. They worry about things. It’s really not so different from those in the outside world. Yes, we aren’t behind bars, but some of us are prisoners to our own situations. It’s all the same essentially. We’re just not wearing a uniform. We don’t have a set schedule. We don’t have to deal with being hurt and things like that, but I think it’s that relatability factor. And the fact that Orange talks about so many social issues that other shows don’t.
Like you mentioned, it does really touch on lots of different things, it’s almost like a microcosm of the world at large. It explores race, gender issues, politics, all sorts of things. Does that type of storytelling intrigue you as an actress?
Yes, it does. When I first started acting, I just wanted to act; I wanted to do anything and everything. As I got older and more experienced in the business, I quickly knew that the things I was so excited and passionate about participating in were those stories that were real. Those stories that talked about these issues, that explored these issues. They just started a conversation. That’s really important, just to start a conversation. So many of us shy away from talking about so many things.
Orange is a very serious show, but it’s also very funny, as you touched on earlier. As an actress, do you enjoy the chance to lighten things up a bit, or do you find the darker things more enjoyable to do? Or do you just like it all?
(laughs) I do like it all. I will say that before Orange I enjoyed the darker stuff more. Now, having worked on the show for two years, I like that I get to lighten it up and get back to the comedy aspect of it. Comedy is so hard. It would make me nervous honestly. But, with Orange, I don’t have time to be nervous. I just have to go in and do it. I’ve learned that I love it. I get to play, explore. There’s no wrong or right, you just be. I love that I get to lighten it up now.
Orange has a huge ensemble cast.
Yeah, it’s a lot!
Did you try to ever find ways to make Pidge stand out, or did you have the character actor’s ideal of just wanting to mold the character as a part of the larger whole?
I definitely try to make Pidge pop in my own way, because like you said there are just so many people on the show. There are all these different story lines going on. I could be on screen for a minute, but I need to make the most of that minute. So, definitely, I find my ways to make Pidge pop and give her these characteristics that I can do every now and then.
Now just as a viewer, you went in as a big fan, and now you’ve been on the show for two seasons. Do you see the show differently now that you’ve been on the inside, or do you still just get as caught up in it as you always did?
I still get caught up in it. (laughs heartily) If anything, I love it even more now.
Great! Now with alternative viewing options like Netflix, and Amazon, and cable stations we’re sort of in the Golden Age of television. Do you think that you can do things on a Netflix show or, you’re also going to be going on Sneaky Pete which is an Amazon show, but things that wouldn’t be possible on a traditional network series?
Yeah, I do. That’s what’s changing about television as we know it. There are these other options, viewing options like you said, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, streaming services. There’s a lot of things that are different. Traditional television, you have to wait a week to watch the next episode. With streaming services, you can just binge watch and really enjoy it. I feel like they also take certain risks that traditional television won’t, just when it comes to the stories that are being told. That’s what makes it so different. That’s what allows them to do certain things TV wouldn’t. They’re willing to take the risk. Watching it, and seeing all these different worlds, and stories, and diversity come to life, it’s because of these streaming services.
Like I said, you just got a role on Sneaky Pete. Can you tell us about that role and what you’re going to be doing with the show?
I will be playing an elementary school teacher. I’ve already shot my stuff. (laughs) She’s a little sassy. I really enjoyed playing her because she’s so different from Pidge. I’m more dressed up. I’m wearing makeup. I’m not so purposely boring like Pidge is. (laughs hard again) We finished for the second season, and that was an awesome time on set. I’m excited, it was great.
Was that a guest appearance or a recurring role?
It’s a guest appearance, as far as I’m concerned.
Do you think that maybe it could be a recurring role in future seasons?
Yeah, I think it’s possible. You never know. If they find a way to bring her back that would be amazing, because I had such an amazing time on set. We’ll see what happens!
What other things do you have coming up?
I’m always auditioning, so you never know what I might book next. (laughs) I always tell people that. I love writing, and I’m always writing for my site. I also have a blog about beauty, and skincare, and stuff like that.
What is your blog called?
Oh, it’s just my site, www.themiriammorales.com.
Great, I’ll have to read up some of your stuff then. What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an actress? Do you think you’d be a writer, or what do you think you’d do?
I’ve always wanted to be an actress. Before I was an actor, I was in digital media. Social media and digital media, that was my background. Definitely, I think that I would be a writer as well, because that’s what I am now. That’s a little bit different. I’d still be creating something, because that’s just who I am as a person.
What kind of things about you do you think would surprise people?
Ooh, that’s a good question! (laughs) I like country music. I don’t know if that’ll surprise people but… (laughs again) Trying to think, I don’t know! I think a lot of things would surprise people. Only because initially, I am a little bit reserved when I first meet people. I’m so observant, so I like to just watch, pay attention, and listen. I think people would be surprised that I’m so hyper, and I like to play with voices, and I have all these random little voices. I don’t know, there are a lot of things people would be surprised at.
Just as a fan what kind of things do you like to watch?
I need a combo. I like intense drama, violence, bloody types of things, but I also like the comedies. If Bridesmaids is on TV, I don’t care how many times I’ve watched that movie I will watch it again, because it makes me laugh. I just love it. I’ve seen Breaking Bad like four times, and I’ll probably watch it again. I love Bryan Cranston. I did try to watch a lot of the shows on other streaming services too.
You just mentioned Bryan Cranston. Did you by any chance run into him on Sneaky Pete?
No, but I was hoping that I would. (laughs) I adore him. I just love him so much. He’s great.
One last question to round things off. If you could go into the future and look back at your acting career, how would you like for people to see it?
Oh, wow, you’ve got some really good questions. (laughs) I would want people to see it as a career of constant growth, authenticity to who I am as a person, and representative of my people: my Afro-Latina community.
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 25, 2017.
Photos 1-3 © 2017 JohnGuira Photography. Courtesy of David Lust PR. All rights reserved.
Photo 4 © 2017. Courtesy of Netflix. All rights reserved.