“She’s a manipulative bitch.”
That’s how Beth Dover describes her character Linda Ferguson, or “Linda from purchasing,” on Netflix’s self-proclaimed most-watched original, Orange Is The New Black (OITNB), which is kind of comical upon meeting Dover, who is witty and charming in comparison.
According to Netflix, more than 105 million households have tuned in to at least one episode of the show that exposes the prison-industrial complex and tackles issues from race and gender to immigration. Throughout the show’s seven seasons, with the final having arrived on Netflix with 13 bingeable episodes on July 26, viewers have watched along as their favorite characters were killed, riots broke out and injustice was committed both in the “SHOE” and out.
Dover’s character, who at first seemed like a cog in the machine of PolyCon Corrections (formerly MCC), is later used to expose the greed of private prisons as she manipulates her way to the top and attempts to cut costs every chance she can get from changing the prison’s food for a cheaper, premade option to opening up an immigration detention center just to receive federal funding and increase the company’s stock.
“I flew myself out because I was like, ‘This is the best show on TV, I love it so much. I’m going out there, I don’t care if it costs me money.’ I was psyched,” said Dover, whose husband Joe Lo Truglio stars as Charles Boyle on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. “I thought I was going to be in one episode of season three and then I was in season four and they kept asking me to do another episode in season four and then I was like, ‘What’s happening?’”
In the beginning, Dover thought Linda was just “a socially tone-deaf white lady,” she joked.
But the creator, Jenji Kohan, developed the character into a full-fledged villain, having viewers question who the real criminals were—the women in prison trying to survive or the prison guards playing fantasy sport draft with the inmates, scoring points for fights and deaths, and the private prison executives cutting as many programs and amenities at the prison as possible to increase their profits.
“It’s so fun,” Dover said of playing the villain. “And I think it gets to the heart of what the show’s about, so if I have to be the villain to express how terrible the prison industrial complex is or ICE or all the things that have been happening, then so be it. I’m honored to be part of telling the story and starting the cultural conversation.”
Although Dover proclaimed Linda to be “about 82 percent bad,” she thought her character would have a change of heart after she accidentally became part of the prison riot and saw how the inmates were living. But this wasn’t the case. After being betrayed by Joe Caputo, former romantic interest and warden of the prison, Linda, who was masquerading as an inmate to survive the riot, was taken to the maximum-security prison, where she had her head shaved.
“I think that was satisfying to viewers and I just felt bad for some of the background players who were actually getting their head shaved because I was wearing a bald cap. They asked me to, but I said no. I don’t know what my head is shaped like. There could be weird things under there that I don’t know about,” Dover laughed.
The sixth season ended with Linda opening an immigration detention center, and Dover explained that Kohan created the seventh season before detention centers became prevalent in national news.
“All of that happened before everything,” said Dover of Kohan’s creation. “Obviously, it was happening, but before it became such giant national news. It’s just so timely, so relevant. That’s why it’s such an honor to be on this show because I feel like it goes there and deals with things that are actually happening in society and really just shifts the cultural conversation in so many ways. The fact that we’re able to deal with immigration, private prisons, race, sexuality, all of it, it’s amazing to be a part of a show like that because it’s important.”
Dover explained, without giving too much away, of course, that the new season will focus on Piper Chapman getting out of prison and her life after, Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson dealing with the life sentence she received after being framed for killing a prison guard and a new GED program.
“It’s tying up some of the characters, some of the loose ends of the characters, but it’s not going to tie things up in a nice tidy little bow because people are going to still be in prison just like in life, people stay in prison,” explained Dover, stating that she cried “neck tears” on the final day of filming.
Looking back on her time with OITNB, Dover explained she became close with the entire cast and became inspired by their political activism to “be more political” herself and put her beliefs out there. She’ll miss her cast members most and being part of a show that “has changed the whole zeitgeist of television.” To remember OITNB, Dover created a little gold bracelet she said she wears each day with the words “Orange Fam” on it for herself and a few others. She also had the opportunity to take home some “Linda gear,” a few outfits Linda wore and a few she never wore.
“Staying silent is just as bad as being for the wrong side,” said Dover, who attended the Women’s March in Manhattan with fellow castmates after President Donald Trump was elected. She has also become part of a grassroots organization, The Hometown Project, which promotes voting at the local level. “It’s been a really inspiring thing to be a part of; I love all of my castmates, truly.”
If you feel like laughing so hard you fold over, getting angry enough to throw your television across the room or crying so hard tears stream down your neck, the final season of OITNB is on Netflix. For more of Dover, she will be coming back to Netflix on Medical Police, a spinoff of Children’s Hospital.