Gloria Mendoza has spent two seasons dishing out plenty of attitude and tough love on "Orange Is The New Black," but actress Selenis Leyva says fans will soon see her character "come undone."
The 43-year-old actress recently spoke with The Huffington Post about what direction Gloria and her Latina crew are heading in the third season of the Netflix series, set to premiere June 12. Leyva also opened up about the impact the show has had on Latinos and her take on diversity on television.
Before season two’s premiere last year, we spoke about the impact “Orange Is The New Black” has had on Latinas in television. Now that you’ve wrapped up a third season, what are your thoughts?
I think that in the beginning for the most part, I was completely bombarded by questions or comments about stereotypes of Latinas in this particular show. I would laugh because anybody that really saw the show would see that these characters are so layered; and we’re dealing with prison number one and there are so many stereotypes in prison as it is. It’s not just the Latino community, it’s across the board. So now that has died down, and I’m so happy because people finally see that this show is so much more.
This is a group of different types of Latinas, which is fantastic and educational too to Hollywood. [To show] how we come in different forms and shapes and all kinds of loveliness. After season three, I really feel that the Latinas on the show are being looked at even more. Our stories are being told more, backstories that are being introduced that we haven’t seen before. We’re revisiting things. And we’re really showing these women in a very different light, and that’s great because that has not happened up until now. It really truly hasn’t happened.
One of the backstories we saw last season was actually Gloria’s. We also saw her running a very tight ship in the kitchen. So what can we expect from her this season?
You’re definitely going to see her in a very different light. I felt the third season for me was refreshing as an actor to play this very wonderful difficult moment in the season, which I appreciate. That means that there is more depth, conflict is good. When you give a character conflict that’s a good thing. You will see her calming down a little bit. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but you will see her come undone, and I think the audience will relate to that in a wonderful way because it just makes us so human to see another person who is so tough really have a moment where you just see them for who and what they really are.
Selenis Leyva as Gloria Mendoza (center) flanked by the Latina crew on "Orange Is The New Black." (AP Photo/Netflix, K.C. Bailey)
And the thing about Gloria is that she has a tough exterior but very motherly instincts.
Yes, and you’re going to see a lot more of that, of that motherly side of her. This year we’re dealing with faith and motherhood, that’s basically the kind of things that are going to bring season three together. Somehow.
What about the Latina crew, what can we expect from them?
We still have Daya’s story, which is interesting and we’re a part of it. The beautiful thing about the crew this season is that what’s happening to one is almost affecting us all. That’s what I really love about the crew of Latinas. They really are a family, dysfunctional at times but still a family. They love each other and they stick by each other, and this season you’re going to see how one thing that may be happening to one character trickles in and affects them all in a really beautiful way.
"There was this Latin explosion at one time, and it was literally called the ‘Latin Explosion,’ which is funny to me. And what happens with explosions? It explodes and the smoke clears and that’s it."
With shows like “Orange Is The New Black,” “Empire” and “Jane The Virgin,” it’s clear that diversity on television is on the rise. But do you think it’s a passing trend or do you see real change happening behind the scenes?
You know, I really hope it’s not a passing trend. [With] 20 years in this industry, you do see a lot of passing trends. I remember when particular networks put on a diversity showcase, and I don’t really know what came from that. I felt it was a trend like the Ricky Martin trend and Jennifer ... there was this Latin explosion at one time, and it was literally called the ‘Latin Explosion,’ which is funny to me. And what happens with explosions? It explodes and the smoke clears and that’s it.
But I’m hoping that because of “Orange Is The New Black,” Gina Rodriguez in “Jane The Virgin” and “Empire” and all these shows that really are diverse, that Hollywood is finally paying attention and realizing that they can’t stick to “Oh, I don’t know if people will watch. I don’t know if these type of actors can bring in an audience. I don’t know if the Midwest is ready for this.” Clearly, the world is ready because if it wasn’t I don’t think that “Orange Is The New Black” would be the success that it is. I think we’re ready for it. I think we need to give the audience a little bit more credit. So I hope, because I’ve been through a lot of Latin explosions, that this not just a passing fancy and this is something bigger.
Speaking of something bigger, you recently joined the cast of “Custody,” starring alongside Oscar-nominated actress Catalina Sandino (“Maria Full Of Grace”) and Viola Davis (“How To Get Away With Murder”). Tell me about that.
It’s a great film that deals with a woman’s (Sandino) struggle as she is threatened with losing her children, and Viola Davis plays a judge in this. There are other wonderful actors that I almost fell off my seat when I realized it. I think it’s going to do really, really well. The beauty of it is that my character comes in and she’s Catalina’s [character’s] friend. Her name is Jackie, my character. She’s free-spirited, loving and kind of a little oblivious. Not in a mean way, but a little self-absorbed. It’s fun to play someone who is a little lighter than what I’ve been playing for the past three seasons. Not that I’m complaining.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.