The 49-year-old star shot to fame with her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series, becoming the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in any acting category.
However, the ‘Promising Young Woman’ actress has revealed things could have been very different.
Speaking at the Paley Center’s Pride Month ‘A Salute to LGBTQ+ Pride Achievements in Television’ event, she recalled: “In the fall of 2012 we started shooting this show and I was just so happy to have a job; I was in rent arrears on my apartment, I had rolled back rent and I was in all kinds of debt and I was going to give up acting actually, a few months before I booked ‘Orange’.
“I had turned 40 that year and had a breakout moment and I was in debt and things weren’t going the way I hoped they would.”
Laverne explained how she was “devastated by turning 40 and my life was kind of in shambles, like, financially, and I had worked and trained a lot and my dream of being a working actress had not come to fruition.”
After failed attempts to get her acting break, the ‘Can You Keep A Secret?’ star decided to go to grad school, until she got a call back for ‘Orange is the New Black’.
She continued: “I was just like, ‘I’ve got to do something else. Who do I think I am? I’m a Black trans woman — no one’s ever done this before, let me go and do something, have a real job or something.’
“So I was going to go to grad school. I was studying for the GRE and then the audition for ‘Orange’ happened and I didn’t go to grad school — ‘Orange’ turned out to be my grad school,” she says. “It changed everything.”
Laverne is thankful that she finally got her dream role after playing a “sex worker seven different times”.
She said: “I have a career now that I always dreamed about because of that show, and what’s really beautiful about ‘Orange’ is, I had writing and storylines that I had dreamed about.
“When you’re in acting school and you’re training, and you get, you know, five lines on ‘Law & Order’ or you’re playing sex worker No. 6 on an HBO show — I played a sex worker seven different times — finally I had this storyline that was multidimensional with this character that was complicated and beautifully flawed and it was just exciting to be doing the work.”
And Laverne is thrilled that there are more transgender actors than ever before.
She added: “There was a space opened up.
“There’s been a shift and that is exciting. I’m no longer the only trans person to be nominated for an acting Emmy, Rain Valdez joined me last year when she was nominated for her series, ‘Razor Tongue’, so I’m just excited that there’s more of us working now and I’m not the only one.”