"Black Cindy is definitely someone who speaks her mind, and is real with you in the moment, with whatever someone else is saying, so I try to keep it fresh, I try to keep it funny, and give her heart and soul." -- Adrienne C. Moore

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t’s been just two months since Netflix released its new dramedy created by Jenji Kohan (of Weeds fame), Orange Is the New Black, and already the show has a cult-like following. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of binge-watching the show with my roommates and encouraging all my friends, family members, and co-workers to follow suit. The show has an addictive quality to it. It’s based on a memoir by Piper Kerman that chronicled her experiences in a women’s federal prison in Litchfield, NY, where she served a 13-month sentence for carrying a suitcase full of drug money for her lesbian ex-lover who was an international drug smuggler.

What makes the show so phenomenal is its colorful cast of female characters, who are completely unique from one another and from other roles currently on television. From Pornstache, the corrupt correctional officer played by Pablo Schreiber, to the born-again-Christian meth addict Pensatucky played by Taryn Manning, there is a wealth of talented actors in the cast. One of the up-and-coming actresses in the show is Adrienne C. Moore, better known to her fans as Black Cindy.

The actor, voice-over artist, singer, and producer is a native of the South. She’s appeared on Blue Bloods, 30 Rock, and now Orange Is the New Black. I met with Moore over Labor Day weekend at a Starbucks in the South Loop of Chicago. Serendipitously, Moore was in the Windy Cindy — which she considers her home — for her nephew’s christening and her mother’s birthday. Her laugh is contagious, and you can hear the enthusiasm and passion in her voice when she talks about her work. I could have listened to her stories all day!

Adrienne C Moore
Adrienne C. Moore at the Netflix premiere in NYC.

How did you first get involved with acting?
I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and my twin sister and older brother and I were always involved in the arts. My parents sort of put us in the arts to keep us busy while they worked — they had very demanding careers. And that’s where I fell in love with acting. I kept up with it even when we moved to Atlanta where I found different theaters to be a part of. And then during high school, sports took over and I kind of gave up a little bit of the arts because of the demand of practice every day. And then when it came around college time, I went to Northwestern and majored in psychology.

It seemed like every different chapter of my life, I was moving away from acting little by little by little, so by the time of college I was fully in the throes of math and science. I was doing some things here and there, I was involved in gospel choir, but that was pretty much it. When I got back from college and started working for a few years in Atlanta I was like, "You know, I don’t want to have any regrets."

So I got back into acting, with one of the theaters that I was involved in during high school. I just went back there and started taking a class, and that led to one thing, which led to another. And then I got to a point where I said, "Okay I want to do this full time," and so I made the decision to pursue it full time, but I knew I had to do it in a strategic way. I went to grad school, which brought me to New York, and I went to The New School for Drama, and the rest is history.

After I graduated I started doing voice-overs and commercials, and that led into more theater opportunities, which led to me getting an agent, and here we are today. I was thinking back about it, because I mentor a lot of kids, and they ask me these questions a lot, and it’s been probably about a 10-year process. I know people say, "She just popped out of nowhere" but it’s been little bits.

Orange Is the New Black
From left: Danielle Brooks (Taystee), Adrienne C. Moore, Jenji Kohan, and Samira Wiley (Poussey)

What was going through your mind when you auditioned for Black Cindy? Did it feel like ‘wow, this could be something big’?
I knew Jenji Kohan’s name was attached to it, and obviously you know of her success with Weeds, and so I knew it was a Netflix original. And I think at that time we knew about House of Cards being out, and the success of it. And Netflix had another couple shows, so there was a little bit of like "Ooh, maybe this could be," but as an actor you get so used to not booking something, you develop the scars and tough skin they say you have to have, so you just tend to not allow yourself to get too excited. Because, as excited as you get when you do book a role, sometimes the disappointment can be just as big.

I was actually working on a musical at the time when my agent sent me the breakdown of the role. It described the character and who she was; she’s a ghettoer version of Taystee and she’s in the clique with them. Oh, and it said it’s a possibility of a recurring, so I wasn’t sure what the longevity of this character was going to be. You just take it in stride, and that allows you to think a little more long-term about who this character could be. Everyone is going to come in with their idea of who Black Cindy is going to be, so if it pulls into something longer, I have to be able to carry it day after day, episode after episode. When I auditioned for it, I was like, "I hope I get this, it would be great." But I was also working on a show at the same time, so if I don’t get this it’s alright because I already have work right now.

I was actually opening the show that week that I went in for the audition. It was the first night of previews, so I was at the theater, and we had gone through a couple of rehearsals, and I had an hour-and-a-half break so I was like, "I got to go do this audition real quick and then I’ll be back.” And the director was like, "Okay, you know it’s preview night … no mishaps," and I was like, "No I’ll be back, I’ll be back." So I went to the audition, all the while thinking if I do it right I can have 20 minutes to get back on the subway and get back to the theater. I think this distraction actually paid off because I wasn’t thinking about, "Oh I hope I get this, I hope I get this, I hope I get this."

Do you feel like you can relate to Black Cindy?
Absolutely! And I think you have to be, as an actor, you have to find where you are in the core, because you are the core of that character. Black Cindy is like an amalgamation of a lot of people I knew growing up. Definitely people around high school, definitely people I met just being in Atlanta — Atlanta is a very colorful town. Something about the people there, you could just watch them all day long. And that’s what I love to do, just sit down and people-watch. And that’s what forms the basis of a lot of my characters — those who pique my interest, and what things I can glean from them.

There are several characters’ backstories that we haven’t gotten yet. Can we expect to see Black Cindy’s in the next season?
You know, I want to know the answer to that question so bad! I have to be respectful of the writers, and they’re writing pretty much for the whole season upfront, and sort of have to have the overall picture mapped out.

