While most of the Litchfield inmates on Orange Is the New Black have no problem speaking their minds, Flaca and Maritza, the dynamic duo often known as Flaritza to fans, prove to be especially candid with their hilarious, unfiltered words of wisdom. The relatable, down-to-earth characters allow fans to identify with each dramatic storyline, and it’s no wonder—Jackie Cruz, who plays Flaca, confessed that her role is actually a more-blunt version of herself. “I identify with almost everything about Flaca, except she says more of what is on her mind,” she tells us. “I always say she’s a little like my alter ego. She says things I wish I could say, but don’t.”
During a recent trip to InStyle headquarters, we caught up with Cruz and Diane Guerrero (who portrays Maritza) to get insight on what they’ve learned from the hit show and, no surprise to us, they had a lot to say. Keep reading to see the life lessons we picked up during our conversation—Oprah’s Lifeclass might have some competition!
Everyone has their own story.
As we’ve seen on Orange, there is more to a person than what’s on the surface, and everyone makes mistakes. “Some of my biggest mess-ups have been when I’m feeling the lowest, and so much of making the wrong choices has to do with self-esteem issues,” says Guerrero.
The in-depth back stories allow the audience to see how each inmate ended up the way they did, and is humanizing in showcasing their struggles and vulnerabilities. “People make mistakes, I don’t know Flaca’s mistake yet, but these people aren’t bad people,” Cruz says. “When you see their backgrounds, you see that anybody could end up there—these characters really could be any one of us.”
Your obstacles do not define you.
Though we have yet to see Maritza’s history, Guerrero’s personal story proves to be just as interesting as any of the leading characters’. She was separated from her parents at 14 after they were deported to Colombia, but was able to turn her situation around with the help of her friends, family, and community. “I was in constant communication with my parents, but I could have taken it various different ways,” she tells us. “Still, I was able to imagine a better life and a better future, and with the love of my parents, who kept telling me I had talent and that I was special, I kept going and made it out of that.”
Guerrero looked to her family for support, and sought out programs that peaked her creative interests. “Many young people have had to grow up in similar situations—whether their families have been deported or have their own problems—but just because your family’s position is that way, that doesn’t mean yours will be in the future if you work hard enough,” she adds. “It’s gonna be tough, and you may fall, but you have to keep going. That’s what I did.”
Don’t be afraid to stand out.
You never know who you will impact, and in taking on their roles, Guerrero and Cruz each stood out as inspirational in their own communities, driving home the point that representation matters. “Now that we both have a voice, you can make a difference,” Cruz says. “I feel like Latinas growing up now will see someone like them on television and will connect to you in that way.” Guerrero has had a few fan encounters, and is always pleasantly surprised to hear how her fans relate. “In the smallest ways, people can connect with you,” says Guerrero. “I’m always interested to see how people have identified with me and my character—it’s nice and unexpected.”
State your positive affirmations and goals out loud—they could come true.
A funny thing happened on the path to portraying Flaca: Before she became an actress, Cruz worked at a popular New York City hotspot, where she met a friend who inspired her character’s fiery personality. “She would get mad feisty, and I would watch this and say to her, ‘I’m going to play you on TV one day,'” she tells us. “I get the audition, and I imagined Flaca to have the same accent and traits as my friend, who is also really smart. Now, she’s back in school, going to college, and I’m playing her on TV!” She even has Guerrero convinced that the method works. “Jackie is the queen of that. When you project something into the universe, and then it actually happens,” Guerrero says. “I’m beginning to think she’s psychic!” All Miss Cleo-esque jokes aside, Cruz does have a point—life-changing results are possible when you set a goal, and once you state it aloud, you may just find the insight you need to make it come true.
Never stop learning from others.
With a cast as talented as the one on Orange, there’s no doubt that both Cruz and Guerrero learned more about their craft working with their fellow inmates. Speed-reading the scripts in particular served as a crash course in how to nail their lines. And in watching the other actresses film their job interview scenes, Cruz was able to determine the direction in which to take Flaca’s part. “It was fun, because we were all standing there watching each other’s scene, and I was one of the last people to go, so it made me want to get on everyone else’s level,” she says. “The older ladies in prison are some of my favorites,” adds Guerrero. “They’ve been at it for a very long time and have more experience in this, I love talking to them and asking questions.”