In Orange Is the New Black Season 2, Natalie "Fig" Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) went from a deliciously evil but perhaps a mildly two dimensional villain to a deliciously evil but very layered and three dimensional villain. She was still the same self-involved, corrupt prison administrator we grew to love to hate, but we quickly learned that there was more to her embezzling scheme than nice shoes and fancy cars. By the time everything finally came crashing down around her we — well, we didn't feel sorry for her, but we still wanted to know what happened next.
Wetpaint Entertainment recently caught up with Alysia Reiner to talk all things Fig. In Part 1 of our interview, we talk about Fig's faulty moral compass, whether she realizes what she's doing wrong, and if she got her just deserts.
So read on for all that and more, and don't forget to check back tomorrow for much more Fig goodness.
Wetpaint Entertainment: This season was big for Fig. We learnt she wasn't just embezzling to make herself rich.
Alysia Reiner: Yes! I actually want to make it better for the inmates — eventually.
So now that we've gotten to understand Fig's motivations better, what do you think: does she see herself as a good person?
We all think we're doing the best we can. We all think we're doing the right thing. I really believe Fig is included in that. She thinks she is doing the best she can for these girls, to teach them. In her world of justice, and what justice means, she thinks she's really helping.
It happens to be a very different idea of justice from what I believe in! I really feel like I would be trying my darndest to get a new gym there, to get as many educational programs, and to help with rehabilitation to the best of my ability. But for Fig, her philosophy is, Look, you got in here, and you need to be more self advocating if you want to change anything. And I think her biggest philosophy is I'm going to siphon this money for my husband — and possibly my — political aspirations, so that we can really change things.
Does she feel any remorse for taking the money, and the substandard conditions that Litchfield has been left in?
I think she's not willing to see what's going on. I think there are people on this planet, that I've spent time with, who simply can close their eyes to certain things, because they feel what they believe will be the best for everybody. I don't know how they do that, but I do feel that Fig is one of those people. She is simply not willing to see what's in front of her, and how it affects the people around her. I think she truly does not see the bad that she's doing. I think she truly is like — Well, but I brought Dress For Success in! I'm helping these girls! I think she really thinks she's doing the best she can, and she's really helping these girls, in her f—ked up, — excuse my language! — philosophy of what that means.
That's interesting, because that seems to apply to her husband, too. Clearly she wasn't seeing what was really going on there, at all.
Yeah. That's the interesting thing about playing this woman. Every character really insights your life. That's just the way it goes, hopefully, if you are someone who's interested in seeing things, as I am. I am fascinated by life, and seeing as much as I can, and experiencing as much as I can. One of the things that [Fig] has taught me, is these people who simply close their eyes to things, and who can push away things right in front of them. And I do believe there are a lot of people like that. And it's not until something like what happens in our last episode that she's like "Oh, my god."
I have no idea where they're going with this character. Should she go to jail? Should she go to Congress? A lot of fans still want to see her in that prison, and some people are like, "No, she should end up on House of Cards!" [laughs] I think there's this really interesting thing about what happens when you're made to see. I'm a very philosophical girl, very unlike Fig, so for me there's like a Matrix quality to it.
So, do you, Alysia, think that Fig deserved what happened to her?
From Alysia's point of view? She totally deserved it. She made choices that, karmically, left her exactly where she deserved to be. Worse? I don't know. I think that if she ended up in that prison, that would be the perfect karmic solution, in my eyes. Because, again, she wasn't willing to see her husband, and that brought her to a certain level, and she wasn't willing to see what it's really like for these women, and I think that would be so interesting for her to see it from the inside.
For me, as an actor, it's been such an interesting journey, because the minute I got this role, I was like, OK, let me do as much research as I can. So it was watching episodes upon episodes of of Women Behind Bars. There are so many possibilities, because there is deep corruption in the system, and a lot of money to be made. One of the articles I read was about a tilapia fish farm at one of the penitentiaries that sells to Whole Foods. It's crazy!
Yes! Because it can sell at a such a cheaper price, because they're not paying that labor. It's fascinating. I got so into it, so I would love to play her more, see where she would go with that.
I did all this research, and found out what women go through. Statistically so many of the women in prison, a lot of it's drug, and a lot of it is, when you hear their stories — I'm very active with the Women's Prison Association, and there's one woman who told her story at a benefit recently. She was in this insanely abusive relationship, she was afraid her boyfriend was going to kill her, and he dropped drugs in her bag. She was afraid to say it was him, because she was afraid "If I say that, he will kill me. I will physically be killed." So she took the rap for him and went to prison. So he stayed free, and she came out, was raped in front of her 4-year-old son.
These stories. For me, my eyes have so been opened to it, it's hard for me now not to be as active as I can, to do whatever I can to help. That's why I am very active with the Women's Prison Association, and designed that locket for them, and all that cool stuff.
That's something that's so cool about this show: It's really gotten people talking about these issues.