Whether you marathon-watched every episode in a single weekend or are steadily working your way through Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black, chances are Janae Watson’s back story as a high school track star tugged at your heart strings. But in real life, Vicky Jeudy (who portrays Janae) couldn’t be more different than her tough on-screen persona—and it shone through during her visit to InStyle headquarters.
With her warm, friendly personality, it’s no wonder that she’s friends with all of her cast mates off the set. And they have a fair share of fun while filming too. “Adrienne, who plays Black Cindy, is a good friend of mine, and after she filmed her scene as a TSA agent where she had to pat down a really handsome guy, she called me up like, ‘You will never believe what I did today!’ Funny enough, that guy is now her trainer,” Jeudy says. “We’re nuts! We’re usually singing in between takes, playing patty-cake, or using those long, orange electrical cords as jump ropes. We even have a signal we shout out for when our dorm comes on set.”
Though she differs from Janae in her personality, Jeudy does find parallels between her and her character. “When you see Janae in prison, she’s very outspoken. I think she’s somewhat of an activist, and I’m definitely an activist as well,” she tells us. “When it comes to human rights, civil rights, and equality in general, I’m right there. That fires me up in a matter of seconds, and I drew upon that for Janae.” During her visit, Jeudy spilled many fun factoids about the filming process, what her audition was like, and much more. Here are six things we learned about the star!
1. She’s an undercover pageant pro.
Before she started her career as an actress, Jeudy was one of the top 25 semifinalists in the Miss New York USA pageant. “If you can wear a swimsuit or bikini with high heels, then walk down the runway while everyone is cheering with confidence, then you can do pretty much anything!” she tells us.
While documentaries and reality TV shows may have you believe the pageant atmosphere is pretty similar to being in competing groups at Litchfield, Jeudy saw similarities not in the competitive aspect, but in the supportive. “I think it’s a great avenue for women because it helps build confidence, and you meet a lot of friends—I still keep in touch with the girls I competed with,” she adds. “It’s the same for Orange. We’re all on this amazing hit show together, but we aren’t competing against each other. What’s for you is for you, your journey is your own, and we’re all supportive.”
2. Uzo Aduba originally auditioned for Janae.
“Uzo is beyond talented,” Jeudy says. “She actually auditioned for Janae, but was told she was the wrong type for that role.” Though the casting directors definitely recognized Aduba’s skills—they wanted her on the show, but they weren’t sure which role she would play. “She was contacted later on and was told she’d be playing Crazy Eyes, and I think she did an amazing job,” adds Jeudy. “I love the way she has portrayed Suzanne, and everything that goes into her.”
3. Jeudy only had to audition once before getting the part of Janae.
“I remember when I auditioned, it was hot outside, and I was wearing a summer dress because I had just come from a commercial audition,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s so hot and this character does not like wearing dresses,’ so I went into the bathroom, washed off all of my makeup, threw on sweatpants and a hoodie, and walked in there like ‘Yo I’m Janae,’ and was cursing up a storm!” Her quick thinking paid off, as she received news that she landed the part only two days later. “No callback, I just booked it,” she adds. “I was so grateful!”
4. Each actor gets their script a week before filming their scenes.
We were eager to know what the end of Season 2 meant for the friendship between Janae and Yoga Jones, and Jeudy admitted that she herself was unsure as well! “We actually get our scripts one week before we have to shoot. It’s a good thing—it keeps us surprised,” she says. “You never know what will happen, and when you look at the character of Lorna (Morello), Yael had no idea she was crazy until she got her script! Everyone on set was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re nuts, girl!’ but it worked out since she was so invested in that guy.”
5. She and Janae share an athletic background.
In addition to having similar personality traits, the star is athletic like her character—except where Janae prefers to run, Jeudy would opt to swim. “I did track for one semester, but I was a swimmer,” she admits. “I was a swimmer in high school, and when I was 18, I became a certified aerobics instructor. It’s funny, because Netflix had no idea if I could run or not!” One week before filming Janae’s background story, Netflix called her to ask if she could videotape herself running on the treadmill, and because of her aerobic background, she was able to pull it off!
6. She loves the fan feedback.
If you happen to spot Jeudy out and about, rest assured that she isn’t as intimidating as Janae in real life. “I think people expect me to be really mean!” she says. During a recent bike ride in Central Park, one fan was surprised at how girly she was in person. “I had on a pink headband and sneakers, just all girly, because I’m girly in real life,” Jeudy tells us. “One guy asked if he could take a picture with me, and of course I said yes, and as he was looking at my bag, he goes, ‘You’re pretty girly! I was expecting you to come off your bike and be like: Deuces, baby!'”
Though she is getting recognized more and more in public, the star loves hearing from her fans and how they relate to her role. “You never know who you will impact, and people approach you, so I accept it and try to make a positive impact out of it,” says Jeudy. “If I can make you smile, or even make you a little curious about Orange, then I’m doing my job.”