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How Orange is the New Black Star Julie Lake Became a Meth Head

Photo credit Vince Trupsin.

In most cases, being sent to prison isn't ideal. However, for an actress existing presently, it can be be the holy grail. Orange is the New Black provides a diverse range of characters (with a multiplicity of orientations and ethnicities) that have delicious storylines for performers to sink their teeth into. The Netflix series is a revolutionary program, where females rule the screen with virtually no makeup and complex backgrounds. For this reason alone, Julie Lake must feel pretty lucky.

On OITNB, Lake plays the role of endearing "meth head", Angie Rice. She landed the part with no TV experience but an impressive history of working in theatre and training from the prestigious Yale University. The LA resident worked hard to transfer her skills to the small screen, breathing a layered and concrete life into Angie.

We caught up with Lake to discuss her training, acting tips and, of course, Orange is the New Black...

RP: How did you get started in acting?

JL: When I was 5 years old, I went to a summer musical theater performance at Grace Lutheran church where I had gone to preschool. There was a scene in which the children of the Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe (who had so many children she didn't know what to do)refused to go to bed and instead tossed dirty laundry around the stage while singing and dancing. It looked like the most fun thing I had ever seen in my life. I was extremely shy as a kid,so getting an excuse to be wild and sing and have fun with other kids was exactly what I needed to come out of my shell. Which is exactly why I am still acting: it is the most fun thing in the world, and it makes me feel connected to others in a way that is difficult in my normal life because I am so shy.

RP: I know you studied theatre at Yale University. What would you say was the top lesson you took from your time there? It seems like that’s where a lot of “the greats” have gone!

JL: My greatest lesson from Yale was probably just the experience of going to school with some of the most brilliant and talented people I have ever met. I was incredibly lucky to develop as an artist among those people. After graduation, I got my first job in NYC from Elizabeth Meriwether, the creator of New Girl, who was one of my friends and collaborators from school. She hooked me up with the director Alex Timbers, also a “Yalie”, who put me in a ton of his plays. Zoe Kazan was my good friend and classmate there, and I learned a lot about acting from her. I also got the opportunity to play so many great parts – Medea, Mother Courage, A from Three Tall Women by Albee. Hopefully one day I will be successful enough to get to play the parts I played in college again.

RP: Your background in theatre is amazing. Did you have difficulty transferring your performances to the camera?

JL: Yes. Orange Is the New Black was the first television experience I have ever had, so I kind of learned how to act for camera on set, by watching the other actors. In the beginning, I projected my voice too much and moved my body and face more than was necessary. These are my own critiques, not any director's, but obviously when Taryn Manning is speaking almost inaudibly and I am practically shouting, something is not right.

"I kind of learned how to act for camera on set, by watching other actors."

It also took me a long time to catch on to how I needed to adjust my on-camera acting depending on the genre - for example, multi-cam comedy acting is completely different from single cam comedy acting is completely different from drama acting. Taking acting classes at Lesly Kahn & Company in Los Angeles has seriously whooped my butt into shape with all of that. I finally feel confident that I know what I am doing with film and TV thanks to her school.

RP: Any plans to return to the NY stage? You could put those singing and dance skills to use on Broadway.

JL: I would love to! I am going to be back in NYC from June through November for Orange and am hoping to get back into the theater world while I am there. Hint hint to all you directors out there :).

RP: You play meth head, Angie Rice, on the hit series Orange is the New Black – Congrats! Do you remember your audition?

JL: I was living in LA, so I sent in a tape. It was before the first season came out, so it was not a hit yet. I got lucky that they were so open to new talent.

RP: Once you nabbed the role, what was your first step in the process to create “Angie”?

JL: There was no description of Angie other than "meth-head" so I played around a lot before landing on Angie as we know her. I felt pretty far from her at first, so I tried to create her the way I would create a role for the theater. I tried several accents (including no accent), different physicalities, paced around my room improvising lines and trying to figure out how she walks and talks, her back-story, her upbringing, how she landed in prison,and how she felt about Tucky & Leanne.

"Her [Angie's] thoughts are my thoughts - there is no separation between us."

I had seen a documentary a few years before called "High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell" and a woman named Brenda from that had really stuck with me, so there ended up being a lot of Brenda in my original conception of Angie. I also watched a lot of Lock Up and Intervention for inspiration. What is funny now is that in my mind Angie is just me with bad teeth, a Boston accent and a thuggish gait. Her thoughts are my thoughts - there is no separation between us.