Sometimes you never know how a character is going to take off.
That’s exactly what happened to Black Cindy. They saw the dynamic that we created and they said, "Okay, well I think there’s more to explore here." So to your question, I hope, I’m hoping and praying, because I’m very interested too! I want to know how I got in jail. (Laughs)

OITNB

Looking at pictures on the show’s Instagram and Facebook it looks like all the cast members are very close. What’s the energy like on set?
It is crazy energetic and familial. I mean, during the first season, there were a lot of actors who, we all sort of knew of each other, because New York has a wealth of talented actors. So we kind of knew of each other, but I guess the world didn’t know of us. So, we were reading the scripts and working together, and I didn’t come in till episode seven, so I didn’t know a lot of what was already going on in the first six episodes. But, they just brought me in. Even though I was the new girl, they really just made me feel like family, and that’s what it’s like. We hang out when we’re not on set. When we’re doing a scene, even when the camera is not necessarily on me, we’re still there for each other, for those other actors who are on camera.

Do you have a favorite episode or scene that you really liked filming?
The episode I like to talk about most is the very last episode, episode 13. Quick little backstory. So, a few episodes before the season finale, Lisa (Lisa Vinnecour, co-executive producer OITNB) had come to all of us and was like, "what are your talents?"’ And we’re all like, "Well, I can sing, I can do this, I can do that," but it seemed like she wasn’t really interested in the main stuff: people who could sing, or dance, or play piano. So, when she asked me, I said all those things, and she’s like, "Okay, what else?" Well I thought that was pretty good (laughing), so I was just pulling stuff out of nowhere and was like, "I can beatbox." And she’s like, "Really?" And her eyes just lit up. I didn’t know why she asked that at the time, but then when we got to the last episode, we were reading the script and it says Yoga Jones starts off singing Joy to the World, and then Black Cindy comes in beatboxing, and I was like … what? (chuckles)

With beatboxing, I didn’t’ have any professional training; it was just something that my brother and my sister and I and all our cousins did for fun around the house, sitting on the stoop. So I was like ‘oh my god, they really want me to beatbox, I can’t believe it.’ So I was freaking out. And, I have a friend who is a phenomenal beatboxer, so I had him coaching me and trying to help me out so I could craft this thing. And then the day of filming, I’m in this holding room, and for the last episode the days were really long filming, 10, 11 hours, and you have to keep your energy up. So, we had done all the filming of the audience, and then they were turning it on to us, to film our different things. So I’m sitting there, trying to keep my energy up because we had just eaten lunch too, and I’m like "naptime." But, I’m just listening to my go-to music, I call them my power tracks, and I just start playing around, beatboxing to different songs, making my own beat, and I’m like ‘that’s what I need to be doing — dancing, and just having fun.’ And then this voice out of nowhere told me, “It’s not about the beatboxing.” It just kind of dropped on me. And I believe in God, I believe in a bigger power, so I truly think that’s who was talking to me. I was freaking out, I’m like it’s going to be on camera, the whole world is going to see me, real beatboxers are going to be like, "This isn’t beatboxing, this girl is fake."

I was just thinking about this past year and all the wonderful opportunities I had working, and just what that’s done for me personally and my career, and I was just so thankful for everything. So, I’m like, ‘I’m just going to have fun; whatever comes out, however it comes out.’

OITNB
OITNB cast, photo by Jill Greenberg

So I just started having fun with it, and you know, when they’re filming us, the audience can’t say anything because the mics can’t pick up what’s not on camera, so the audience has to be quiet while we’re on stage doing our thing, being goofy. And I’m thinking, "No one is cheering me on, oh my God." So we finish the first take and the director says, "Cut" and out of nowhere everyone just started exploding with laughter and cheer. And I was like (gasps) "Y'all liked it?!" They were like, "Oh my God, that was so amazing!" Everyone was so supportive that day. It was the time where all the artists could really show what they could do.

That lesson has sort of been my ‘aha’ moment in my work, even as I move forward. Sometimes you get scripts and you’re like, "What can I do?" And you start getting in your head, and I can just tell myself it’s not about the beatboxing and I know what that means for me: don’t get caught up in the stuff you have no control over, whatever your fear is. It’s about who this character is, and Black Cindy, she’s imperfect, (laughs) obviously she’s in jail. Black Cindy is definitely someone who speaks her mind, and is real with you in the moment, with whatever someone else is saying, so I try to keep it fresh, I try to keep it funny, and give her heart and soul.

Following the huge success of season one, do you find you’re often recognized out in public?
It’s funny, my Twitter game has really had to step up (laughs). I used to send out maybe a tweet a month, and now I’m sending a couple out a day. It’s been a gradual thing. You see people on the subway and they’ll kind of look at you, and you don’t really think anything of it. And then it went from that to people finally starting to be like, "Excuse me; I think I know you, are you on a show?" And then it moved to the fanatics who are like, "Oh my God, oh my God, can I take a picture with you, and get your autograph?" It’s been great. I love the fans. Because, aside from the great story and the great work, it’s them that really put it [OITNB] on the platform that it’s on today. So I’m always going to be in awe and humbled by them.

You said that you mentor a lot of middle school and high school youth. What advice would you give to aspiring young artists?
This is maybe going to sound cliché, but in general, we as people deal with fear. And fear holds us back a lot from whatever — whether an actor, writer, journalist — whatever it is we want to be. And a lot of times, because of that fear we don’t allow ourselves to dream big. We have big dreams, but we shut them down. So don’t be afraid to allow yourself to dream as big as you want, and don’t be afraid to try everything.