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Interview: Dascha Polanco on 'The Cobbler,' gentrification and meeting Method Man

Dascha Polanco’s rise has been fast: She was a nurse in the Bronx with two tiny TV credits to her name when she scored her gig on “Orange is the New Black,” playing new inmate Daya. She then had small roles in “Gimme Shelter” and now the indie fantasy “The Cobbler,” playing the harried girlfriend of a gangster played by Method Man. And when we speak, the Brooklyn native is in Boston, shooting David O. Russell’s “Joy,” alongside Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and more. Not that makes her nervous.

Her "Cobbler" character: “It’s not a big role, but it’s very profound. It depicts what people in bad relationships go through — the ups and downs, the physical and emotional abuse, and being able to survive that. When I look at roles I look at them as an opportunity to not judge the character but to become the essence of that character. Seeing her resilience and seeing how strong she is — it was something I can actually portray quite well, because I find myself to be very resilient and to be an advocate for doing what you want to do and having a freedom of choice.”

Her short screentime: “There are times where you can have a conversation with someone for an hour and get nothing from it, but you can come across one person and get one hello, and that hello affects you your whole life. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Though I wanted to show more of her, I didn’t have to show more to show her history. I want to make characters colorful and artistically intriguing so that it always leaves a footprint on the viewer’s lives.”

Playing Method Man’s paramour: “Growing up I was a fan of Method Man’s music. I had posters of him as a child. He was my little teen crush. To work with him — I was timid. I was a little intimidated because I didn’t know he was so tall. [Laughs] I was like, ‘Wow, you look small on MTV!’ But he’s very welcoming, very down to earth.”

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The film’s portrayal of a gentrifying New York: “The other day I thought I’d look up some apartments in Brooklyn, because I thought I’d like to move back there. When I saw the average cost of living in Brooklyn, I was like, ‘Wow, it’s Manhattan now.’ Brooklyn has lost its culture, in aw ay. I know it’s improved vastly, but as a native Brooklynite, I miss the true genuine Brooklyn street.”

Movies vs. TV: “Doing movies you’re on a time limit. You don’t have time to create a family. On a TV show you’re together for so long that eventually you have this family environment. In a movie you’re in and out. But making movies you get exposed to so much more. You make a movie quickly then you’re on to the next, and you meet different people. There’s no monotony. I need both [TV and movies]. I need a little bit of both in my life.”

The cliche of sitting around, killing time on movie sets: “For me it’s different, because there’s a large cast on “Orange.” When you have 80 cast members you sit around a lot more than you would when you have 10. I still need to work on a couple movies to see if that’s actually true, but I sat around a lot more on ‘Orange’ than on movies.”

Diversity in roles: “It’s only going to get better. It’s only going to create more understanding for people to think that, as shapely as I am and as a Latina woman, I can be a lead actor in your movie and be exceptional at it.”

Getting nervous around major stars: “I get more nervous when I do interviews than when I’m on set. When I’m around Meryl Streep or Dustin Hoffman or Adam Sandler, I get more timid, but I also get more observant, because I want to assimilate. I want to absorb all their techniques so I can get better. Being around these people allows me to be proud and realize I’m in it to win it. I’m supposed to do this.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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