We know her as the bank robbing, cancer ridden, all around badass, Miss Rosa on the Jenji Kohan juggernaut, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. What you may not know is that Barbara Rosenblat has won eight Audie Awards for her incredible voiceover work and has voiced over five hundred audio books. She has also performed on stage and in numerous shows and films throughout her remarkable career. I spoke with Barbara about her preparation for Miss Rosa, her thoughts on Pipers transformation, and where she thinks Miss Rosa is now.
You’ve voiced hundreds of audio books over the years. How is your preparation different for an audio book verses a show like ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK?
Barbara Rosenblat: It’s a completely different discipline as are all disciplines in the performing arts, like doing cabaret, radio, or preparing for a play. Preparing for an audio book is preparing to take on the mantel of the author’s dramatic arc, the author’s intent. So that when I read and prepare to go into the studio I get a large overview of where the author was going. His tonal imprint in the writing and so by the end of the time I have prepared for it I have a pretty good idea of what the whole audio canvas is like.
How was the whole process of becoming Miss Rosa?
I had no expectations when I joined the company in season 1. It really is a company; I’ve never been so excited to be with a bunch of people who single-mindedly want to make this thing fly, and apparently we succeeded. I came in as a cancer-ridden inmate, Miss Rosa. I didn’t even know her last name in season one, I didn’t know what cancer she had or what she went to prison for, all of that started to emerge in season two. With what I had in season one I started to take all of the experience I have as an actor from theater, Broadway, and audio book and try to craft someone that I could believe in, myself. I brought that to season two and happily they started to develop that into what we have now.
What was your initial reaction to finding out that she would go to prison for robbing banks?
I thought that was amazing! Especially when I did that first chemo scene with that young boy, Yusef played brilliantly by Ben Koningsberg. This is a fellow who doesn’t believe that I’m anything more than some poor old git in prison, who has a problem that they’re both there for, which is cancer. When he discovers that she has a prior history that’s kind of colorful he doesn’t believe her. She looks at him and gives one of my favorite lines of the entire season, which is “Google me.” (Laughs)
Aside from Miss Rosa, who was your favorite character this season?
I don’t know. The beauty of the writing by Jenji Kohan and her amazing group of writers is that all of the characters have such strengths that weave in and out of this tapestry that you get so attached to. It’s like asking me what’s my favorite audio book or who is my favorite child. They are all so rich, even large demographics are rich, like the GOLDEN GIRLS and such. It’s so hard to pick a favorite.
How did you feel about Miss Rosa being the one to end Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) in the season finale?
Well I never saw that coming! (Laughs) We’re working through season two and I start having all of these uncomfortable encounters with not so nice people in the prison. I’m thinking to myself, “hmm this is not going to end well.” But little did I know they were going to take this exceller train and drive it into where they did. I don’t wish to spoil it for some of the people who didn’t binge like thousands others did at a minute past midnight in the beginning of June. But it was pretty sensational when I finally had the last two scripts in my hot little hands I ran into the bathroom and started screaming for five minutes.
What did you think of Pipers (Taylor Schilling) transformation from the first season to this one? How do you think she’ll change next season?
I see her evolving as many of the viewers have because she went in as this poor, blonde character and had to become a survivor. A survivor learning tools with rules that have never been written, she makes them up as she goes as her character. Just to get from day to day because there is the pleasant and the not so pleasant and the glorious and the horrifying, all taking place in those walls. I see her continuing on this journey, it just fleshes her out beautifully as it does for everyone in the cast.
As a viewer what would you like to see next season?
I think the key that Jenji unlocked for TV viewers, which makes ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK so primal for people, is the fact that she has unlocked these back-stories of these women. People that you would walk away from, people whose lives don’t matter to so many. And yet their back-stories are rich, even if they are horrifyingly uncomfortable as we see many of them are. I think the public, at least what I’ve seen is people want to know why everybody’s in prison, because it’s just so delicious to find out why these people behave the way they do. Television hasn’t dealt with subject matter like this before, or gone into such detail with subject matter like this before, and that’s what makes this such groundbreaking TV.
How do you think the show would have been received if it was on a network rather than made available for streaming online?
I have to say Netflix invented binge watching. I think they started with HOUSE OF CARDS, which is a terrific series as well. But the binge watching has created a new community of television viewers. Because of social media and the millions of demographics dealt with in the series it’s almost like being in a thirteen and a half hour movie. When you can get invested in something and then keep going. It’s almost like when someone gives you a book for your birthday, and it’s something you’ve wanted to read for a long, long time, no one tells you you have to stop after chapter three. You take it to bed and all of a sudden it’s dawn, because you’re so invested in the book, it’s the same here with binge watching. The energies were created for this season and were written into the end of the episode and then in the beginning of the following episode were monumental. They gave people an opportunity to stay connected with it to the point where all of a sudden it’s four AM. I can’t imagine what it was like at the end of that premiere weekend, all of the bleary eyes that walked into the office on Monday morning.
At the end of this season we learned that Miss Rosa only had a few weeks left. What do you think she did in her final weeks?
I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about that for ages. It’s just hanging there, it’s such a heroic decision that she makes, which impacts the entire seasons storyline and what she does, I don’t know. I would hope that she would find peace somewhere that isn’t surrounded by barbed wire.
Victoria Nelli loves TV so much that she is paying $30,000 a year to learn about it in College. When she’s not learning about TV she enjoys writing about her favorite shows, interviewing anyone in the industry that will let her, and ranting about how underrated Parks and Recreation is. She is very much aware of her Netflix addiction, and no she will not be seeking help anytime soon. You can follow her on Twitter @VictoriaNelli