The fourth season of Netflix’s smash dramedy Orange Is the New Black, released last week, has already made seismic pop-cultural shockwaves across the Internet with its new depths of dark realism and shocking twists. But when star Kate Mulgrew joined Rolling Stone for an exclusive interview, she had bigger matters on her mind than series plot spoilers.
In the video above, Mulgrew discusses her character, the fiery Russian H.B.I.C. of the kitchen nicknamed “Red,” but also speaks to the real-world political significance of the deplorable conditions in Litchfield Penitentiary. “The prison system is not only corrupt, but it’s direly overcrowded,” Mulgrew says. “We have far too many men, particularly African-American men, in prison. We don’t seem to be able to change the system on any kind of fundamental level, I don’t know why. But Jenji [Kohan]’s doing that slowly, using Orange as her device. I’m very proud to be a part of that.”
Though she first rose to prominence for her role as Capt. Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, she confided that doing right by Orange Is the New Black‘s subject material was a challenge she hadn’t previously encountered in her prolific career. “It makes me think I might be like that myself, if I was behind bars,” Mulgrew says. She found meaning in the position of kitchen tsar, creating a sense of purpose from otherwise menial work: “That’s the only way to lift it up. It’s too, in a sense, not fantasize it, but make whatever your job is as rich as you possibly can, as important as you possibly can, as central to the well-being of your girls as you possibly can.”
And in the bonus interview below, Mulgrew dug a little deeper on her methods as a performer. As she tells it, she got the chance to internalize this character in a way unlike many of her past roles: “I have a darkness. Kate Mulgrew has a very serious darkness. I don’t let many people see that, but it’s always an undercurrent in everything I do.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about her craft. (“I live for the process,” she explains, “I don’t live for the endgame. I really want to swim in the process.”) She expresses the affecting synergy between actor and character with one simple, powerful phrase: “It’s a magical thing, when the character you’re inhabiting inhabits you.”