RP: I know you have plenty of improv training. Did that help you?

JL: Yes, I actually improv quite a bit on Orange when I can get away with it. I can be funny, which is a skill that has helped me a lot in acting.

RP: That accent you have on the show is incredible! How did you come up with that one?

JL: Accents are easy for me. Brenda from High on Crack Street had a Boston accent, so the accent was sort of inspired by her.

RP: As an actress, how do you connect with Angie and her demons?

JL: I think because I I had a lot of freedom in forming Angie, I cannot really separate her thoughts and demons from my own. I knew so little information about her and had so few lines when I first started working on the show, that most of who she was was completely in my head. Her thoughts were my thoughts and her demons were my demons.

RP: “Meth Head” is synonymous with Angie’s introduction. Are there other words you would use to describe her?

JL: Goofy, anxious, sweet, desperate for approval, lonely, insecure, loyal, fun.

RP: Were you nervous when you first got on set? What’s the vibe like?

JL: I was so nervous, I couldn't sleep for about two weeks before I got on set. When I showed up for my first day, one of thePAs thought I was an extra and sent me to holding. Then after profusely apologizing to me (obviously, it was not a big deal) she sent me to my own luxurious dressing room and brought me breakfast. I still thought I would die from anxiety until Emma Myles aka Leanne Taylor took me under her wing and introduced me to everybody and made me feel completely welcome. I am so grateful to Emma for that.

"I couldn't sleep for about two weeks before I got on set."

The whole cast was kind and sweet to me - such an easy-going vibe. I remember my mind was blown when I first stepped foot onto the set of the prison - I do not know what I was expecting, but holy sh*t, we were in prison!Then I did my first scene with Taryn and Emma, and I started to loosen up and have fun.

RP: What have you learned from working with such an incredible cast? I know you have said that Taryn Manning "makes acting so much easier because she pulls you in so you have to pay attention to her."

JL: I have learned so much from this cast. Every scene is a master class in acting. I mean, Taryn Manning is a genius. Watching her has taught me a lot about freedom and going into the scene with that "fuck it" attitude. She really stands in her power and lets it rip. She does not worry about getting it right or if she is giving the director what he/she wants. She shows them what they want. Nick Sandow aka Caputo is equally brilliant and recently taught me about taking the space I need for the scene.

"Every scene is a master class in acting."

The Orange cast is super chatty and friendly and everybody is usually goofing about until the moment we shoot, so I always feel compelled to be a part of that despite feeling like I could use a bit more focus and preparation. Nick puts in earbuds and sequesters himself off a bit before his scenes. Once, after shooting, I asked him what he was listened to, and he said he did not listen to anything. It was just a trick so that people would not talk to him before the scene when he is trying to get focused. I love that - I might steal the earbud trick from him next season. Sorry to out you, Nick!

RP: What can we expect from Angie and the gang in upcoming Season 3?

JL: Lot's of hilariousness. This is by far the best season yet.

RP: Any other projects you’d like to share?

JL: I am working on writing a lot these days. I recently did a web series with my best friend from high school that got a lot of attention called "George & Julie." I play a needy actress (huge stretch),and George is my cat who is connected in Hollywood. George degrades Julie. A lot. You can find them on Youtube - George and Julie Show. We are also working on another comedy called "Mental" about two best friends with mental problems navigating a barely functional existence. We hope to film that over the summer. I am also writing a pilot with a friend called "Starlets" that we are hoping to pitch this year. I would like to be a known as a writer/creator/actress some day soon and am working toward it. Writing lots of great roles for women.

RP: Sounds great! To end on an inspiring note for our NYCastings readers, what would you say is the most valuable piece of acting advice you have to offer?

JL: Do not give up. Unless you truly do not want to be an actor. This is a life long career. You cannot give yourself a time limit - like, oh if I am not successful in 5 years, I will quit. If you are successful in 5 years, you have won the lottery. Keep going, do readings, do workshops, take classes, write your own stuff, work with young playwrights, keep going. You never know where any one thing will lead or what will stick and catapult your career forward.

Follow Julie on twitter @juliemflake.

Season three of Orange is the New Black invades Netflix on June 12th (it has already been renewed for a fourth as well). Get ready to binge.

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