Meet the 'big baddie' from C Block: Henny Russell reveals what made her play the role of Carol Denning in OITNB

The sixth season of OITNB has a huge gangsta on their hands, and it's none other than C-Block boss Carol. And Henny, who plays the role, loves her character for being a big baddie.


                            Meet the 'big baddie' from C Block: Henny Russell reveals what made her play the role of Carol Denning in OITNB

Henny Russell is popularly known now for her portrayal of Carol Denning on season 6 of 'Orange is the New Black'. Her character ‘Carol’, the boss of Cell-Block C, is arguably the most terrifying and one of the most popular additions to the show.

Henny began her career in theater, and though classically trained, did mostly contemporary plays and new works.  Her first Broadway show was Major Barbara in 2001, the most recent being Oslo, which won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Play. She can be seen in such films as 'Freeheld', 'Kilimanjaro', and the upcoming 'Bikini Moon', 'The Magnificent Meyersons', and 'Bushwick Beats'. When it comes to television, Henny is popular on television as well and has acted in 'Chicago Med,' 'The Leftovers,' 'Elementary,' and 'Law & Order: SVU.'  

Play time in Litchfield. Source: Netflix
Play time in Litchfield. Source: Netflix

Meaww had the opportunity to chat with this talented actress and we couldn't help but ask her all about Carol Dennings. Take a look at the conversation we had. 

What was the information you had about your character while auditioning for the role? What attracted you to it?

There was hardly any information given to me before the audition because they did not have a long list of scenes at the time with the present-day Carol. So I knew very little going in. I guess I had an inkling that Carol was a big, bad boss. So that was one thing that I did get to know about the role. There was a lot of things that I had no clue about, like her past, as well as the reason why she was in prison, but I knew from the start that she was a big baddie, so that was one of the things that got me really excited about the role.

What is your assessment of Carol's mental health? What is your analogy of her and Barbara's relationship as an actor and as a fan of the show?

Well, I am not a person to judge, but I agree that someone who can just kill their sister, there is something definitely wrong with them. But what was even more disturbing for me was that she (Carol) used to have absolutely no remorse. She was almost unaffected by her sister's death, which to me, feels like Carol was a sociopath, especially because of her lack of empathy and lack of remorse. That, to me, was the most disturbing part of her psychology.

Mackenzie Philips (left) and Henny Russell on 'Orange Is the New Black'Source: Netflix
Mackenzie Philips (left) and Henny Russell on 'Orange Is the New Black'Source: Netflix

The relationship between Carol and Barbara changes as sibling relationships often do. When they (Carol and Barbara) were younger, they seemed to be friends. They would just hang out together and tease each other as all siblings do, and most importantly, Carol would listen to Barb. For example, when she was about to throw the axe at their younger sister, it clearly looked like they had planned it all. So they would plan things together, even if these weren't nice things, but somewhere down the line, the dynamics of their relationship changed, and they both got pretty desperate for attention. Somehow, when they got to prison, very strangely, their need for attention became exaggerated and turned into a rivalry. 

The problem with them was that they remained teenagers even in prison, Carol and Barb never really grew up. Because most people can get over their sibling rivalries with time but in Carol and Barb's case, because they were constantly monitored by prison facilities at that young an age, they never really got to have the normal sibling relationship that most people have within their lives since they never really became fully-functional adults. 

If you could change the ending for Carol and Barb in any way, what would you choose to do with them?

I don't think I would do anything to change how things ended for Carol and Barbara on the show. I think what the writers came up with was terrific, and I was as surprised as everybody else when I got the script for the season finale, because even I didn't know that the 'Glass of Ice' story did not actually happen to both of them and that it was someone else's story altogether! To find out that they were both wrong, I thought that was an absolutely surprising end to their story.

Mackenzie Philips (left) and Henny Russell on 'Orange Is the New Black'Source: Netflix
Mackenzie Philips (left) and Henny Russell on 'Orange Is the New Black'Source: Netflix

How was it like working so closely with Mackenzie Phillips?

Well, she (Mackenzie Phillips) is a terrific actress, and I was glad to have the joy and pleasure of working with her. But what's interesting is that we did not meet till the shooting of episode 11, because as you know, I'm in C-Block and she's the boss of the D-block. Therefore, we were usually separated and segregated through most of the shooting due to which we never really had any scenes together. 

However, prior to our meeting on the sets, we would constantly send each other picture messages, usually funny messages that some of us even posted on Instagram at the time! So I was really looking forward to meeting her on the sets during shooting. We had an absolute ball of a time acting together and doing all of those scenes. We're still friends now, and I think that she's just amazing!

Did you get a chance to interact with Ashley Jordyn, who plays young Carol? Did you give her any tips on how to play the role? Or did you get a chance to feed off of each other?

We never had any scenes together (for obvious reasons), but we did meet on the sets. Ever since we met each other in the studios, we've actually become really good friends. Of course, we never really got to act together, but I got to watch some of her scenes before I shot, so I could actually see what my younger self was doing, which was a great advantage. 

Alex  played by Laura Prepon and Carol Denning chat in Orange is the New Black. Source: Netflix
Alex Vause played by Laura Prepon and Carol Denning chat in Orange is the New Black. Source: Netflix

I  think it was episode 10 that we met each other backstage, and our interactions had always been very social because we actually hadn't been seen together before. Other than watching her on-screen performance and chatting backstage, we didn't get to spend that much time together, so, unfortunately, we did not really get enough time to feed off of things from one another.

Who was the cast member you loved being around while on set? Did you make any lasting friendships on the show?

Well, if I had to pick one person, that would be this one person in the hair department, her name is Angel. She's the one who came up with Carol's fantastic hairdo, so I would be with her every single episode and she was so encouraging, so supportive, and she would always be very warm and generous. She helped create Carol's awesome look, and I just loved spending time with her. 

Personally, which is the character from OITNB that you love watching the most?

That's so hard because I love so many of them! But I think that the character I loved the most was Poussey (Washington). I just loved her warmth and generosity, her joy and her passion. I would have to say that she definitely was my favorite character on the show. I sat in my living room and cried when she died on the show. 

Poussey Washington played by Samira Wiley. Source: Netflix
Poussey Washington played by Samira Wiley. Source: Netflix

The thing about OINTB is that although it's just a show, we tend to get so involved with the characters and their lives that we feel they're our friends, and we feel passionate about them. So, I understand when people have a strong, visceral reaction when something happens to their (favorite) characters. 

Is there a possibility for Carol to come back in flashbacks and memories in season 7?

I, as of now, have no idea really. If there was a possibility to come back for the next season, I would absolutely take up that offer. I loved working on Orange Is The New Black, and I would work here again in a heartbeat. 

If you were to have a face-off with a character like Carol in your real life, what would you do?

Well, I think I would stay the hell away from her. I think it'd be much safer to stay clear of someone like Carol.

The gang's all here. Source: Netflix
The gang's all here. Source: Netflix