Actress Selenis Leyva dishes on her new role in Diary of a Female President and how her mother and daughter fill her with strength and inspiration.

By Lena Hansen
July 15, 2019 12:00 PM

Selenis Leyva feels blessed to be part of Orange is the New Black and admits she is still in shock that this month will bring the show’s series finale. “We wrapped in February, and I don’t think I fully understood that this is it,” she says about the final season, premiering July 26 on Netflix. “It’s been great. It’s changed my life,” she adds about her role as inmate Gloria Mendoza. “This is a woman who is very proud to be Latina, who is very motherly, who is very caring. This is what Gloria is. It was very easy for me to tap into that.”

The Cuban actress of Dominican descent, 47, is also thrilled to be working with Gina Rodriguez on the Disney Plus series Diary of a Female President. “This is a show about a young girl who ends up being the future female president of the United States, and it’s a Cuban American girl and I’m her mother. What is beautiful about this story is that we have not seen this type of Latino storytelling, where it’s not a household where people are struggling, it’s not a household with trauma and drama — it’s a household where the mother is a single mom but she is a lawyer, they live in a beautiful home, they are well off. I don’t think we’ve seen that. This is an educated family and it’s funny. I think it’s something that everyone will be able to watch. It’s a great family show.”

Having her daughter Alina on set with her while filming Diary of a Female President was a special treat, she says. “My daughter and my mom have this bond and this love for each other that is so beautiful to watch. My mother is my best friend. She is the strongest woman I know and yesterday my daughter went to set and sat in Gina’s director’s chair,” she recalls. “Gina was like, ‘Come sit here and watch your mom,’ and my daughter came home so excited she couldn’t stop talking about the work she saw. She said, ‘Mom, you are so good, and I love Gina, she is so smart and she knows what she is doing. Everyone on set is so great.’ To see that for me was very powerful, because my daughter got to see her mom working and being directed by another Latina. She said to me, ‘I think I need to look into filmmaking,’ so the fact that Gina was able to inspire my child like that in one day of work makes me feel really lucky.”

(Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images)

Last year, Leyva shared on Instagram an early headshot and inspiring post, remembering how she struggled to get the roles she wanted when she started her career. “My early days of auditioning were tough,” she wrote. “Side note, STILL tough. I was made to feel like I could never work because I was an Afro-Latina. I wouldn’t be seen for Latina roles, only “light-skinned black” roles or exotic. Fair-skinned Latinos or non-Latinos would get cast in those roles. [In] 2018 [there’s been] little progress, still see casting craziness, but I am FOCUSED, WISER and not playin! #grateful for the bumps along the way…only makes me more aware of every blessing #bronxgirlforlife #afrolatina.”

Besides getting to play memorable roles today, the actress says she is blessed with her family and her life off-set, too. “I love to hang out with family and friends. I love to go dancing, I love being really silly, and I think that people that don’t know me are surprised because they have seen my playing this very serious character for so long. But that’s the beauty of acting, to play different people, and if you do it right, people think that’s who you are,” she says.

What is the real Selenis like? “I’m light, I’m fun, I like reading and watching movies, spending time with my daughter,” she says. “I’m enjoying life right now, going for runs, enjoying the weather in L.A. I’m living my best life.”

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