Interview – Jessica Pimentel


Throughout the course of time, many have believed that there is a great design to life. A well-versed individual, Actress/Musician Jessica Pimentel saw the signs early on, developing a love for music and film growing up in the borough of Brooklyn, New York. Going on to earn a degree in Theater Arts at the highly regarded American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, Pimentel soon would earn a list of theater and television credits.

Currently portraying Maria Ruiz on Netflix’s tremendously successful Orange Is the New Black series, fans sit on the edge of their seats as they prepare for the fifth season to launch later in 2017.  Always looking to challenge her abilities, Pimentel’s passion burns deep to push her boundaries as an actress and musician. Recently we sat down with the multi-talented performer to talk her inspiration, the work behind Orange Is the New Black, her diverse musical background, plans for the future, and much more. – You have been in involved in acting and music for over two decades now. First, tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?    

Jessica Pimentel – Actually, it was kind of an accident. Well, you know what, there are no accidents. My family is all pretty artistic, so I grew up with music in the household. My grandmother is a big choir director, and almost everyone in my family can sing or play an instrument. When I was very small, around 2 or 3, my mother and some co-workers were cleaning out an office and there was this violin that was going to get thrown out. Someone suggested that maybe my mother should take it home for her daughter to play with, so she was like, “Yeah, that’s a great idea, my daughter would probably love to play with it.”

So, I had a violin at a very young age, and I loved it. I would play on it all the time, I kind of had a vague idea of how it worked, and it turns out that my next-door neighbor was a professional violinist, and heard the sounds of horror from next door. I heard a knock on the door, and offered some help, and taught me how to tune it, taught me how to hold it, how to position it, et cetera, and started giving me my first violin lessons. From that point on, it just progressed. – Very cool. So you have always had a love for music, obviously.

Jessica Pimentel – Yes, I feel most at home in music because it’s been part of my life almost as long as language has, but for me, I’m able to express myself in music in a way that I cannot with words. – Right, well that makes complete sense. Now, as far as acting, you have had a successful career in television, and movies as well. You have been in a lot of television series: Law and Order, Person of Interest, and of course Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black. Do you enjoy working in television?

Jessica Pimentel – I absolutely adore it. It is like every child’s dream! You’re getting paid to play make believe! (laughs) Your imagination is absolutely free and wild. You get to leave yourself, you get to create a new character. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you get to entertain people, touch them, educate them, and connect with them in a very special place because you get them in the comfort of their own home. So, people really love these characters, more than some people love other people. It’s really been a blessing do this; to constantly challenging, it’s constantly rewarding, and it’s really fun and surreal at times.

Jessica Pimental in Orange is the New Black
L toR: Jessica Pimentel as Maria Ruiz, Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman and Jolene in Orange Is The New Black – One could only imagine it would be. Orange Is the New Black has been a very successful series. It just completed its fourth season and will be back for a fifth season come the summer of 2017. How has it been for you to be a part of this cast, recurring as you have over the years?

Jessica Pimentel – This has been quite an amazing rollercoaster ride. I mean, when we all started it, all we knew was it was a show about jail. We knew what we were already accustomed to, we were like, “Okay, so, let’s see now… am I a hooker, am I…” (laughs). We were kind of waiting for the stereotypes. So the first thing you hear of is a show in jail, the next thing you hear is that it’s on the computer. They weren’t very specific, they wanted to kind of keep things under wraps. So all we knew was that it was a show about a women’s prison on the computer, and that didn’t sound really great at first. It was kind of a little bit frightening, until we heard that Jenji Kohan was a part of it. Then, knowing Jenji’s presentation – what she’s done, what she’s created, then it became something else.

From that point on, seeing the actresses that were being called in for all these roles that weren’t quite yet fleshed out, some of them didn’t have stories yet, some of them didn’t have names yet. To see where started and where all these characters have evolved to, it’s just mind-blowing. They’re these really fleshed-out, three-dimensional, completely well-rounded characters. It’s amazing to see how far it’s gone. We weren’t expecting that first night, when the series dropped, that it would be the number one show in the world the next morning when we woke up. – That is pretty cool that it happened that way, and it has been very popluar through the seasons. 

Jessica Pimentel – It was jaw-dropping. You know, you go from having 10 Instagram followers to having 100,000 Instagram followers overnight. Something like that, it’s not an exact number, but to put it in some kind of relatable feeling. All of a sudden, you went from “I can’t even be seen” to the next hottest thing. Literally from going to bed to waking up the next morning. – Wow, it is pretty surreal, to have it happen the way that it all did.

Jessica Pimentel – Absolutely. Then, getting attention from around the world, not just local audience, or US, or US and Canada. I mean, it’s around the world and all these places. It’s just intense! It’s insane. It’s really awesome.

Jessica Pimentel as Maria Ruiz in Orange Is The New Black
Jessica Pimentel as Maria Ruiz in Orange Is The New Black – It continues, because the show actually is signed on for three more seasons thus far. Season 5 picks up in the summer of 2017. Do not give anything away, but what can fans expect from the next season? 

Jessica Pimentel – Yes, expect that all the characters that you know and love will no longer be like that anymore. – Intriguing, and that will have viewers looking forward to the next season.

