Now in its fifth season, “Orange is the New Black” has gone from having a cult following to being a force of nature. Never afraid to take on issues that while “uncomfortable” to watch, are the necessary topics of conversation to bring about social change. In her role as Maria Ruiz, Jessica Pimentel has become a pivotal character and Season Five regular. If life does in fact reflect art, Jessica is a beautiful image of her character. Fiery and fiercely loyal, both women have an inner fortitude and moral compass that keeps them focused on a goal and driven by self-discovery and the unwavering belief that hope must never be lost even in the face of great adversity.
Joshua Estrin: When we spoke last summer, you were poised to take over the world and with an expanded and integral role in Season 5 of Orange is the New Black. What do you do to take awareness and turn it into action?
Jessica Pimentel: So much of who I am is reflected in my decision to be a Buddhist. A great deal of how I approach life on both the professional and personal fronts manifests from the Buddhist teachings. Visualization, self-awareness, and an overall willingness to be open to taking a path that, at first might not seem to be the one that I had planned, have all been keys to the success. Equally important, and not always easy, is a willingness to respect that things aren’t going to always go my way. For me, the focus is not on winning or losing, but rather on trusting that everything happens exactly as it should and is meant to move me closer to the person I need to become. This, in turn, moves me closer to the artist that I was also meant to be.
JE: This season is intense. Did you do anything differently to prepare for your role as Maria Ruiz?
JP: First and foremost, I am very grateful to have become a season regular. It is a huge compliment considering the talent of the cast and a commitment on the part of everyone involved to continue to create a show that is not only entertaining, but raises questions that are meant to spark important dialogues. But I’m not preparing for the role any differently, there is simply more to prepare for and, with no complaints, it simply means more time and more work. What some people might not realize, is that the vast majority of the cast receives the script week to week. So preparation is as intense as the storyline. From time to time there may be changes in the direction of the character that necessitate knowing things ahead of time. Until now, that hasn’t been my experience, and so from the moment I receive the script I dive in headfirst to make sure I continue to create and sustain Maria as the multi-dimensional woman she has always been.
JE: We see more of Maria’s strength, but as the season progresses, she also reveals a very vulnerable side. Have audiences noticed and reacted to her maturation and self-awareness
JP: Maria continues to show her strength this season, but she is evolving. She understands that strength can manifest in ways other than brute force. Without spoiling it for those who may not yet have seen the entire season, there is a scene between Maria and Gloria that I believe is very revealing. It explores the very fine line between being selfish and selfless, and also lets audiences see into Maria’s fierce love and devotion for her daughter. One of the most exciting things about “Orange is the New Black” is how multi-leveled the individual characters are, and how that plays across the continuum of their interwoven lives. I believe audiences will notice a change. The change will be revealed in subtle shifts of Maria’s reactions or lack of reactions to situations that ultimately bring her closer to her singular goal, that of reuniting with her daughter.
JE: Styled for the cover of Resident Magazine, you are playing a role and manifesting the vision of others. When it comes to your own personal sense of style and fashion, what are the “must haves” in your closet?
JP: Style for me is about comfort and flexibility. I spend most of my time in New York City so fashion needs to be versatile. While it’s not a new concept, it’s important to me that everything I wear is able to go from day to night. I have a very active lifestyle, and while health and fitness are very important to me, I also like to feel like a woman or more specifically, tap into that part of me that enjoys feeling pretty. Not because I’m supposed to look a certain way, but because I like to look a certain way and I need clothing that reflects that same sense and sensibility.
JE: Your love of music and your band are something you have been very public about. How does performing on stage in a band differ from your onscreen work and in what ways does music fulfill you as an artist in ways that perhaps you don’t find in acting?
JP: As an artist and a creative spirit, I understand that I’m part of an industry that often finds it necessary to try and label and compartmentalize people. “Actress”, “Singer”, “Performer”… that’s the business side. The personal and spiritual sides are again, a reflection of my Buddhist beliefs, as the sum of my creative parts includes my mind, body, and spirit. As a musician, my work simply plays out on a different stage than that as an actress, but it still reflects a common thread of compassion and a desire to humanize the world around me. I hope it reflects my belief that I am more than just a label or category. I’m Jessica, a person made up of many pieces and parts. Everything I do fulfills the unique aspects of what it is that makes me human and in turn, connects me to the rest of the human race.
JE: Tell me about some of your other projects
JP: I am very excited for A Bread Factory directed by Patrick Wang and Vanishing Angle. It is a great script and a great cast with a somewhat unassuming storyline focused on a small town community arts center that has a wild and unexpected twist. I am thrilled to be part of the project and the grateful for the opportunity to work with Tyne Daly, James Marsters, Nana Visitor, Janeane Garofalo and Brian Murray. Expect the unexpected and enjoy the ride. This movie is something special.
If Jessica Pimentel had her own tagline, perhaps “expect the unexpected and enjoy the ride” would be the most accurate. She is a woman of conviction and compassion with a willingness to embrace the future as a daily work in progress. She is a woman of strength, yet she exudes a sense of peace and balance and she is never afraid to take the road less traveled.
Produced by Hillary Latos
Photographer UDO Spreitzenbarth @udophotography
Stylist Ty-Ron Mayes for Maxine Tall Management @stylisttyronmayes
Make-up JP Ramirez for Angelo David Salon Giorgio Armani Beauty | Bloomingdales SOHO
Hair Ricky Mota for Angelo David Salon The Beachwaver Co.
Manicurist Mariana Kryekurti for Angelo David Salon OPI Products
Imaging Lorraine Baker
Photo Assistant Sarah Silverio
Assistant Stylist Markayla Theus The Orchid Foundation
Shot in location:
the duplex penthouse of the Four Seasons Residences
30 Park Place, NYC PH78B.