How ‘OITNB’ Star Dascha Polanco Stays Confident
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How 'OITNB' Star Dascha Polanco Stays Confident

The Brooklyn native talks about finding confidence in the face of rejection and why 'OINTB' had the perfect ending.

ESSENCE recently had the chance to shake things up with Orange Is The New Black Star Dascha Polanco at Las’ Lap in New York City to celebrate National Rum Day with BACARDI. Yes, we got to sip delicious BACARDI cocktails like “The Rum Around” and “The Three Hour Tour,” but we also got to learn more about the Dominican born, Brooklyn raised actress. Polanco is closing an important chapter in her life, as the Netflix show that put her on the map just wrapped its final season. She was fully immersed in pursuing her nursing degree when she was cast in the show and, despite auditioning her in scrubs, received the callback that forever changed her life.

After spending time with the actress, it wasn’t hard to see how she managed to captivate Hollywood. I was invigorated by her natural spunk and zest for life. Based on her journey, we know that this is definitely not the last we’ll see of Polanco.

ESSENCE: First off, we’re here with BACARDI on National Rum Day. So it’s only right we ask about your favorite rum drink.

Q: Listen, when I’m playing dominoes, I like rum with some coconut water and a splash of lemon. If I’m on vacation, I like a little pina colada with fresh ingredients. But on the regular, I like a fresh drink with coconut water. You get a little potassium. It’s like you’re dehydrating but then adding hydration at the same time! It’s all about finding balance. [BACARDI] made me a cocktail here called “The Rum Around” with strawberry and a little rosé that I really like. It’s just right and not too sweet.

How ‘OITNB’ Star Dascha Polanco Stays Confident
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 16: Dascha Polanco and Darnell Holguin create a specialty cocktail as BACARDI celebrates National Rum Day on August 16, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for BACARDI)

Yummy! So let’s talk about your performance in the final season of OITNB, which was incredible. What did you think about Daya’s ending?

For me personally, it was the right time to tell [the writers], ‘look, if you give me more material, I’m going to show out. I’ve got the chops.’ I would have loved for the show to go longer, of course. But the show ended in such a realistic way. When you extend [a show] too long, it plateaus and loses its importance. This was a story about the void that was missing in Hollywood – a platform for women like us to have the same opportunity for what we’ve seen consistently. For what they consider the traditional. In reality, we are the tradition.

It was also realistic because not every character (yours included) received the storybook happy ending.

Exactly! We also have that understanding culturally. We don’t come from entitlement and feeling like it has to be something pure. We are pureness.

Immigration was such a huge pillar of this show. What was it like having to deal with that plotline while filming, and them coming home and seeing the madness play out on the news?

As an immigrant myself, how can I not have compassion for my fellow immigrants that are coming here, or my extended family that are in the same situation? Whether it’s Dominican, Eastern European, there’s always an advantage to having a lighter skin tone. But it makes me proud to come from the true essence of that and portray this in a way that connects with my people. The message is, we’re here. It’s going to take some time, but things are going to change. There’s hope.

You’ve also been a vocal advocate of body positivity, and have said your previous self-consciousness about your weight almost deterred you from acting. How have you come to this place of love and acceptance?

It’s funny you ask. The other day, I thought, ‘why am I so mad at the industry when the industry has had women in positions of power to make the decisions, and they’ve made those [exclusionary] decisions for x amount of years?’ Shame on them. It’s a shame that [what’s acceptable] is only based on what they like at the moment and not what’s best for women as a whole. It’s also up to the beholder. If you feel good doing something, or if you don’t feel right, you change based on what’s right for you. But it’s a process. For me, my confidence comes from always battling my thoughts. It’s about [handling rejection] and not making it a reflection of me, but questioning what I’m going to do to make myself feel better about it.