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Actress Selenis Leyva makes the most out of small moments. She plays the character Gloria on the hit Netflix series Orange Is The New Black. With the raise of an eyebrow or the turn of her head, Leyva’s Gloria is full of attitude and opinion. Gloria is a fierce Latina, trying to survive in prison. And in real life, Leyva is just as passionate.  “When I think of a Latina, I think of a strong survivor and that’s what Gloria Mendoza is,” says Leyva.

She was born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of a Dominican mother and a Cuban father. She began her acting career in Latino theater groups and comedy clubs in New York City, and very quickly felt what it was like to be pigeon caged in stereotypical roles. “There were many, many occasions where I felt that I was not given an opportunity because I was not fair-skinned,” she says.

It took her twenty years of struggling as an actress before her big break on “Orange”. In that time, however, her life experience has informed her role on the show her view of what it means to be a celebrity. In this extended interview, she opens up to Maria Hinojosa about the long winding road to fame, and what she plans to do with it now that she’s there.

 

Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for New York