With the final season of Orange is the New Black looming, Danielle Brooks is seeking new horizons. The 29-year-old actress is slated to make her Shakespeare in the Park debut this summer as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, so she’s putting her prestigious Julliard education to exceptionally good use. Beyond that, though, she’s really just reveling in the last hurrah for a show that’s made her a household name. Brooks’ turn as Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson on OITNB has endeared her to viewers all over the world thanks to her charm, wit, and inner joy. Now, OITNB fans anxiously await to learn Taystee's fate. The standout character, as you may recall, was convicted of a murder she didn’t commit. So, what will happen to Taystee in OITNB season 7? Well, Brooks says there’s still a lot for her to overcome in the show’s final season.
"It’s about survival ... I know that sounds generic to say but I think they are now fish swimming in a new pond and they’re trying to figure out [how] to survive their new circumstances that they’ve been given, especially for Taystee ... Now that she’s been convicted of this crime that she didn’t commit. So, for her, she’s trying to figure out, 'Is life worth living?'" she tells Elite Daily at during Wells Fargo’s Friends' Night In event in New York City. "And I think the audience, as much as she’s toiling with that, I think they will be as frustrated at where it’s taking them emotionally. But at the end of the day, I think the whole thing is to continue to find ways to find your hope."
Brooks says that fans will see Taystee and Black Cindy — whose false testimony essentially convicted Taystee — "hash it out." From Brooks’ point of view, Taystee is someone who doesn’t always see the truth behind a person’s intentions and has often had to learn the hard way what lies beneath.
"I think Taystee — as street smart as she is, as wise as she is — I think she’s naive when it comes to love. And I think she wants that so bad, she wants love so much that she forgets that people are human and people don’t always have the best intention and won’t always have your back as many times as they might say it in front of your face," she says. "So, I think she kind of is naive to that and unfortunately had to learn the hard way with her [Black Cindy]. But yeah, they’ll definitely have to hash it out."
Having played Taystee for seven years, Brooks obviously has quite an intimate relationship with the character. So, how does she feel now that the series is coming to a close? Like many fans, Brooks is a bit heartbroken.
"It is heartbreaking in a way. I mean, all good things must come to an end. It is nice to end on seven; that’s the year of completion. To be a show that has made it to seven seasons is outstanding, so I’m very proud of us. I’m very proud of all these women that... I don’t know if I can say if under any other circumstance we would have all been able to shine at the same time," she explains. "So, for all of us to get to have this experience, especially because of our uniqueness and that being celebrated on the screen, that to me is priceless. And so, for that, I will miss what that has been for not only us and for the world and how that has changed the culture and how we, first of all, view television being on Netflix and then also the people that we bring on the screen."
Though Brooks will miss stepping into Taystee’s shoes, she also sees opportunities to channel her talents in different ways.
"I'm going to miss it. I am. I’m also excited to spread my wings and show people, like, I actually went to school; I’m not an inmate. I do other things. You know what I mean? I’m excited to get to see where this experience will now take me," she says.
So, what’s the next move for Brooks? Beyond Shakespeare in the Park, which kicks off in May 2019, Brooks is looking after her financial future, and that of her fans, by partnering with Wells Fargo for their new Propel Card — a credit card that lets you earn three times your points when you use it on qualified purchases (like on your Netflix monthly subscription, for example).
It’s a fitting move for someone so deeply connected to a show that largely features and appeals to young women of color. In an era when political figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are fighting for social and economic equality, so many Millennial women are looking for ways to bridge race and gender gaps. Financial literacy is a huge part of effecting change and the work Brooks is doing with Wells Fargo is certainly a step in the right direction.
"I feel like this Propel Card is teaching us how to ... keep money in our pockets," Brooks says. "I feel like what we spend is worth spending and, as an actress, my field is finicky and so I’m always trying to find a way to save money and to be smart with my money. And why not work with someone that’s going to give me three times my money?"
Working with Wells Fargo isn’t just about being smart with her money, though. Brooks also sees her partnership with Wells Fargo as a sign that her world is expanding — something she feels she wouldn’t have been able to do without the success of Orange is the New Black.
"Working with Orange [is the New Black] has given us a platform to do other things, too. Like working with Wells Fargo. I wouldn’t have had that experience if I hadn’t been able to go seven years with this show,” she tells me.
Brooks’ world has definitely gotten larger since first stepping foot onto the OITNB set seven years ago. Here’s hoping the world gets to see a lot more of her in the future.