Lea DeLaria's career as a comedienne, actress and jazz musician has spanned four decades, taking in high-profile appearances in Will & Grace
. But the 56-year-old's mission to break down barriers has taken on a new lease of life since she was cast as one of Litchfield Penitentiary's finest in Netflix smash Orange Is the New Black
As Carrie 'Big Boo' Black, DeLaria has become the most visible "butch dyke" on television, and could often be seen with doggy sidekick Little Boo before things 'got weird' between the pair.
I caught up with Lea last weekend at Manchester Pride, where she was serving as Grand Marshal. Here, she tells me what we can expect from OITNB
Season 3, chats about life as a 'celesbian', and explains why the LGBT community trying to assimilate with straight culture "annoys the shit" out of her.
So you’re here at Manchester Pride as this year’s Grand Marshal – what’s the reaction been like?
“Oh my God, I’ve been getting my picture taken a lot, I’ll say that! That’s been going on since the show originally aired, but it’s probably a little more here because there’s such a concentration of gay people in the vicinity! But the reality is it doesn’t matter: gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, old, young; everybody watches the show. It’s crazy! It’s been a really fun Pride season. Manchester always shows people a good time. If people ask me to be at their Pride parade I will do everything in my power to get there!”
So you’re in the middle of filming for season three of OITNB. Are you enjoying being back?
“Oh please, please! I wish I could do it every day! Trust me, it’s so much fun, the set is great, the show is great, it’s going great!”
Can you give us any teasers as to what’s in store for Big Boo this season?
"Hahaha, oh my God. Yes, Big Boo actually turns heterosexual in season three, I know that’s going to be a shock to everyone! Haha, oh come ON – you know I can’t tell you anything! You know! I know you have to ask, I understand, but this is my standard quote, this is what I can tell you about season three: I’m in it. It comes out in 2015! And I think can add that I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed with season three. Honestly, I think people are really going to love it; it’s really, really funny."
Speaking of Big Boo though, just how much of her do you identify with?!
“Big Boo?! Oh please, I AM Big Boo! Oh fuck, are you kidding me. Do I identify with Big Boo? I am Big Boo! It’s ridiculous to think of it in any other way. I think they sit around in the writers’ room and go ‘What’s the craziest-ass thing we can do?’ They think of it and then go ‘Let’s give it to Lea!’ Always. So other than the crazy-ass shit they have Big Boo do that I would never do, I am Big Boo without a doubt. I mean, I’m not going to fuck myself with a screwdriver, but granted I’m outside of the prison so I can buy a vibrator, you know?! Hahaha! And I would never involve peanut butter with any animal, 'cause that’s not me! Of course when I read that, we were all like ‘There’s a fine line here! This needs to be funny; we don’t want to be picketed by PETA!’”
Poor Little Boo…
“Poor Little Boo! Little Boo, however – just to be clear – has the worst breath of any animal that has ever existed on the planet. When I let Little Boo lick my face I was taking one for the team, let me tell you! That dog needed a bath once in a while too! She was a great show business dog – I loved her and she loved me – but after a while she’d come up the step and I’d be like ‘Oh maaaaan!’ Her real name was Adrienne and I’d be like ‘Adrienne! Tell your mommy to give you a bath! Hahaha!”
Did you ever imagine that the show would take off in the way it has done?
“Nobody can imagine this! Come on, who imagines this! At the most we were like ‘Let’s get two seasons out of this, we’re having a lot of fun, it’s a great show.’ You could tell it was good. I think a lot of us could tell it was extraordinary, but in our business sometimes extraordinary gets fucking kicked in the ass. I can name several times that – you know Arrested Development
comes to mind – where they just kick these shows off the air and they’re great shows. Family Guy
was fucking cancelled I can’t even tell you how many times. It’s like, we knew it was extraordinary but not in our wildest dreams… tt’s worked way better than anyone could have imagined.”
And it’s almost been experimental in terms of putting so many women front and centre
“When have you ever had that many women in a show? They’re real, and I think that’s what’s important. They’re not worried about how to clean the sink, they’re talking about their real lives and their real problems. Again I think that’s one of the reasons people relate to it, because you very rarely get to see that, just someone you can relate to as a human being, on television. In detective stories or dramas the women are always stunning and the men are stunning – and I’m not saying we’re ugly, we’re far from ugly – but we’re real! You know, we don’t put make-up on. When we’re on set they’ll come up to me and go ‘Oh you’ve got some red on your face, don’t touch it!’ and I can’t imagine anyone saying that on the Nurse Jackie
set, which is the next show down. It’s honest, and I think people have been starving for that, honestly.”
