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Interview with Susan Heyward

Susan Heyward

Episode 13: Show Notes

In improvisational theater, ‘status' refers to the power dynamics at play in a relationship between two characters. Sometimes, however, those power dynamics spill over into the real world, particularly for Black women actors. Today, we are joined by Susan Heyward, a phenomenal actress who is probably best known for her role as Tamika Ward in the hit Netflix comedy-drama series, Orange Is the New Black. She also starred in the PlayStation Network original series, Powers, and the HBO period drama, Vinyl. On stage, Susan made her Broadway debut in the 2013 production of The Trip to Bountiful alongside Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, and Cuba Gooding Jr. and, in 2018 and 2019, she played Rose Granger-Weasley in the Broadway production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In this episode, Susan shares the definition of ‘misogynoir’, a term used to describe the specific prejudice directed at Black women, and how she has seen it play out in her personal life and her career. She explains how tapping into an ‘as if’ reality as an actor, breaking free from her instinct to code-switch, and making a commitment to healing from her trauma have helped her reclaim her power and why she believes that context and a deeper understanding of our shared trauma can facilitate collective healing. Trauma is all around us, but Susan believes that whatever we put our attention on will grow, which is why she encourages you to turn your attention toward healing today! Make sure not to miss this insightful conversation with the remarkable Susan Heyward!

Key Points From This Episode:

• Some insight into Susan’s background and her journey within the entertainment industry.

• How she uses sense memory to tap into emotion in her work and work through trauma.

• Opening a doorway into an ‘as if’ reality as an actor rather than re-traumatizing yourself.

• The power dynamics that come with some of the different characters Susan has played.

• How she has found freedom in breaking the instinct to code-switch or people-please.

• Susan explains the term ‘misogynoir’, coined by Black feminist scholar, Moya Bailey.

• She encourages those who underestimate young, Black women to challenge their own expectations and take a second look.

• Why women have to be more perceptive of non-verbal communication than men.

• Some of the more overt examples of racism that Susan has experienced.

• How she believes her role in Orange Is the New Black changed people’s perceptions of her.

• How the entertainment industry has become more democratic than it was a decade ago.

• Susan’s belief that you can reclaim your power from trauma as you heal.

• Insight into her relationship with religion and shame as the daughter of two preachers.

• Religious trauma syndrome and the different symptoms many people experience.

• Whether or not playing police officers has given Susan any insight into policing in the US.

• The two narratives of how US policing developed: English policing and slave patrols.

• How context and a deeper understanding of our shared trauma can facilitate healing.

• The importance of an increased awareness of the American prison-industrial complex.

• Why Susan believes we have to take responsibility for the roles we each play in this system.

• Progress that has been made in the entertainment industry when it comes to racial bias.

• Hierarchy on set and ensuring that union agreements are upheld.

• How Susan manages the social anxiety and triggers she experiences going on set.

• The role of intimacy coordinators in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

• What Susan finds are the biggest obstacles to maintaining a relationship as an actor.

• The work Susan is doing to separate her work from her personal life.

• Advice she would give her younger self: go to therapy and create your own work now!

• What she hopes the next decade of her life looks like, including more opportunities to travel.

• Question of the day: find out which activity helps Susan lose track of time!


“The longer I’ve been in the arts, the more I understand how many of us run to the arts looking for an escape from trauma, looking for a place to be free, comfortable, allowed to feel things. In the beginning, it was [90 percent] trauma, 10 percent imagination and work.” — @susanheyward [0:08:11]

“As an actress, it’s my job to know the difference when I’m in character and I’m playing the proper [power dynamics] in the moment and when we’re not filming, when we’re not shooting, and I take my status back as an equal colleague.” — @susanheyward [0:14:21]

“The instinct to code-switch, the instinct to people-please, the instinct to live up to unspoken expectations goes very deep. Breaking that is the moment that I’ve found [freedom]. That’s when I find people start to listen in a different way.” — @susanheyward [0:16:27]

“Trauma can sometimes take your voice, take your agency, make you forget that you do have power because maybe, in that moment, your power was taken away from you or you lost touch with it. The healing process can be so much about taking your power back.” — @susanheyward [0:31:48]

“We’re all [part of this system]. We have to take responsibility for the ways we cause harm, the ways we perpetuate trauma for other people, and how we take responsibility for either lessening it or changing it.” — @susanheyward [0:50:56]

“It’s putting perspective on my job versus my life. For a long time, my job was my life. Now, I’m doing a lot of work to separate those.” — @susanheyward [1:08:49]

“Just make your own shit. Make [terrible] art!” — @susanheyward [1:13:18]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:


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