Jessica Pimentel – One thing that you can expect is, you can say that, in one way or another, we all undergo a form of outer or inner change, and the results are alarming. (Laughs) – Interesting. Have you already filmed the forthcoming season?

Jessica Pimentel – We are not done, we are actually wrapping up the end of the season right now. This is like the crunch time for us. We’re trying to get it done in January so we can have it all ready by summer. We’re going to begin shooting two episodes at once. – It sounds like it is a lot of hard work, but also seems very rewarding. 

Jessica Pimentel – Yeah, we have three more to go! We’re almost done with one, and we have about two or three more to go. Then, we’ll see what happens from there, ‘cause I don’t even know what happens! – Fans are certainly on the edge of their seat to see what happened. This coming season sounds exciting. 

Jessica Pimentel – Yeah, totally. I’m looking forward to it. I have no idea what’s happening, but I can just tell you: somewhere towards the end of the season, as per usual, the shoe drops. We hit that point in the show where the shoe has dropped, and well, I can say that it’s getting ugly. To put it very, very mildly, it’s really ugly.

Jessica Pimentel as Maria Ruiz in Orange Is The New Black
Jessica Pimentel as Maria Ruiz in Orange Is The New Black –  Well, viewers will look forward to it coming on. It will premiere in June? 

Jessica Pimentel – I believe in June, but there is no set date right now. Stay tuned. – Everyone will have to stay posted for the official premiere date. You are a very diverse individual interested in many things. Music-wise, you play the violin, but you are also in a Metal band. Out of curiosity, what got you into Metal?

Jessica Pimentel – Growing up, basically New York City, we’re exposed to all kinds of different things. It’s a really diverse place: different styles, different tastes, different ethnicities, so sooner or later my love of music brought me to meeting other people who loved different kinds of music. I had a very strict background, classically trained, and one day a friend handed me an album. I think she stole it from her big brother to be honest. I think when I was about 13, I was starting to like Rock-n-Roll a little bit, so my friend thought that I would really appreciate this Metal band. He said it was just like Classical music, only scarier. I was like “okay…” It was King Diamond’s Conspiracy (1989).

She was absolutely right, it blew my mind. This music was so technical and so beautiful, but really told a fantastic story that was frightening. I hate to admit that, at the age of 12 or 13, I was afraid of my closet. I couldn’t go near my closet. It was so overwhelming and powerful. The story was so creepy, the vocalist sang like an Opera singer, the guitars were brutal, aggressive, and distorted. Then the solos would come in and bring me to a place that was familiar.

From then, you get into high school, and you start meeting other people that start to introduce you to things like Punk, Ska, New York Hardcore, Reggae, Hip Hop, and all that stuff. It’s kind of all just playing at the same time. Metal spoke to me the most and the New York Hardcore scene spoke to me the most. It was a place where I got to let out all my frustrations, sing along, and meet a community of people who we referred to as family, the New York Hardcore family. Anywhere you go in the world, you see a friend in that person wearing that Slayer, Madball, or Meshuggah shirt, or something like that. You know that person, you might have things in common. It’s something that came just really naturally from my environment and from my classic upbringing. – Very true. Traveling the world, seeing someone wearing a shirt of a band that is liked, you are excited about it. Friends have been made this way.

Jessica Pimentel – Absolutely, I totally get your point. If I see someone wearing a Slayer shirt that I love walking down the street; and you know, in New York City, it’s just walking down the street, and Metal is a little bit a more common look now, more popular look. We used to really stand out as Metalheads, you know? We had a specific look, and if you see someone wearing a shirt that you like, I always make a point of saying, “Good shirt!” (laughs). It is good to know you are not the only weirdo out there. – Yes, absolutely, many do the same things and know how you feel. You band is called Alekhine’s Gun and you are the lead singer correct? 

Jessica Pimentel – I am the lead singer. I also help write, I co-write with Jeff Martinez, our guitar player; now with Leo Mattei, who is back in the band. I also play guitar sometimes, when we record, on some tracks. – Very cool. Do you have a new album coming out, or are you going to be performing anytime soon?

Jessica Pimentel – Yeah, we’re actually working on an album at the moment. Because I’m shooting, we can’t really go out and perform as much as we’d like to because our schedules don’t permit it at the moment. That kind of lends us time to sit and create, and whether that’s two people getting together in a room and throwing riffs at each other or physically passing stuff along via the computer, that’s kind of how we’re working right now. It’s just been really cool.

Jessica Pimentel performing in her band
Jessica Pimentel performing in her band Alekhine’s Gun – It will be exciting to hear the new material. You actually use harsh vocals. How did you come about deciding what vocal styles that fit you? 

Jessica Pimentel – It is part of New York Hardcore culture to grab the mic and scream along, I never shy away from screaming. One day, I think someone forgot that we had a gig, one of our singers, and I just had to do it, so I just did. From that point on, I knew that I could sing in a heavier style than I thought I could. I wasn’t the only girl that could do it, there are a bunch of girls out there that can do it. I hope they start getting their confidence up and getting out there.

