In a stellar turn as one of the most controversial characters in the Netflix series ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK,
What continues to appeal to you about portraying Kasey Sankey and working on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK?
KELLY: I think we have only just scratched the surface with her and there is so much more to learn about Sankey. I would love the chance to explore every facet of her and find out why she’s been incarcerated and where she ends up.
At this point, how would you describe who Sankey is and how she has evolved on the show?
KELLY: Sankey enters Litchfield in Season 4 with a specific ideology that’s been ingrained in her, and that mindset dictates her behavior because that is all she knows. When I auditioned for the role, the breakdown for Sankey described her as proud to be white, and tough with a short fuse. Sankey always seems to be bubbling with some kind of aggression and rage. She becomes the leader of the white power movement and immediately tries to assert her power to gain respect and let the other inmates know she’s not to be messed with. She wants to expand the turf for her “family” and maintain as much control as possible. As Season 4 progresses, the audience gets to see possible moments of redemption from her. She pulls back from confrontation, she puts her personal agenda aside for the greater good of Litchfield, and even tries to acknowledge that the other inmates may not be so bad after all.
What do you most admire and/or like about Sankey?
KELLY: It is difficult to think of her as admirable or likable because she so often says and does such horrific things. I do think she has a heart. I suppose I admire her strength, her loyalty, and her fearlessness but of course I wish these qualities came from a place of love and inclusivity as opposed to hatred and racism. I often remind myself that it is not my job to judge Sankey, but instead to find any way I can to connect with her so I can bring her to life in the most honest and truthful way possible.
What is it like working alongside such a talented ensemble on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK?
KELLY: I was a huge fan of the show before being cast and so invested in the characters and the world of Litchfield, so to then step onto set and become a part of it all has been extraordinary. Everyone is so incredibly talented and has been so lovely, warm and welcoming to all the new blood. They are generous scene partners and in the best way force you to be at the top of your game. I’ve witnessed some my cast mates personal work and activism as well, and each and every one of them inspires me to be a better artist and a better person in the world.
Any favorite scenes that you can share from working on Season 5?
KELLY: We never want to give any spoilers, so unfortunately I can’t share any specific scenes from Season 5 yet. However, I can tell you that some of my favorite moments from Season 5 were filming the episodes directed by Nick Sandow and Laura Prepon. They were both so supportive in helping me navigate Sankey’s journey and having them at the helm was truly phenomenal. I also had to learn a new skill for a certain scene this season and I’m excited for the fans to discover it.
What can you share about what is next for Sankey?
KELLY: The audience will learn a bit more about her life, and see different sides to her they’ve never seen before. In Season 5, we are in the middle of a prison riot and there is a real role reversal and shift of power as the inmates take over Litchfield. I can’t wait for the fans to see how Sankey responds to that and how it all plays out.
What kind of demons will Sankey wrestle with in Season 5?
KELLY: Sankey will continue to question if what she has been taught and what she has believed in all her life is the only path she can take. Season 5 will show how the riot and resulting hostage situation affects people both inside and outside of Litchfield and this will tie into Sankey’s journey.
Any favorite scenes that you can share from working prior seasons?
KELLY: I love mafia movies and as a bit of an homage to them, my favorite scene to shoot from Season 4 was the round table meeting in the library of the heads of the families, where we try to devise a plan to take down the abusive guards at the top. I had the chance to pass the ball around with incredible actors, doing a scene written by Lauren Morelli and directed by Matthew Weiner. It was a dream day at work to say the least.
What has been your favorite part about working on this project as a whole?
KELLY: Being part of a project that fills with you pride is sometimes a rare thing. I am so proud, humbled and grateful to be a part of a show that is groundbreaking in so many ways. Besides brilliant characters of every size, shape, color and sexual orientation, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK is so relevant to our times and tells stories that need to be told. It truly raises the level of consciousness and stirs discussion. To be a part of the ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK family and work with the genius that is Jenji Kohan, our amazing writers, producers, cast and crew is a very special gift.
Then as an actor, what has been the one thing you haven taken away or learned from working on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK so far?
KELLY: Playing Kasey Sankey has been eye opening for me. To be so stripped down, with no glamorous hair or makeup as a barrier, has brought me to my most vulnerable places and taken my acting to another level. I’ve felt a deeper freedom and permission to let go and really go there, go off the rails, which is necessary to bring Sankey to life because she spends most of the time at extremes. I’ve never played a character like her before and it has been both challenging and exhilarating.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
KELLY: One of the wonderful surprises has been the love and support from amazing casting directors like our OITNB magic maker Jen Euston. She has always believed in me and brought me in for many projects over the years. I actually auditioned for ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK three times for other roles before booking Sankey. I don’t think I was an obvious choice, but she had faith in me that I could pull off this crazy role. She has changed my life in more ways than she’ll ever know.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the roles and projects you have worked on?
