“…Every character and every line on the show has a purpose and after watching this season, I understood why my character was needed to make you laugh at those particular moments.”
– Jackie Cruz
Jackie Cruz is best known for her role of Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales on Orange is the New Black, but she does more than just act. Jackie was born in Queens, but grew up in between Los Angeles, Miami, and the Dominican Republic with her single mother and aunts. Since she was six-years-old, Jackie was determined to make music and act, which has led her to a significant role in the hit Netflix series and the singer of The Family Portrait. In our exclusive interview with Jackie, she dives into her purpose on Orange is the New Black and what she is most passionate about – music, acting, and activism. Check out the interview and photography by Tina Turnbow for The Untitled Magazine below.
Untitled Magazine: How did you get started acting?
Jackie Cruz: I fell in love with acting after I saw the movie The Bodyguard, when I was around six-years-old in the Dominican Republic. The movie was dubbed in Spanish but I was in love with Whitney’s voice and my dream of singing and acting started there. After that, I told my mother I wanted to act and sing so she put me in a music and acting school called Centro de la Cultura. I studied acting there until we finally moved to California at age 15.
UM: Who did you look to for inspiration growing up?
JC: I was raised by my powerful, beautiful aunts, and mother. They were my inspiration and they were the ones who pushed me to follow my dreams. I was also inspired by Selena Quintanilla. I saw a young woman who was Latina making it in America, and she represented someone like me.
UM: Tell us about playing Flaca in Season 5 of OITNB – any highlights?
JC: I have grown as an actor and person in the last five years on Orange is the New Black. My character started with two lines and now she’s grown into a fan favorite. Season 5 was the most fun I’ve had on set because I got to work a lot with my best friend Diane Guerrero, and we had the time of our lives. We also had some very touching moments and I didn’t realize how important our moments were on the show until this season. What I mean by that is that every character and every line on the show has a purpose and after watching this season, I understood why my character was needed to make you laugh at those particular moments. Season 5 was incredible like every other season, and we always leave you wanting more.
UM: Do you relate to your OITNB character, Flaca, in real life?
JC: I always say that Flaca is my alter ego and yes I do relate to her in real life. We have a few things in common like our love for music and emotional boys. I also sometimes wish I could be as brave as she is. Flaca says what’s on her mind and she doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks about her. She and I also have a best friend in common, and I’m so happy that I could share this journey with Diane.
UM: What are some of the biggest struggles you have had to overcome working as an actress?
JC: The struggle is real! Hollywood is definitely changing, but it’s also taking its time – in the way of opportunities. When I first started acting, I was this little girl from the Dominican Republic who had long curly hair, brown skin and spoke fluent Spanish. Hollywood didn’t know what to do with me, so jobs were very few and far between, so I turned to music and started writing what I felt. I actually gave up on acting and focused on my music career and that’s what brought me to New York. I don’t think I had auditioned for anything in 6 years before booking Orange is the New Black. I wanted to give acting another chance and Flaca was my first audition in New York. Now, I am blessed to work on a show that is pioneering and changing the game in Hollywood with the most beautiful, talented and empowering women.
There is still a struggle in Hollywood when it comes to being stereotyped, but instead of complaining about it, I wanted to be a part of the change and break barriers, so I started my own production company and just got my first short funded. It’s called “Unspoken Productions” and through this I want to be able show more diversity on screen and work with women producers, directors, and writers.
UM: You got into music before acting. How did you get into music? Do you prefer one over the other?
JC: I can’t pick or choose what I love the most. They are both a form of art and I can express myself by writing my own music or playing a unique role. What I love the most about music is that it’s my most vulnerable side and you actually see me, and when I act I become someone else which is much easier for me.
UM: You also have your own band called The Family Portrait can you tell us about that?
JC: We started playing around 5 years ago and we kept adding friends that loved to jam out. Now we have almost like a super group! We all love music and we found each other through music. We actually just added Madeline Brewer to the band. I thought she would be a beautiful addition to the group because she has a phenomenal voice and we sound great together. The Family Portrait is not about one person – we all get a chance to shine and support one another while doing our own solo projects. We just make music because we love it and have fun while doing it.
UM: Besides being an actress, you are also an activist. What issues are you most passionate about?
JC: I’ve become really passionate about prison reform. Being on Orange is the New Black really changed my perspective on the way I look and think about prisoners, and I didn’t know the harsh conditions in prison until I started working on the show. You honestly can end up in prison for the most minor things and you can just get thrown in there and forgotten about so easily. I didn’t know much about private prisons and the business behind it. I’m so happy that our show brings awareness to these issues and that it’s not just for entertainment. I also feel like we are bringing light to an awful situation and are hopefully making a difference.
UM: What was your inspiration behind Chillhouse?
JC: One of my best friends, Cyndi Ramirez, had this dream of opening a place where girls could come to relax and chill before or after a crazy New York day. I thought it was an amazing idea so I invested in Chillhouse and Cyndi and I have been working on it for the last year.
UM: Are you looking to expand Chillhouse to other NYC locations or beyond?
JC: We hope to open a house in Miami and Los Angeles next.
UM: What can we look forward to from you in 2017? Any new plans you would like to share?
JC: Hopefully we will get to see more Flaca, but we never know. In the meantime, I’m working on new music with a few amazing producers, Andre Harris and Develop. I’m also working on my short and have some other irons in the fire. Stay tuned!
PHOTOGRAPHY: Tina Turnbow
HAIR: Tommy Buckett
MAKEUP: Joshua Ristaino
LOCATION: Serge Normant At John Frieda