Uzo Aduba, one of the breakout stars of Orange Is the New Black, plays a character whose defining trait is in her nickname: Crazy Eyes. And for Aduba, there's a method to those crazy eyes.
"When she’s serious about anything—whether it's love or hate —it's all about her eyes," Aduba told us in a phone conversation. "If she's in love they get big. And if she's in hate they get really still and really focused and there's no movement at all."
Aduba gets plenty of opportunity to play with those eyes in her attempt to woo Piper, the show's fish out of water main character, a yuppie spending time in prison for carrying drug money. In just one episode, titled "Lesbian Request Denied," Crazy Eyes recites a poem for Piper, throws pie at Piper's ex-girlfriend, and then—in the face of Piper's rejection—pees on her floor.
Aduba—who has done work on Broadway in shows like the Godspell revival—auditioned originally for another part, but was offered Crazy Eyes when the part was still being developed. "When I started reading who Crazy Eyes was I was excited by the challenge," she said. "How do you play someone without stereotyping them?"
She's easily created one of the most fascinating characters on a television show. (She has the Twitter at responses to prove it. In one example Aduba sent us, a fan said she would "willingly be Crazy Eyes Prison Wife.") Crazy Eyes—who does have a name on the show, by the way, and it's Suzanne—comes off as, yes, nuts, but also sweet. As the show goes on you realize that Crazy Eyes isn't just a flat character. She knows Shakespeare, she was adopted by white parents, she's been in and out of the psych ward. In a heartbreaking moment, she asks Piper just why the other inmates call her "Crazy Eyes."
When she approached the character it wasn't about playing to the eyes or necessarily even crazy. "You know what's so funny," she said. "To me, when I started thinking about Crazy Eyes, I thought if it wasn’t so much about the eyes, but about her way of flirting." She explained she focused on things like "how to wink" or how a guy would "raise his eyebrows" at a girl. "I wanted to slightly exaggerate that, just so you know that she’s not doing it right," she said. "She flirts completely with her eyes and her face, so that's where the eyes came from."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.