POPSUGAR: How did you originally end up with the role of Maria?
Jessica Pimentel: There wasn’t anything really drawing me to Maria, in particular, because all the information I had when I went in for her was that her name was Maria and that she was pregnant in jail. That’s all we had. The breakdown was: Maria, very pregnant. We knew that the series was going to be in prison, and we knew who was behind it, who was casting it, and some of the people who were coming in. It was very vague. No full scripts, just a couple of scenes that may or may not end up in the show.
PS: This season, Maria not only gets a backstory, but she's really fleshed out as a character. We see her go from the background of Litchfield to the leader of the Dominican inmates in the prison. Did your personal heritage have an affect on how you approached playing her in season four?
JP: Absolutely. My parents came to the US in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, as children themselves. My mom came here when she was 12, turning 13. Dominicans are very proud people, and I wouldn’t say that my personal story matches Maria’s in any way, but there is that same sense of national pride. When she says, “Everything tastes better over there” and that “It doesn’t taste the same here,” I find that my aunts and uncles all say that. Like the beer Presidente tastes better back home. So that was a really cool thing for me. Dominican pride is very strong in our culture.
PS: Was your character Dominican from the get-go, or did they add that into her story when they learned that you were, too?
JP: Maria was Latin, but we didn’t know too many details. I was like, “How old am I?” and they’d be like, “I don’t know, how old are you? Your age?” Then I’d ask them, “Am I Dominican? Puerto Rican?” I really didn’t know, until things were eventually fleshed out in the writers' room. There would come points where I would have to ask, “Am I Columbian? Am I Mexican? Am I half Mexican? Half black? Half white?” From [Maria]’s age to where she was from, it all kind of unfolded over time.
PS: You had a lot of incredible scenes this season, but if you had to narrow it down, which was your favorite as an actress?
JP: There’s so many! It’s hard to pick one, but I would say filming with Piscatella. Before filming that scene where it’s just the two of us, we had never worked together. We had kind of seen each other around, but we’d never spent any time together. So that scene in the office where I come in guns blazing and then leave just destroyed was an epic scene to shoot. It was just the two of us in a quiet place, and when 99 percent of the time there’s a bunch of other actors screaming or talking in the scene, or we're all outside in some hot conditions . . . this one was such an intimate scene between two people. What you don’t realize is that there were another 50 people in the room, working, sweating, tired, and it was the last scene of the day. We had done it so many different ways, and he was an excellent partner to work with. He just took me from feeling rage to being neutral, from anger to feeling calm, and then completely broken down, and he kept allowing me to change my reactions and roll right with me. He really made me cry like a little b*tch, basically.