Within hours after Netflix debuted the entire first season of its groundbreaking ensemble dramedy "Orange is the New Black" in July, 2013, a fan recognized comic Lea DeLaria, who plays the very butch lesbian prisoner who goes by Big Boo.
"I was walking down the street past an Ace Hardware and a girl came out with a screwdriver for me to sign," DeLaria said in a phone interview earlier this week, citing a major prop from one of the show's first-season episodes. By that weekend, she said she was being mobbed in the streets of New York City.
"I'm really grateful for this role," said DeLaria. "This is awesome. I'm having a ball!"
DeLaria will be honorary grand marshal at the Atlanta Pride parade Sunday at 1 p.m. and will do some stand-up on the Coca-Cola stage at Piedmont Park at about 6:55 p.m..
Before Big Boo, DeLaria was already a well-known figure in the LBGT community and was the first openly gay stand-up comic on a late-night show ("The Arsenio Hall Show" in 1993.) She has been an actor with a varied resume that includes "One Life to Live," "Will & Grace" and "The Drew Carey Show." She has also performed in plenty of Broadway and off-Broadway shows.
But "Orange is the New Black," now in production for its third season, has elevated DeLaria's status significantly.
When she heard about casting for "Orange is the New Black," she said given her look, she was not surprised when they asked for her. "It takes place inside a women's prison," she said. "Why wouldn't they call me?"
Big Boo is often used for comic relief, with a hearty sexual appetite, but she also brings humanity to her role. Her character isn't pure caricature like many roles she's been offered over the years have (e.g. an angry, stupid truck driver).
"They wrote the part specifically for me," she said. "I knew it would be funny but I appreciate how they allow me to grow as an actor. I did some crying season one."
She said even as they were taping the first season, the ladies sensed they were doing something special. During episode six, she was with Kate Mulgrew, who plays the steely Red, and Mulgrew sensed DeLaria was about to say how good the show is. "Don't say it out loud!" she told DeLaria. "Don't jinx it!"
DeLaria said she hopes the Emmy-nominated show can last "as long as 'Law & Order.' " The lead character Piper is supposed to be in prison for 18 months and she said through season three, only six months has elapsed.
She is looking forward to coming to Atlanta. She recorded her first comedy record two decades ago at Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points. But she hasn't spent much time there since so her knowledge of the local lesbian scene is sparse.
"I am hoping they're still not line dancing!" she cracked.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.