Spoiler warning: For those who haven’t finished season 4 of OITNB, plot details will be revealed ahead.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Wiley, who played fan favorite Poussey Washington on the hit Netflix series, delves into her character’s heartbreaking final scene in episode 12 where she dies during a prison-wide protest – pinned down and accidentally suffocated by an untrained prison guard.
Of the parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement – notably, viewers have linked the scene to the real-life death of Eric Garner and the “I Can’t Breathe” movement that followed – Wiley, 29, says she was “honored to be able to be the vessel, to be able to tell this story through Poussey.”
“There are people everyday who we lose. And especially, with the Black Lives Matter thing, there have been so many people who we’ve lost and there’s people in our country who don’t have any connection to that,” Wiley said. “They don’t know a black person, or the only reference they have are people on TV. … And these people who are watching television who might not have a personal relationship with Black Lives Matter, they know Poussey.”
“People on the streets come up to me and it’s different than some of my friends who are movies stars,” she continued. “And what I’ve been reading online from people is just this profound sadness, something that they can’t shake away. And that is exactly what [creator] Jenji [Kohan] is wanting people to feel, she wants people to not be able to shake this off.”
“It is television, we’re making television at the end of the day, it’s all smoke and mirrors and it’s all fake, but it’s not because it makes people really feel things that are real,” she continued.
The show, Wiley explained, is trying to send a message.
“The story we are trying to tell is about marginalized people, black people, Black Lives Matter – people dying,” she said. “And it being pushed aside in a way that some people aren’t affected by it and people dying and it doesn’t matter. We’re trying to show people that it does matter.”
And despite being honored for her role in the impactful scene, Wiley admitted that the news was a shock to her when she first found out about her character’s fate a little over a year ago.
“Throughout the months of me knowing and up until now, it’s not like my feelings stayed the same the entire time,” she explained. “You go through waves. It’s profoundly sad sometimes; I’ve cried my eyes out. I’ve been happy and excited by the next chapter of my life. I’ve gone through so many different stages with it.”
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The episode also called for the entire cast to be present, making for an emotional day on set.
“It was the first time we’d all been on set at the same time, really, since season one. So that was really special,” Wiley said. “It was a very different mood the last time we were all on set together. … But it was so amazing to have the support of my entire cast on the day that this had to happen. There were faces that I hadn’t seen in a long time and it felt like a real sendoff to have everyone in the same room together.”
“Our set is such a loud, boisterous, loving set and everyone’s always joking and there’s always noise. But on that day, it was much more quiet on set,” she added.
And while she did break the news to her closest costars on the show – Danielle Brooks and Uzo Aduba – about a week or two before the script came out, a lot of her cast mates didn’t find out until the script landed in their hands.
“It wasn’t some big announcement,” she said. “They had much less time to process than I did and because of that, I think a lot of them were doing their grieving on that day of filming, whereas I had done my grieving months before. I had really come to terms that this is my story and because of that, I think I had to do a lot of making sure that everyone else was OK. I think honestly, that day, the rest of the cast, it was much harder for them than it was for me.”
As for what she’s looking forward to now? Watching the show just like any fan!
“Now I get to sit back and watch it like everybody else!” she said. “And I really am excited to see what happens in season five because the way season four ends – the anticipation that I have for season five after seeing the end is like, ‘Wow, where do you go from here?’ I’m just excited to honestly be a viewer and experience it.”
Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black is now streaming on Netflix.