"We are fighting for our lives just to walk down the street with a sense of dignity," the actress said
The first season of Netflix’s acclaimed prison dramedy Orange Is the New Black was marked by its breakout ensemble cast, but few of its overnight stars have done as much with their newfound fame as Laverne Cox, a trans actress who has become one of the faces of the transgender movement.
Speaking to PEOPLE at the Opportunity Agenda‘s Creative Change Awards, Cox discussed her activism and gave a hint of what fans can expect from her character in the show’s upcoming second season, which premieres June 6.
“We see different sides of Sophia that we didn’t see in season one,” she explained. “She’s more carefree.”
Sophia’s story lines in the first season often revolved around her relationship with the show’s ostensible lead, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), as well as her battle with prison authorities over her hormone medication. The second season, Cox says, will broaden this focus.
“We’ve seen Sophia as a confidante, but now we see her as a teacher and as a friend. We see the depths of her other relationships.”
Though she’s the subject of a recent TIME cover story on transgender activism, Cox says she doesn’t particularly try to play Sophia as a trailblazer.
“That’s for other people to decide,” she said. “I’m just an actor who’s happy to be working.”
And working she is – Cox says she’s “exhausted” from all the projects that have popped up in the wake of Orange Is the New Black‘s success. She’s producing a documentary called Trans Teen for MTV and in the process of writing a memoir for Harlequin.
“It’s difficult for girls like CeCe and me – it’s life or death,” Cox told the audience at the CCAs. “We are fighting for our lives just to walk down the street with a sense of dignity.”
Still, she credits her role on Orange Is the New Black for creating awareness of the trans community’s struggle.
“What’s really heartening for me is when cis [non-trans] folks come up to me and say they never even thought before about connecting with someone who was transgender,” Cox said during a panel discussion alongside McDonald.
“There’s something about the way Sophia is written [through which] they found themselves connecting and feeling empathy for this character.”
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