KELLY: I have learned that no matter how much I may want a role in the moment, how perfect for it I think I may be, and how connected to it I am, the truth is that the roles that are meant for me are the ones I book. When certain roles don’t come to fruition for me, each and every time it has been proven that something better for me was coming down the line.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
KELLY: The love and support from the OITNB fans all over the world is simply incredible. To do what you love, on an international hit show that also happens to be critically acclaimed is such a tremendous blessing. The industry hopefully seeing me in a different way, capable of roles they may not have imagined me in before, is very exciting to me. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
If there were one previous role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
KELLY: I would love to revisit playing Maureen Johnson in RENT on Broadway. She was truly a dream role for me. I was a Renthead, waited eight hours for tickets when the show first opened. Sat in the front row mesmerized and just knew I had to play that part. Many years and many auditions later, my dream came true. Singing that score eight times a week, with that cast who will be my family till the day I die, were some of the greatest times of my life.
Do any of your characters and the situations they find themselves in ever leave a lasting impression on you?
KELLY: Yes, absolutely! Maureen in RENT will stay with me forever. Playing that role gave me greater confidence, helped me tap into my sexuality, and let go of my inhibitions. The message of that show inspires me every day- love, friendship and remembering to live each moment to the fullest because there really is “no day, but today.”
Do you find any of your character’s habits manifesting in your own life? Like what?
KELLY: Well, let’s say that Sankey uses questionable language most of the time. I won’t pretend that I don’t already have a bit of a potty mouth in real life, but playing her has definitely brought the F-bomb to the forefront of my vocabulary. Ha!
Has there been any great advice you have gotten about working as an actor?
KELLY: One of my favorite and brilliant acting teachers at NYU Tisch, Geoffrey Horne, told me that when I was acting in a scene, on film or on stage, I didn’t have to try to be cute, or likable, or “do” all these things to push for something to be happening. I just had to be present in the moment, start from the most honest place possible, and just talk. Talk like a normal person, and not try to put all this “stuff” on top of it. I would get where I needed to go, wherever the scene called for, if I started in the right place. It seems like such a simple idea, but after he taught me that valuable lesson, everything clicked for me.
What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
KELLY: I would tell other aspiring actors to run their own race. Don’t worry about what anyone else in the business is doing, how much farther along they might seem to be, because everyone is on their own journey. There is no timeline or cut off date for your dreams. This is a difficult business, with lots of ups and downs. For those times when you’re feeling stuck or frustrated because things aren’t happening the way you planned, remember that staying with that negative energy only brings more of it to you. Stay positive as best you can and focus on consistently doing your best work. It is usually the darkest, and you face the most struggle, just before your biggest breakthrough.
Are you actively involved with any charities. Which do you work with most? And which would like to see your fans become more involved with and support?
KELLY: In the past, I have worked with and supported The Alzheimer’s Association. My grandmother suffered from the disease for many years before her passing and the work they do is a cause close to my heart. I’ve also performed for and supported many military and veterans’ organizations. My father is a Vietnam Veteran so again it holds special meaning for me. The ways in which they help members of the armed forces is so important for their quality of life. As a member of the Broadway community I’ve also been able to help support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I would like to, along with the fans, become more involved in supporting Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Both organizations need our support now more than ever.
At a time when women’s voices are rising to be heard and respected around the country and world, what do you recommend your fans do to lend support in that endeavor?
KELLY: Donate, resist, stand up and fight for what is right and what you believe in any way you can. Stay informed and find ways to contribute and support the cause in your own communities. Remember that one voice can be heard and can make a difference.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
KELLY: Right now I’m working on two theatre pieces, one is a musical and one is a straight play. They are both in the early stages so I can’t share many details, but I am thrilled to be able to help develop them. I’m also enjoying being able to straddle both the worlds of film/television and theatre because they are so very different and I truly love them both.
To see whether Sankey can find common ground with her fellow Litchfield inmates in Season 5, be sure to check out the latest season of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK when it is released on Friday, June 9th on Netflix. Also to find out more about Kelly’s future endeavors, you can follow her on Twitter @kellykarbacz and on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kellykarbacz/
SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER | Tiffany covers events such as San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon and press junkets, as well as covering events at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. She has a great love for television and believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored. Tiffany is one of the newest members to the prestigious Television Critics Association and is happy to be able to share her passion for television shows with an even wider audience of fans and her fellow critics..