Alumni Samira Wiley in OUT Magazine
Ingenue Of The Year – Samira Wiley can pinpoint the exact moment acting took hold of her. She was in the third grade, attending an oratorical contest at her school, and she was bored in the way that most children made to sit still are.
“I remember it so vividly,” Wiley says. “There was this girl who went to my school, and she did a Nikki Giovanni poem, ‘Ego Tripping,’ and it was just different from everyone else’s. It wasn’t flat recitation. It had an energy and a life to it. And it made me sit up in my seat, and my eyes got wide, and I really felt inside myself, She’s making me feel things. I want to do that.”
Nearly two decades later, in the summer of 2014, devoted fans binge-watched the entire second season of the hit series Orange Is the New Black, to discover that Wiley, as inmate Poussey Washington, had taken them through the entire spectrum of human emotions. “After the first season, my life definitely changed,” she says. “But after the second season, I feel like it’s changed ten-fold.”
In season 1, we knew Poussey as a scrappy goofball with a penchant for Ina Garten. In season 2, we watched painfully as she had her heart broken (as a young Army brat torn from her German girlfriend) and her spirits and body shattered, only to emerge stronger than ever by believing in her own convictions. “In figuring out her arc during season 2,” Wiley says, “I didn’t realize how big she was until the end of it, looking back and thinking, Huh. She’s kind of the hero.”
Her delayed reaction could be read as modesty, but it speaks to Wiley’s dramatic origins. “When I was younger in the theater, I didn’t really feel like I got much recognition from the powers that be,” she says. “I got a lot of small roles — I never got the standout roles.”
Still, she pursued acting doggedly throughout high school at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., and later went on to study at Juilliard, meeting her OITNB co-star Danielle Brooks, who helped get her an audition for the show and whose character, Taystee, she fell in love with on-screen this year.