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July 25, 2016

The Transformations of Laura Gómez

Actor, writer, director and voice over artist Laura Gómez talks about her expanding role as Blanca Flores in Orange is the New Black, her passion for film and theatre, and her thoughts on one day playing the role of mom.

Karen DeLong

Laura Gómez is a firm believer in transformation.

Season 4 of Netflix's Orange Is The New Black  has seen more of Flores including the emergence of her dark humor. "Blanca was always a little bit odd, but we've discovered another side of her," Gómez says. "It's been a discovery process to see how Blanca is more complex than in earlier seasons."

"It's exciting to evolve this character," Gómez says of Flores, a disheveled mess often overheard talking to 'El Diablo,' leading fellow inmates to think she is crazy and talking to the devil. In reality, Flores is talking to her boyfriend on a hidden cell phone.

Dirty, disheveled, and sporting a unibrow and messy hair, Flores is the antithesis of Gómez, a real-life Dominican beauty who has appeared in film and stage work as well.

"Transformation is a gift for an actor," Gómez says of her conversion to Flores. "I feel very grateful for the opportunity to use my instruments to this degree. It allows me to explore this character without judgment and helps me feel the part," she says, noting that it takes about 15 minutes for hair and 20 for makeup.

"You give up some privacy in this business, so in a way it's a good thing that people on the street don't recognize me," says Gómez. "I'm talking to you from a park bench right now and not getting a single look." 

OITNB, the most-watched original show in Netflix history, "brings so many important topics to people," says Gómez. "We're putting a mirror on society. Our writers are very aware of what's happening out there and they bring it to the screen."

She attributes the show's popularity to its broad reach across topics and personalities. "There are so many ways that people can connect with the show, with all the different characters and their stories," Gómez says, which makes the audience very eclectic and broad-based.

"You can't point to a demographic and say 'that's our fan base.' I hear from people as young as 14 and up to 80 telling me they love the show—although maybe the 14-year-olds shouldn't really be watching," she laughs, noting that fans are straight and gay, men and women.

Before Gómez found fame in OITNB, she got her acting start in the Dominican Republic, where she grew up. "I'm very connected to it; it's my whole culture," she says, although she was born in New Jersey in 1979 and has called New York home for the past 15 years.

A mentor in the Dominican Republic was instrumental in helping her develop her career. "He was a film critic who was well respected in my country. He made me very hungry for good material and opened a big door for me back there. He has a special place in my heart."

In making her transformation to the US, Gómez threw herself into looking for work while also studying filmmaking at New York University. "Things weren't happening for me at first," she admits, so she decided to branch out into different areas of the business, starting with short films and moving into directing.

"I think the mix of acting, directing and writing gives me more control over my career. Plus, I'm a better actress for it."

Gómez also pursued voiceover work, which landed her the role as the Spanish voice for Cover Girl cosmetics, a job she still holds 7 years later. "It's steady and helps with the transitions between work," she explains.

In addition to her TV work, which also includes a guest star role as Selena Cruz in Law & Order SVU, and a recurring role in HBO's Show Me A Hero, Gómez has many films to her credit. She played the lead in To Kill a Roach, a film that she wrote, directed and produced, which received the NYU Fall 2012 Technisphere award for Outstanding Achievement.

Gómez has also appeared in theatre many times, both in her native Dominican Republic and the US.

"I love the stage," she says. "There's something very powerful about being in front of a live audience. It's a muscle you need to exercise at some point in your career and a  very important place for me," says the actress, who is a member of the Spanish Repertory Theater where she has participated in critically acclaimed plays.

With a major role in a popular TV show and stage work, Gómez nevertheless calls herself a "film junkie. When you get to see the end result on the screen, it's very powerful", she says of the medium. She appeared in a supporting role in Exposed, starring Keanu Reeves, among other US and Spanish films.

There's another transformation Gómez has in mind. "I've always thought of adopting at some point in my life. It's crossed my mind many, many times, but I don't know when. It's still in the thinking stages. These days, there are no rules about how you build a family."

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