When we talk to Karina Arroyave she makes us feel at home, as if she has been our best friend for years. Simple, very polite, always carrying a very positive energy with her. The first impression I got was that there is a lot of Karla Córdova in Karina, but not in the obvious way. Karina’s family immigrated from Colombia to the United States when she was one year old. It was a different time, when immigrants had no problem to live the American dream. The character Karla had a more painful life in this sense. Among them a common characteristic, of always following your dreams.
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Evil Jenji – How did you prepare for the character Karla Córdova?
Karina Arroyave – The preparation actually started before getting the audition. I’d been following what was going on in the news regarding Trump’s zero tolerance policy and subsequent family separations. I felt sad, helpless and enraged. When the first children arrived in NYC, I called the shelter they were brought to because I wanted to see if I could visit them. I was told I could not. I wanted to do something to help. When I got the OITNB audition for Karla, I thought “Here’s my chance.” The other type of preparation I did was to figure out what Karla’s story had in common with mine so that I could use my own personal experience to connect to her pain.
Evil Jenji – What did you learn from Karla?
Karina Arroyave – So many things, but the main thing I learned was that I got to feel and understand the plight of so many undocumented individuals. My experience with US citizenship was very different. It was actually easy for me. My family’s path to citizenship happened during a time when that process was easier. I had my green card instantly when I got this country at age 1 and took the citizenship test as an adult and passed. Living out Karla’s story was eye-opening.
Evil Jenji – What is your best memory of filming OITNB?
Karina Arroyave – I’d have to say filming the phone call scene. When I read the scene I knew how important it was and felt an enormous responsibility to do it justice. We’d been filming all day and that scene was almost last on the schedule. I was very anxious all day knowing what awaited me later. The scene also had a personal significance to me in terms of saying goodbye to someone that I never got to say goodbye to. I actually had a picture of that person in my uniform pocket as we shot the scene. When it was over and I saw everyone’s reactions, I knew I had at least honored its importance and I felt enormously relieved.
Evil Jenji – in your opinion Karla managed to leave the desert or died?
Karina Arroyave – Well, the logical response is that I think she died. However, I’ve had miracles happen in my life and it is left open so I do love the possibility of Karla somehow managing to live and ending up with her sons. I think there’s the possibility for a great story there.
Evil Jenji – How was working with Jenji Kohan?
Karina Arroyave – I actually never worked with Jenji. I met her the day we took that huge cast photo the last day of the show. At the wrap party, I thanked her profusely from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful opportunity and then I spoke to her again at the premiere. It was always great to talk to her. She is so warm and inviting. What an incredible lady.
Evil Jenji – How is your life today during the quarantine and its adaptation to the current moment?
Karina Arroyave – My life today is actually busier than before the virus because my Grandma’s condition has declined so I’m spending more time helping to care for her. In March of 2019 she was given a few months to live and put in home hospice care. But like I said, miracles do happen and she’s still with us so I dedicate half of the week to caring for her. I do audition now and then from home, but career-wise things are much slower. That’s actually ok with me right now. I have my whole life to act. But who knows how long I have left with my Grandma.
This photo was taken exactly on the day that Karina and her grandmother flew to the United States to start a new life.
Listening to Karina talk about her grandmother made me understand that if she is not Karla Córdova, they may very well live harmoniously in the same person.