It is undeniable that Dascha Polanco is experiencing well-deserved, whirlwind success and loving every minute of it. Dascha was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and raised in Brooklyn, New York to parents who instilled in her a sense of pride in her Dominican heritage. “I always say that I am so thankful that my parents kept the culture alive in my household. I’ve always been proud of my nationality and as a student, I was able to take dual language courses. While growing up, I was so proud to be Dominican and now that I am older I am also very proud of being American.”
The energy and excitement Ms. Polanco brought to her interview was palpable, contagious and heartwarming. Inside Puerto Plata spoke with this bold and courageous actress about what viewers can expect this season on Orange Is The New Black, her personal style, and where she sees her career going in the future.
When you auditioned for Orange Is The New Black you were working at a hospital. Once you knew that you were awarded the part of Dayanara Diaz, can you tell us how life changed for you?
Dascha: I was told that my life was going to change and I embraced the fact that I was being given the opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do. [Despite that] I still held on to my job and nursing school because at the time I thought that I was just going to be adding something fun to my life. Once the show became popular and people started recognizing me, that was when the path was cleared and I was allowed to focus on one thing or career.
Your character, Daya, is quiet and shy, yet a fierce protector of her family and struggles with doing what’s right. During your more emotional scenes, where do you pull from?
Dascha: In life we don’t think our emotions; the environment affects our response to it. When shooting an emotional scene, I allow the feeling to come to me. With my roles, I create the background for each character and then I react to the background that I’ve created. Since Daya is incarcerated and has a totally complicated relationship with her mother, I can’t fall into judging Daya because I wouldn’t be able to portray her in a genuine way. It’s very important for me to portray her with no bias.
Can you tell our readers what the average day on set of Orange Is The New Black is like?
Dascha: It’s fun! I love getting into hair and makeup and I love wearing the pregnant belly every day. I get to interact with other cast members in the dressing rooms and on set and I get to work with different directors. I personally did not know the impact the show would have and so I was on set learning so many things, from the different camera lenses that are used to how sets are created. Observing the whole process of creating the show was just amazing and now that we’re in season 3 and I’ve gained some experience I’m able to play more yet still have that level of curiosity.
Can you give Inside Puerto Plata any insight into season 3 and what fans can expect from Daya?
Dascha: Orange Is the New Black is produced in a way that maintains the success of the show by keeping the same formula of using character backstories. I don’t have a backstory this season but the show is revisiting some of the other characters’ backstories. This season my character, Daya, is pregnant and dealing with the drama of two men being in love with her. She’s hormonal and still learning how to deal with her life. She’s also learning how to become a woman even through her incarceration. I think my work has reached another level this season and hopefully the fans will enjoy how much effort and authenticity I bring to the role. I want to really keep it honest, real, and relatable.
Can you tell us about other projects you are currently working on?
Dascha: I’m in an upcoming movie called “Joy” with a legendary cast starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper. Working with them has pushed my love for acting a huge step further and challenged me in a very good way. It’s so good to work with such talented and experienced individuals and I’m really looking forward to this journey with them and seeing where it leads.
You are incredibly busy. When do you have free time to yourself and how do you like to spend it?
Dascha: I have become a little bit more private with my personal life and I don’t expose my children or my romantic life at all. But I do like to go home and just spend time doing things together with my family like ice-skating or going to the museum or just cooking them a home-cooked Dominican meal. Socially, I like to go out with my friends. I like to dance and travel and I love music.
Your style is amazing and you are extremely cutting edge. How would you describe your style and who are some of your favorite designers?
Dascha: Style for me is emotional; what I wear is all about my mood and how I’m feeling. I’m so open about embracing different styles, cuts, and accessories and my stylist does a great job dressing my curvaceous body. Oscar de la Renta, Michael Costello, Houghton [by Katharine Polk] are some of my favorites. I love brands that know how to dress a woman with curves.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing acting in theater, television, or film?
Dascha: Growing up I limited myself. I would look in the mirror and put myself down; I felt that I was not good enough because of how I looked physically. My advice to young women is to love yourself and to take the time to learn to love yourself. The moment that I started focusing on my heart and not how I looked is the moment everything changed for me.
Since rising to fame, what stands out as the most exciting experience you’ve had thus far?
Dascha: Having Meryl Streep acknowledge me and say that my work was fantastic was so unexpected and so surreal. I started to cry because I was just so emotional and it was so special.
In addition to reveling in the emotions that come with the compliments from a heavy hitter such as Meryl Streep, Ms. Polanco also feels very strongly about helping others and bringing awareness to cyber bullying.
Dascha: Helping people feeds my soul and at the moment I have not dedicated myself 100% to one charity but I do offer my services to many charities. I have a young daughter and one issue that I am very sensitive to is cyber bullying. My daughter’s friend committed suicide because she was being bullied on [a major social media platform] and it worries me how much criticism and bullying affects young kids’ lives. It’s very serious and I am very focused on teaching methods of self-confidence and self-assurance to young people.
Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
Dascha: In ten years I see myself with a heavy resume and with lots of work and experience in film and TV. I am the first in my family and I don’t have anyone in the industry that helped me up. I’m very business oriented and I’m blessed to be able to do what I love. I’d like to have a perfume line and work with a clothing designer. I have had the opportunity to meet so many people from around the world and I believe that opportunity has helped me to become a better person. I would love to be able to say that I’ve helped to open up doors for other Dominicans, Latinos, and women.