I’ve kept a fairly standard template when it comes to interviews. I generally have 5 questions pre-constructed to ensure I take no more time than necessary while interviewing people. Their time is valuable and I don’t want to waste it. So when It came time to prep for my interview with OITNB’s Farrah Krenek (debatably the most recognizable person I’ve interviewed to date) I thought my questions should be super poignant and concise. Within the first 60 seconds of talking with Farrah, I knew it was safe to throw out my initial questions and just talk with her like a person. She is an amazingly dedicated person who has quite a way with words, a true wordsmith if you will, and I knew the best way to get to know her was to listen.
After some quick introductions and jokes about cheesesteaks she opened the conversation with a bold statement.
“A lot of people misunderstand actors and their responsibilities, when people hear of actors all they think of is fame, wealth, glamorous lifestyles and no sense of struggle. There is so much struggle and sacrifice everyday in this profession… So much heartache and heartbreak by being misunderstood… But be strong and walk tall… It's the only way. But what’s even greater is being given a platform to make a difference…” Farrah said confidently. She went on to say that she knew she didn’t have time to be everyone’s poster child, so she quickly discovered the target audience she wanted to be a role model for. “I want people to understand it’s not about being gay, it’s not about being an activist, it’s about being a person and wanting to help other people. When I am cast in a role, it’s not just about playing a character, I want to inspire people to understand they’re not alone.”
“My goal is to be the face of LGBT (specifically more masculine lesbian) cinema, because growing up, I didn’t really have an actress or actor to connect with; I want to be that person for those younger girls out there that face adversity because of the way they dress, walk, talk, or do anything that makes them special. My generation was very closeted and secluded, people were bullies, people teased others because they liked the gratification of the harsh words. Worse, the victims of these bullies had no one to turn to on a local level, and no one to look up to in media. I don’t want that to be the case anymore.”
Keeping up with her jovial and lighthearted spirit I asked her what her favorite show was growing up. “I loved watching ‘Beverly Hills 90210,’ not because I related to any characters but because they had the dream life I wanted. I fantasized about being one of them, with lots of friends and always enjoying the company of others. – Side note, ‘Queer as Folk’ is one of my favorite tv shows as an adult, I feel they did an amazing job treating the LGBT community as people and not just gag characters.”
Her words thus far had introduced a new question, I was curious as to when she came out.
“I don’t really think I ever did, people always referred to me as the taller version of Brandon Teena, they saw photos of me and I guess what else is left to be said? As for the first time it was in print, It was an article in the November 2006 issue of Curve Magazine. I was 29 and then there it (sexual orientation) was, boldly stated. I wish I had done it sooner for more respect, but my generation wasn’t ready until then. I was waiting until they were ready to show me respect as a person.”
Turning the questions back toward the original intent of the interview, I asked her about her acting. Most folks know you from “Orange is the New Black,” has that been your favorite project (acting or otherwise) to date?
“I was type cast as a military role in projects early in my career but because of my bleached hair I was turned down (they advised me to look into the obscure rules and regulations the military has over a person’s body), then I was cast as a hipster for a few projects because of my build and look, and then finally type cast as an inmate. I don’t mind it, because when people look for a vicious lesbian looking character, I’m who they call; but my looks couldn’t be more different than my personality, I’m a softie! Actually ‘Orange is the New Black’ was/ is my favorite role so far. I get to be myself… it feels effortless. From the moment I put on the uniform I change my look and I change my walk, I get to revert back to my high school attitude, but it’s still me.”
After 20 minutes of chit chat, it dawned on me that I should get to the meat of the interview, we were set up on this interview date to discuss UChic’s State of the Girl Series. The program was set up to Inspire conversation around the challenges young women today face, AND drive real actionable solutions, giving support and encouragement to these next generation of leaders and world-changers. There is a growing problem of the financial issues young women face while both entering and exiting college. For instance, according to a national survey by Toluna Quicksurveys and UChic:
• More than 67% of female students worry their debt will prohibit them from reaching their professional dreams, forcing women to alter those plans as a result.
• This is especially true for young women, who are slightly more likely to accumulate student loan debt than their male peers.
The State of the Girl series will examine why this happens and what needs to be done to improve the playing field for women moving forward. The series will reveal additional eye-opening survey statistics over the next several months.
I asked Farrah to explain the process of becoming an ambassador for UChic’s State of the Girl series and about what her duties are. “I was flattered and surprised. To be able to be the voice of so many women that are being groomed to be our professionals… and future. And to guide them, and be their leader was something I was not expecting. It gives me a strong sense of responsibility. I want to make sure they enter the workplace somewhere they can flourish and be the best they can be.”
Satisfied with Farrah’s answer, I was excited to turn the tides back to getting to know her as a person. I asked her what her goals for the project and life as a whole are.
“I just want people to listen to each other and understand that no conversation is worth having if two people talk at the same time, the expression ‘listen twice as much as you speak,’ is important to me. People need to take the time to sit and talk to other people and then listen. Conversation has the power to make change. I want myself and this project to inspire women. When people see me (and other strong women) I don’t want them to be intimidated, I want them to feel protected. The most beautiful gift we have is life, and it’s important to understand: we need to use our gift to not only bring out the best in ourselves but the best of each other.”
And just like that my slated half hour interview turned into a solid 45 minute conversation and I realized that what Farrah said was right. Listening to her, and maintaining a conversation with her had taught me a lot of fascinating outlooks on life. She’s going places and I can’t wait to see what she, and the State of Girls Series can accomplish.