“I want you to smell me.”
It’s not your typical conversation starter, sure, but Dascha Polanco— a star of both the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black and the new feature film Joy — does smell nice, like fresh flowers. Seated in a New York City hotel suite, the 32-year-old actress invites me to cozy up next to her, because then, she jokes, I can experience the fact that “not only is she beautiful but she also smells delicious.”
Dallas Voice: It’s weird seeing you out of an orange jumpsuit. Polanco: Is it?! I love the fact that I got to play with decades: the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. But it’s two totally different worlds, TV and film.
What’s that transition been like for you? Professionally, it’s always welcome. It’s a new challenge. It’s a new area of acting and being able to be play with characters and stories more creatively. I think with [director] David O. Russell and this project, it was intimidating.
Because it’s David O. Russell? David O. Russell. Jennifer Lawrence. Bradley Cooper. Robert De Niro. Diane Ladd. Virginia Madsen. Isabella Rossellini. You just want to make sure you have your A-game on, and for a Latina being in this industry for the last three years, it takes you by surprise.
How does being Latina change things? Well, there are not many Latin actors in Hollywood. There’s still a lower percentage of them breaking into Hollywood, but we’re seeing more diversity, especially with David O. Russell’s film. You’re seeing diversity there, to that caliber, and for me, that’s a big responsibility.
There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in Hollywood lately, and not just when it comes to race, but when it comes to women. And this movie is very… Female driven.
It is. It’s all about female empowerment. It has a feminist message. How does that personally strike a chord with you I can relate so much to the story and to the elements of the movie: having obstacles in your life, being a woman and having to be a parent, having to be a daughter, taking care of not only your personal self but also your family. It shows how much women throughout the years have been the backbone and have, at times, struggled to even take a risk or try to live their dream or move forward because of other commitments or because of the stigma that we are supposed to be at home.
From the perspective of someone who is Latina in Hollywood: What is the current state of finding roles in Hollywood for a minority? I thought to myself for the last two years: I’ve gone on auditions — so many auditions — in comparison to when I first started. Maybe it’s because of Orange, maybe it’s because of my representation, but there’s a need, a desire now. You see more offers, you see more shows that want to include diversity because of the success of shows like Orange Is the New Black. Anybody could’ve been cast as Jackie in Joy, and that’s the beauty of it. The role that I play, anyone could have, but he didn’t make it exclusive [and say], “I’m gonna make Jackie a white actress.” No. She’s ambiguous. She can be black. She can be Spanish. The fact that this is a Golden Globe-nominated movie — ah, it takes me by surprise that I’m part of this project, not because I don’t have the potential, not because I don’t believe in myself — but because of what, historically, I’ve seen growing up. And now that I’m part of it, there’s hope and there’s an opportunity that was rendered that I’m not taking for granted.