The Orange is the New Black actress tells Joey Moser how she connects with the drama’s villainous character.
Good villains don’t think they are villains. You won’t see Beth Dover’s Linda Ferguson tying anyone to a set of train tracks any time soon, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t do bad things. If you trace Linda’s emotional journey through the last three seasons of Orange is the New Black, you can definitely find where her character’s anger comes from. As the world around us crumbles, Dover’s exhibits a poise and confidence as Linda that is both appropriate and terrifying.
Linda’s stint in prison definitely had an effect on her. With only a wig and some angered determination, she becomes Vice President of Strategic Planning of PolyCon Corrections, and her ambitious nature is in full force. Orange’s final season finds Linda in a very important place. She has the authority to engineer change but her lingering indignation (especially towards Joe Caputo) only fuels her ambition. She’s one of the most fascinating characters on Orange is the New Black, and, in a show with such a strong ensemble, I mean that as the highest praise.
Beth Dover: I’m actually watching Orange right now. I haven’t finished it! I’m trying to catching up.
Awards Daily: I finished the final episode of the final season at work, so my coworkers may have caught a glimpse of me ugly crying at my desk.
BD: I’m crying as a viewer myself.
AD: I watched the last three seasons in a span of 4 or 5 days, so there has been a lot of emotions for me.
BD: Oh my God. You did that recently?
BD: Wow. You’re going to have so many detailed questions, and I’m going to be like, ‘Uhhhh…’ I’ll try my best!
AD: Is there anything you like about Linda? If anything.
BD: In order to play Linda, I have to empathize with her in some way She’s clearly making decisions based on some trauma she’s had in her life. That’s probably shaped her personality disorder. I have some empathy for her personality. I don’t play her as a villain. There is no mustache twirling on my part. She’s masking decisions as a selfish person. As a survivor. I play her as a socially tone deaf person who lacks some serious empathy. I didn’t know originally that Linda was going to be such a bad person. I envisioned her more of an annoying lady. The worst. She does harbor some crazy anger towards Caputo. Once she got out of prison, she felt disrespected, and she’s looking out for number one. She’s pissed, and she’s going to show them.
AD: And show them she does!
BD: She does.
AD: In the first or second episode, you are getting your photograph taken, and you have this really funny line where you say, ‘You’re proficient in Photoshop, yes?’ Do you look for those pockets of comedy in the scripts?
BD: Oh, definitely. Always. I have to say that the writers write to my strength. As I spent more time on the show, I could tell they were getting to know me as an actor. Everything they write is perfection. I may add something like that line where I said, ‘I don’t look like a newscaster, do I? Or do I want to?’ I feel comfortable doing that now because I’ve been in Linda’s shoes for so long now. It’s nice to play like that. It all depends on the scene. It’s great to play a villain.
AD: I could honestly understand where Linda’s anger could come from. Whether she positions that anger to hurt people is another story…
AD: We can connect with her on some level.
BD: She can use her powers for good or she can use them for bad, but it doesn’t excuse anything that she’s done. Linda has done terrible, terrible things. You can see how it all happens to her, though.
AD: You have a lot of scenes with Tamika and Natalie. One is very green in her job and the other is much more experienced and has a harder exterior. What’s it like having Linda balance between those different women?
BD: I have to get a shout out to Susan Heyward and Alysia Reiner. Susan was on Broadway at the time in Harry Potter, so she’d do her scenes in the morning. Which was great for me, because I’d get out around noon! Susan would then go and do a five-hour Broadway show—she’s amazing and doing double duty. I give her so much credit. Alysia and I have become good friends over the year, and I was so excited to work with her as much as I did on this last season. I think we have good chemistry as adversaries on the show. But I didn’t answer your question, did I?
AD: That’s ok!
BD: I think Linda knows how to play people. I think that’s part of her strength. She speaks calmly to Tamika and says, ‘I fought for you, so you need to do what I say.’ I basically made her my puppet to say all the things Linda doesn’t want to say. She makes Tamika a scapegoat, because she has power over her. Now with Fig, it’s a bit of a different story, but there’s been a power shift. Linda enjoys being very nice to Fig but, ultimately, being a real jerk. She can’t do it in the same way with Tamika. Yeah, Linda is quite terrible.
