When we first meet Blanca Flores, Orange Is the New Black's frizzy-haired inmate played by Laura Gómez, she's screaming in a bathroom stall, presumably at herself. Later, we realize that she's actually hidden a cell phone behind one of its walls and was talking to her boyfriend, using her erratic behavior as a cover. It's that kind of ingenious stunt that makes you realize, when it comes to her character, there's more than meets the unibrow. "She's very wise," said Gómez, a native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on a recent visit to InStyle's N.Y.C. offices. "The things she says are odd, but everything makes sense when you think about it." Below, she talked more about getting a backstory, her on-set transformation, and how OITNB reflects real-life political issues. Spoilers ahead.
Did you have any idea that the Latinas were going to become the majority at Litchfield?
Not at all. I didn't even realize how powerful [the group] was until I saw it on-screen. It's a writer's gift to humanize these characters and shock everyone's expectations. We discover a different side of Blanca—I call her Revolutionary Blanca. I love the hints in the backstory of how her temperament is already there, brewing to the point of becoming the one who gives everybody else the courage to rebel.
Were you surprised by Blanca's backstory?
I remember reading it and going bananas. In season one, Blanca was a bit of a caricature—she didn't seem to have very many layers. But she likes books; she took care of the elderly. There's functionality to her life behind the crazy physicalities. I always joke with my Latina castmates that she has the most functional relationship of them all. It's ironic that the craziest one has the most functional relationship!
That NSFW scene was definitely shocking ...
I did not see that coming! I texted [OITNB creator] Jenji [Kohan], "Oh my god, this is insane!" But it makes so much sense. As a person, I might be shy about it, but as an actor, it rocked! It really shows this animal side of Blanca, which you can see in jail when she challenges authority.
You look nothing like your character. How long does it take you to cycle through hair and makeup on-set?
I try to help as much as I can with my hair—I leave it curly and let nature do its thing. I shower though! I shower. And the unibrow is an eye pencil—our then-makeup artist was inspired by Frida Kahlo. The whole physical transformation is so freeing. It really helps me become the character. There's no sense of vanity whatsoever. In the case of Blanca, I think it's a defense mechanism. Letting herself go like that physically is a way for her to not deal with any sense of self, because you don't feel like yourself when you're in prison.
As a Dominican, do you identify with her overwhelming sense of Dominican pride?
When you're a minority within a minority and all of a sudden there's power in numbers, you can feel validated. This season showed a lot about Latino culture in prison, which is another community of people that the justice system abuses a lot. That's what's great about the show: It mirrors society.
That's sadly true. And recent cases of police brutality made the season finale particularly tough to watch.
That was such a difficult day on-set. It's like Jenji had a crystal ball or something. Whoever is not educated in everything that's going on in the world was certainly educated in that scene.
Did you really stand on a table for an extended period of time?
That was not as difficult as it looked, except that I had recently gotten knee surgery. Every time we cut, I got to sit down. I had a bottle of water. Blanca didn't.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.