Our interview with talented actress Kelly Karbacz who currently stars as inmate, Kasey Sankey, on Netflix’s award-winning series, “Orange is the New Black.” Introduced in season four, Sankey is a primary member of the White Power Group, inadvertently created by fellow inmate, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). Throughout the season, Kelly is a scene-stealer as her character finds herself in multiple altercations with the other inmates and pursues Piper to be an active member of her “movement.”
Kelly has been making a name for herself on the screen and on the stage for the past decade. Her most notable roles include starring as Joanie Binder in ABC’s “Regular Joe” alongside Judd Hirsch, playing snarky receptionist, Judy, in Warner Bros’ “Get Smart” alongside Steve Carell and making her Broadway debut as Maureen Johnson in “Rent” which ran at the Nederlander Theatre.
A native New Yorker, Kelly graduated from the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, and studied drama at The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute part of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
How do you prepare for a role?
For film and television, when I am cast in a role, I research as much as possible and request as much information as I can about the character from the creative team of the project. I re-read the full script and then focus more intensely on my scene work. I memorize my lines early on because it is much easier for me to find the core of my character once the script is in my bones and I don’t have to think about what I’m saying. Music is key for me too, so I find songs that connect me emotionally to the work I need to do. Once I’m on set to shoot, the wardrobe, hair and makeup add another layer and help me figure out how my character moves and behaves. I then put all the elements together and do my very best to give an honest and truthful performance. For theatre, the rehearsal period is very different but I use much of the same preparation.
Tell us about your role in “Orange is the New Black”?
I play inmate, Kasey Sankey, and she is the leader of the White Power Movement at Litchfield. Sankey was introduced in Season 4 and she aggressively tries to gain the respect of the other inmates and expand the turf for her “family”. She is tough and has a very short fuse, but is a complex character with many layers to her. Sankey says and does undeniably horrific things, but also has these interesting moments of possible redemption. She surprisingly pulls back from confrontation, she tries to rally the other inmates for the greater good, and she tries to acknowledge that the other women are not as bad as she expected them to be. I’m excited for the fans to see her continue to evolve.
What’s your favorite part about working on this project?
I truly love everything about my job. I have the privilege of being on an international hit show, with the most incredible fans, working alongside one of the most gifted ensembles in television, and that blessing is never lost on me. OITNB, because of Jenji Kohan, and our extraordinary writers, is in a class by itself in the way it sheds light on the most important issues in our current culture. I also love that I get to challenge myself creatively by playing a role so different from anything I’ve ever played before.
Who is your best friend on the set?
We really are one big, beautiful Orange family. I am close with so many of my cast mates, especially the “new blood” inmates because we all joined the show around the same time and bonded instantly.
What we can expect of Season 5?
Season 5 is super intense and the stakes are higher than ever. We pick up right where we left off, in the middle of a prison riot and hostage situation. The inmates have taken over Litchfield, fueled by their collective rage over Poussey’s death and the abusive treatment by the new guards. As Season 5 unfolds, viewers will see how this shift of power affects inmates and guards alike, as well as those outside the prison. Unexpected alliances form, backstories shed more light on those who inhabit Litchfield, and audiences will witness the strength of the human spirit as everyone copes with loss and finds the will to carry on. With Sankey, fans will see different sides to her and learn more about her life. She also continues to struggle with her ideology and whether or not it should always dictate her behavior.
What role would you love to play that you haven’t yet?
I’m not sure if my ultimate dream role has been written yet. However, there are several recent performances that inspire me and certainly make me yearn to play roles of the same caliber- Viola Davis in “Fences,” Robin Wright in “House of Cards,” and Jessica Lange in “Feud.” Clearly, I am drawn to strong, powerful female characters with great emotional depth and rich, compelling stories to tell.
What advice would you give to those who want to be in this business?
Practice your craft and stay inspired by keeping that passion and fire burning within you. Work on your own projects if you can and witness the art all around you. As far as the acting part goes, you’ll usually end up where you need to be in a scene, without pushing for anything, if you start from a simple, honest place. Stay present and relaxed in the moment, and just talk. The business side is definitely a roller coaster with highs and lows. Stay focused on doing your best work consistently, and people will notice. Run your own race because everyone is on their own path. The roles that are right for you will find their way to you. When it gets tough, do your best to hold onto that hope and positivity that brought you to this crazy show business in the first place, and remember that you usually struggle most right before a big breakthrough.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m currently working on two theatre pieces- a musical and a straight play. They are both in the early stages so I can’t share any details yet, but I’m thrilled to be able to help develop them. They are meaty, wonderful roles and I’m excited to see how they evolve.
What are the 3 things you can’t live without?
My family, music and the ocean
What is your favorite healthy food?
I love a good chopped salad and I live on green tea.
And your favorite cheat food?
Mint chocolate chip ice cream
How’s your typical day?
In this industry nothing is typical, every day holds a new adventure.
Something people don’t know about you?
I started in show business when I was a kid, and my first big break was playing “Louisa” in THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Lincoln Center’s New York City Opera.
Five years from now you will be…
Continuing to play fulfilling roles and working on projects that bring me great joy and satisfaction.
What kind of music do you like?
I love music in general. I live for John Legend and Bruno Mars, and Hip-Hop, Rap and R&B are my go to music choices, always have been. I can never go wrong with Jay Z.
Do you support any charity?
In the past, I’ve supported The Alzheimer’s Association, numerous military and veteran organizations and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Your idea of a perfect Sunday is…?
A day at the beach- sun, sand, walk along the shore, long swim, and reading a good book while I listen to the waves roll in. Follow that up with a delicious meal and then cuddling up on the couch to watch my favorite shows. Ahhh, so nice, right?
Do you have any other hobbies?
Yoga, Hiking, and road tripping with my husband.
What do you think of Social Media?
I think it’s a wonderful way to connect with fans, especially the OITNB fans who are the greatest in the world!!!
Where we can follow you?
You can follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @KellyKarbacz
Quote: “No Day, But Today” (I played “Maureen” in RENT on Broadway, and once a RentHead always a RentHead.)
Favorite Book: I love to read so I have faves in every genre. Right now, I really connect with “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. This book has so many powerful life lessons, and I love the idea that if you follow your heart’s true desire, the entire universe will conspire to help you achieve your dreams.
Sports Team: New York Yankees
Drink: A good glass of White Wine or a Moscow Mule
Travel destination: Anywhere tropical
Movie: Too many to pick just one- “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Rocky”, “GoodFellas” and so many more.
TV Show: Again, way too many to choose one- “Scandal,” “This Is Us,” “Empire,” “House of Cards,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Dear White People”…and the list goes on.
Photo Credit: Nicolas Wagner