Gay men have really bought into OITNB in a way that perhaps they didn’t with other shows with heavy lesbian representation such as The L Word. Why do you think that is?
“The L Word
was a soap opera though, right! It wasn’t real. It wasn’t meant to be real and it wasn’t marketed towards – it wasn’t even marketed towards lesbians or gay men at all – it was actually a show that was created for, as every show at that time was, for boys between the ages of 16 and 27. That, like all television shows [then], was created so straight men could sell products. I mean, you can tell what the show’s created for by the products that they sell in the commercials. That’s why I think, again [OITNB
] is real. It’s funny, it’s written really well, and gay men love a show that’s written well – they love
that. And, you now, it’s not a ‘lesbian’ show – as much as we love the lesbian sex that’s going on in it and the lesbian characters that are in it – it’s a human show. And gay people are 10% of that population so they have to have us in there.”
Similarly, it’s great to see masculine lesbian characters represented on screen so well - it's a change from the lipstick lesbians often portrayed in Hollywood. Especially as Big Boo is so, erm, sexually liberated...
“Yeah, the butch dykes! I’ve never seen ‘me’ on TV, ever. When they get close it, she’s always stupid, picking a fight, kicking somebody’s ass. You never see ‘me’, the real me, and by me I mean the face of that butch dyke. So obviously that’s something I love and basically that’s what I’ve been trying to do my entire life, is put a positive spin on that. So often within the queer community you hear people say ‘It’s OK to be a lesbian, just don’t be that
kind of lesbian’, in the same way people say to gay men ‘Don’t be a nelly queen’. Well I fuckin’ love nelly queens! Nothing makes me happier than a screaming queen! Stand by me honey, because we will fuckin’ laugh for hours together! And I fuckin’ hate that we’ve become that in our community. It begs the questions ‘Are we a community? Or are we just a bunch of factions who don’t trust each other?’ We really need to embrace all of us.”
And as we’re at Pride, what do you make of them these days?
“Pride is very important, but it has kind of been taken over by these middle-class, mainstream assimilationists, let’s put it that way. Not really my bag. I find it really fucking annoying when I go to a Pride and there’s some white queen up there saying how we’re just like everyone else, it pisses me off. And it’s usually the second he gets that sentence out of his mouth, that’s when the six-and-a-half-foot drag queen walks by and opens his butterfly wings, you know what I mean?! It’s Pride, we should have a little pride in who we are, and we should be celebrating that at gay pride instead of looking straight-as! I’ve been to many Prides that are like that and it annoys the shit outta me! And you know, when that happens, - as you can tell – I have a lot to say about it!”
Do you think that changing peoples' perception of gender roles and being butch or femme is still a big issue to tackle?
“Gender is stupid. I think that there are way more than two genders, I agree with people that postulate that opinion. And again we go back to that assimilationist thing about middle-class white gay people that have taken over this movement in a lot of places. It just comes to that, that we’re like the dirty secret of the community that they want to hide behind closed doors because heaven forbid that straight people see us ‘acting up'! It’s so a part of who we are and so unique to us that we should be embracing this. It’s about who we are. And need I remind you, if it wasn’t for nelly fags and butch dykes there would have been no Stonewall, it was them who turned the police cars over. People forgot the history and once you forget your history you are fucked! You need to know where you came from.”
How do you feel about being seen as a role model for young lesbians?
“I think it’s frightening! When I’m a fuckin’ role model, I think we’re in trouble, hahaha! You know, I always try to say I don’t want to be called a role model, because my job for 33 years has been to talk about our society and if you’re a role model you have to, sort of, tow the party line, and I’d rather point out hypocrisy when I see it. I’ll let other people have that thing. Rather than a role model I’ll be a ‘celesbian’ or a ‘dykon’! Haha! Don’t forget that there are people in other countries, who message me on Instagram from India and Singapore, who are actually afraid for their life - because being a butch dyke at the age of 14 and not knowing what to do about it is fucking scary. So when it comes to people contacting me, I do take that responsibility to my heart. I’m concerned about the state of our youth. It’s one of the reasons I came out in the first place, so that people would have that person to see and know they’re not the only one.”
Seasons one and two of Orange Is the New Black are available to watch on Netflix now.