‘Orange Is The New Black’ Actress Jessica Pimentel On Maria’s Arc In Season 4: BUST Interview

by Gabrielle Diekhoff

It’s been nearly two weeks since Netflix’s hit comedy-drama series Orange is the New Black returned for its highly-anticipated fourth season; and, unless you live under a rock, you’ve most likely heard by now that this season is unprecedentedly wild, action-packed, and as emotionally-draining as television can be. As a huge fan of OITNB, I’m proud to say that I didn’t totally veg out and watch all 13 episodes in one exhaustingly long binge session (for those of you who did — no shame — it happens to the best of us).

I still have a few episodes to go, so I don’t yet know what all is to come in this season, but I recently had the opportunity to chat with Jessica Pimentel, who plays badass Litchfield inmate Maria Ruiz — and who has a major arc in Season 4. Without revealing any explicit spoilers, I gained some insight Season 4, as well as what it’s like to be a part of the cast and the incredible project as a whole. Check out the interview below, take advantage of your ex’s Netflix password, and be prepared to go on an emotional rollercoaster (think PMS but amplified) as you marathon Season 4 of Orange (if you haven’t already).

OINTB Interview

So, I’ve only had time to watch the first few episodes of Season 4 so far, and it’s crazy intense. Like, I downed two pints of ice cream during the first episode, it was so intense. Is it fair to assume that the rest of this season will be just as action-packed?

That’s an understatement… The last 4 episodes of the season are probably the most intense writing, directing, acting, that’s ever happened on our show before. It’s an emotional rollercoaster in every possible way. They’re very, very heavy. I knew what was going to happen as I was watching and was still crying, laughing, and yelling back at my TV.

Oh…God… So is this going to f*ck me up?

Absolutely! Good luck.

What can fans look forward to this season? 

They can look forward to getting their hearts broken. This season is, like I said, very intense and heavy. The acting is superb from all of my castmates; what they brought to the table, as well as the writers, was next-level this season. The actors made all of these words come to life in a way that I couldn’t expect when I read the script. There will be a lot of mixed emotions, but definitely heartbreak. And, the line between who is a good and bad guy is definitely blurred this season. It’s hard to tell who you should be rooting for. So, look forward to that.

How about your character, Maria Ruiz? Over the course of the past three seasons, she seems to be playing an increasingly important role in the plot. What can we expect to see from her this season? I’ve already noticed that she has a lot of screen time. 

The first three seasons were all about Maria holding on to her daughter — she was never getting involved in trouble, she was laying low, giving a moral comment here and there, always trying to help people around her. But at the top of Season 3, the child is taken away from her; so, how will she react? This is where we see her role begin to change. She’s been clinging onto this child as her hope of getting out [of prison], but she realizes her daughter will be just fine without her, and she needs to shift the focus onto herself. Ultimately, perhaps, she may be agreeing that, by keeping distance between her life and her daughter’s, she is doing the right thing.

So, by Season 4, she has accepted the facts as facts, and it’s pretty much a take-it -from-there situation. Her number one hope in life was taken away. She accepts that. And, as a result, she is absolutely a pivotal character in this season. I can’t say much more without giving away too much, but, this season gives a look into her backstory, so we learn more about her as a person. She also embraces her Dominican heritage for the first time in a long time, which is something we haven’t really seen from her.

What made you decide to play Maria? Did you identify with her?

I couldn’t identify with anyone on the show because, beforehand, we didn’t really know anything about the characters — all I knew was that her name was Maria — I’m not even sure she had a last name yet, I just knew she was pregnant.

But, I knew who was casting, and I knew the director, Jenji Kohan — both women whom I respect and admire — and I knew some of the actresses who were going in for parts, so I had a good idea that it was going to be something worthwhile. Though, it was originally pitched as a web series. We didn’t know that “web series” meant “Netflix”…we had no idea it was going to be as complex and intricate as it was, or that it would become such a big deal.

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the show’s success comes from the fact that it doesn’t shy away from controversial, politicized issues.


Are there any particular political issues that this season addresses more heavily than others? 

The privatization of prisons and mass incarceration are the root of many causes of all the misfortune that happens in this season. You see the overcrowding creating more tension and a lack of humanity, etc. Plus, because of the privatization, people who are not necessarily police officers, like military veterans, are working as security guards; and they come at things from a more aggressive, combative angle. There is an abuse of authoritative power. 

Another key point in this season is the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the main characters experiences something firsthand (I can’t say what that is without giving things away) which reflects racial tension and violence that happens in the streets all of the time. 

It also touches on families who are separated, mothers who can’t be with their children, how being in prison results in devastating consequences even once they’re out, and how it’s difficult to turn things around after the fact.

How do you think the expression of these political standpoints effect the opinions of viewers? Do you think that Jenji Kohan makes this show in hopes to influence politics in some way?

They wouldn’t make the show if that wasn’t the point! We want to affect the viewer and the audience, whether that be emotionally — through personal stories about relationships — or whether we take a political issue and put a face and a story to it to help people to better understand and view it as a humanitarian issue. That’s what it takes sometimes, for people to understand things that don’t apply to them personally, is a face, someone they can relate to or empathize with.

I’ve heard that the cast is pretty tight-knit — is this true?

We’re all very good friends — we all get along very well — even if we aren’t hanging out every day, we never have any drama or divas on set; it’s really quite boring if you’re looking for gossip [laughs]. Everyone is quite chill, but when there are parties we know how to let loose with each other and we have a lot of fun. We all support each other for projects outside of OINTB, too. We all really root for one another.

What’s your favorite thing about taking part in this project?

Agh, this is such a hard question — this is the hardest question. The coolest thing, I think, is seeing the social impact that this show has had. Not just bringing to the forefront very important issues of our time, but also changing the way people see actors and actresses and who is available out there. OINTB changes the way people see cultures and ages and body types in Hollywood. There hasn’t really been a show that has as diverse of a cast as this one.

Seasons 1-4 of Orange is the New Black are now streaming on Netflix.

Images via Netflix

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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