AD: Yeah, she’s quite cunning.
BD: She’s cunning! That’s the word.
AD: I love that moment at the beginning of the second season where you fire Fig with this huge grin on your face. And you can tell Linda is enjoying herself.
BD: ‘I’m replacing you. Uh huh.’ Blink blink silence blink blink. I’m so glad they let those moments land. You don’t always get those in life. Getting such perverse joy in making someone else’s life miserable.
AD: Linda is very conscious of how she projects herself physically to the people around her.
BD: Absolutely. Everyone in the hair, makeup, and costume departments are so great. Linda has much nicer dresses this season. Much more expensive. In prior seasons they were a more Ross Dress for Less that they could make look better. Linda is making more money and she’s intentionally standing a certain way. I worked with my makeup artist, Stephanie [Barr], to make her more glamorous. I think she’s using her hands in an expressive way. I think she’s putting on this posturing of being this high-level executive. It was all a conscious choice from her hair, makeup, and physicality. I have to credit the costume designer, Jenn Rogien, because everything is so specific and particular. Every article of clothing that every character wears and the way that they wear them is so thought through. She also did the costumes for Russian Doll.
AD: I noticed how you stand in this last season. There is something that is more confident or outward, if that makes any sense.
BD: I’m really glad that you noticed that. The dorky theater kid actor in me really appreciates that.
AD: Well, this dorky theater kid definitely paid attention to everything you did in this last season.
AD: What’s it like playing a face of authority when Trump’s administration is destroying everything?
BD: We are dealing with a lot of intense issues with ICE and detention centers. There were times where I realized I would have to be walking into a detention center. It would be fake, obviously, but it feels so close to what’s actually happening. I actually had to check myself for a second before I walked into that room. It’s heartbreaking to think what’s happening right now. I wake up in the middle of the night just thinking of what’s going on with these children being ripped away from their parents. Hopefully pretty soon I will visit a real detention center. Emily Tarver and Vicci Martinez, who play McCullough and Daddy on Orange, just went to a center in New York, and when they come here in October, I am going to go with them to whichever is the closest one to Los Angeles.
BD: I think the thing about this show is that it gets it out in the cultural conversation and people will be so outraged that they will stand up and do things. And change what’s going on in this country and vote vote vote these terrible people out of office. We can get some semblance of civility back to this country. Anyway, that’s a tangent. It’s intense. That’s what I love about this show and that’s why I’m so grateful. Jenji [Kohan] isn’t afraid to go there and tackle real issues that are out there.
AD: I spoke with Laverne [Cox] recently and she and I were talking about how it feels like the show could’ve been filmed last week. It’s that close to now.
BD: I know. Some of the things that are happening hadn’t happened yet. It was just bizarre. Obviously, things were happening, but in the news it was less so at the time when we were filming. It’s upsetting that the show has its finger on the pulse so much.
AD: Hellman is made the Warden at the end of the season. Have you put any thought into what you think that professional relationship will be like?
BD: I actually thought of that. Hellman is terrible. I’m sure they will, in some weird way, have a good relationship. He’ll tell Linda what she wants to hear and do whatever he wants to do. He will leave her to her own ignorance that everything is going well. That’s probably a match made in heaven.
AD: What does Orange is the New Black mean to you?
BD: This show, on a lot of levels, changed my life. On a personal level, it’s such a huge show, and professionally, it’s been helpful. Most importantly, I’ve gotten to be part of a show that’s changed the landscape of television in regards to representation in all kinds of ways. Diverse representation, queer representation, race, size—everything. It’s shown marginalized people and shown that we are all human. No matter who you are, you can empathize with someone you never thought you’d have something in common with. It changed the political and cultural conversation. It really activated me as a political person just being surrounded by all these fantastic activist actors. After Trump got elected, we marched in New York City down 50 blocks. We went to the Women’s March as a cast. They are family to me. I’m wearing a bracelet right now that says ‘Orange Fam.’ My life has changed so much because of this show, and I’m just an actress. I am lucky that I got to be a part of a show like that.
All episodes of Orange is the New Black are streaming on Netflix.