Laverne Cox scored not only an Emmy nomination for playing prisoner Sophia Burset on the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black (OITNB), but also iconic trailblazer status as an openly transgender actress, activist, and role model. She was named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2015, and last June Madame Tussauds San Francisco unveiled its wax figure of Cox, making her the first transgender individual to be immortalized by the world-famous tourist attraction. Meanwhile, Cox performed opposite longtime LGBT icon Lily Tomlin in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival dramedhit Grandma.
Beyond her onscreen career (credits also include The Mindy Project and MTV’s Faking It), she is the executive producer of FREE CeCe!, a documentary about CeCe McDonald, an African American transgender woman incarcerated in a men’s prison for killing a bigoted attacker in self-defense. While shooting season four of OITNB, which debuts in June, Cox took a break to join us in the VIP Lounge.
You, of course, play a prisoner on OITNB. Is there a crime you would be willing to do some jail time for in real life?
My sensibility is there is nothing I am willing to go to jail for. Honestly, and that’s deep. I think about causes, like how people in the Black Lives Matter movement are often arrested, but the whole idea of getting arrest- ed as a black transgender woman is horrify- ing to me. What trans people endure in prison, and what everyone endures in prison, is horrible! My mom’s like, ‘if you’re ever in jail I’m not coming to visit you.’ My mom’s a very supportive person, but that’s a boundary.
What’s happening with your documentary FREE CeCe!, and how has that experience been so far?
We’re in postproduction and listening to music and editing. CeCe McDonald, I’m just so in awe of her. Her strength, resilience, intelligence, and she’s so charismatic. We started this film a couple of years ago, we wanted to tell this story, and were on our way to Minnesota to interview CeCe in prison, and we had no idea how she would be on
camera. We lucked out. She’s so compelling as the subject of this documentary. We’re just trying to structure the story now.
You’ve toured a bit with your speaking engagement, Ain’t I a Woman. Have any of these experiences and responses stood out for you?
Several. I was at Loyola University and a student came to the meet and greet and said, ‘My friend Shane couldn’t come, but here’s a letter from him.’ I got back to my hotel and the letter brought me to tears. I asked permission from Shane to talk about this. He said how he felt suicidal and identified as transgender at age 15 and wrote, ‘I’m an actor and singer and musician and didn’t think it would be possible to have a career doing what I love because I’m trans, but then I saw you on OITNB and my world changed, and now I’ve transitioned, and I’m a theater major at Loyola and pursuing my dreams and believe they are possible because of you.’ That was a really beautiful moment. Earlier this year, the Feminist Majority honored [OITNB creator] Jenji Kohan and I got to read excerpts from that letter to Jenji. I wouldn’t have this moment if it wasn’t for her giving me this job. I have a lot of gratitude that people’s lives are being changed because of me getting to pursue my dream publicly. That’s pretty awesome.
As a New Yorker, share some of your favorite local spots and recommendations for visitors.
Well, my favorite French fries in the city, although I try not to eat too many lately, are at L’Express on 20th Street and Park Avenue. They also have this coffee drink with Kahlua, Bailey’s, espresso, and cinnamon that’s amazing. A few doors down is Big Daddy’s, which is this big diner that’s kitschy and awesome and has an amazing ‘mac and cheese Monday.’ The Dream Hotel in the Meatpacking District has a downstairs bar with an amazing mac and cheese with green peas. Oh honey, my mouth is watering thinking about that mac-and-cheese. I’m always trying to check out new places, too. It’s one of the great things about the city. Also the rooftop bar at The Standard. It’s
so much fun during the summer and the view is gorgeous.
What is your number-one travel tip?
I’m on the road all the time and comfort for me is really crucial. I wear sweats in the airport, and I don’t check bags, either. So pack light and dress comfortably.
What do you always pack?
I always have a backup wig! Oh yeah. I want to have hair options.
What is your dream destination?
Well, I’m going to Tokyo at the end of the month to promote OITNB, because we’re launching the show there on Japan’s Netflix. I went to Paris for the first time this year, and I want to go back. I loved Paris. I still haven’t been to London or Amsterdam — lots of places I want to visit.
So let’s imagine that you’re going to take a road trip with another high-profile transgender individual. Who would you choose to go with?
Well, I wouldn’t want to do a road trip in real life because I don’t like to be in a car for more than two hours, so it would be a road trip movie. I love Jamie Clayton, who’s in the new Netflix series Sense8. We’ve worked together before. There’s a young actress named Harmony Santana who was in the film Gun Hill Road. I’d love to work with her. There are a lot of young talented actresses I’d love to work with.