With Alekhine’s Gun, it is a little bit different, it’s not straight Hardcore; there’s a lot of classic Black Metal style incorporated in the project that will sound more than just a little Hardcore. I can see how much I can stretch myself as I go very high with shrill screams and the low guttural. I am hoping for all of that when it comes to this band. Certain bands require certain styles, and with this band, I can pretty much do anything! It’s pretty awesome. – That is great to have that artistic freedom like that. You brought up a very interesting point there, that, sometimes, some people will say that a female cannot do those types of vocals, but that is nonsense. Anybody who is a real Metal fan will know that plenty of women have been doing it for years, and doing it as good, if not better than some men.

Jessica Pimentel – Yeah, vocals just have to do with your voice range, your ability to stretch, and use that power that you have internally. If you think back to a band like Slayer, people will be like, “Girl, you can’t be a part of Slayer.” Well, Tom Araya can sing way higher than I can hit. I can’t hit notes that high. So, does that make him sing like a girl then? You have to ask questions like that, because not every Metal singer sings low either. You think Iron Maiden, you think Judas Priest, you think Slayer. Not every Metal vocalist has to go to that Cookie Monster deep growl.

As with all things, when someone is a minority in it, they’re going to point out every little flaw and make it such a big deal to try to either discourage or sometimes it’s an encouraging thing when people think a female-fronted band, but I’m just in a band. I’m not in a female-fronted band. I happen to be female, but a guy could sing it or a girl could sing it, so that’s the least important to what my band is about. – Right, understood, completely. This conversation has been had with other women who are in bands and how they look at the female-fronted label. It seems that the female-fronted label thing is something that is easy for the record labels to put on something to put it in a category to sell it. It seems like that is what it boils down to.

Jessica Pimentel – Yeah, I think it is marketing. A lot of it is more positive when people use female-fronted, it gets people interested that may not be interested. Some people love very sweet female-vocal Metal, you have many bands that do it. Also, young girls and young women are looking for role-models, and it kind of helps them, it makes them feel like they need a specifically female vocal role model. I never looked specifically to women as role models, although I have many amazing female role models. I never say, “Well, my female role models are, and my male role models are…” I just think of role models, of people that inspire me.  Whether that be Karyn Crisis; a big one growing up, or Joan Jett; the first woman that I ever saw that I thought was badass as hell. When I first saw the “I Love Rock’n Roll” video, I thought, “Well, this woman, she’s got it together!” I thought that was like the dream life.

I also have non-Metal artists like PJ Harvey, who, maybe she doesn’t play everything perfectly, sing perfectly, do anything perfectly, or be heavy, but what she does is take control of everything. She is absolutely free to play a violin, a pennywhistle, or just moan into a microphone, whatever she feels like doing. So that, for me, is just equally as important as being Metal. For me, being Metal is less about Heavy Metal music and more about taking responsibility and owning what you do, whatever it may be. 

Roadrunner Records
Island – Agreed completely. Like you said, good music is good music. It does not matter who the person is, where they are from, what their gender is. Like you said, you look at role models as role models. It is not like a female role model opposed to a male role model. That is the way it should be honestly.

Jessica Pimentel – I hope we get to that point.That’s something that I never really thought of until I was in bands. One of my first bands was a New York Hardcore band, and they were like, “Oh, you got a girl in the band? That’s weird.” Why is that weird? If I play as good or better than people who tried out. Or even if I am not as good, and they want me in the band, why is it a big deal?

Hopefully we’ll get to a point where none of that really matters anymore. I think once we get to that point, we’ll find a lot more female musicians, young female musicians, not afraid of trying their hand. Nobody knows anything when they start. I still know people today in the business that have been professional musicians all their life, that have a stupid pedal they forgot to plug in, the one string that goes out of tune. There’s no reason to be fearful or to worry about looking bad, or looking stupid. Everyone is constantly learning when it comes to the arts.

I encourage any girl that is into it, that is inspired by it, just pick something up and learn how everyone learns. By ear, by tuning, you have Google now, you have Yahoo, you have YouTube now, you have so many outlets. Even if you live in the middle of nowhere, you can teach yourself how to play, which is amazing. I hope everybody learns this new technology and just goes for it, tries it. It’s fun! – You are right. There is so much at your fingertips that you could use to your advantage when it comes to anything; when you want to pursue any of your dreams nowadays. 

Jessica Pimentel – Absolutely, yep. I mean, I can’t … if I had half of the stuff we had now. What I would have tried sooner because I didn’t know. – It is amazing how times have changed. My last question for you is pertaining to films. covers all areas of music but also films, particularlly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan of those genres, do you have any favorites? 

Jessica Pimentel – For Sci-Fi, The Matrix (1999) is one of my favorites. Another one I love, Prometheus (2012). There’s too many to think of at the moment. If you need a list I will get back to you (laughs). – That is very cool to hear you love Sci-Fi. What about the Horror genre? 

Jessica Pimentel – Oh, that’s also my favorite genre. It’s really interesting to put on the TV and see so many Horror shows now. Where you have like The Exorcist, Damien, Lucifer, and American Horror Story. That’s a weird cultural shift that has happened in our time. In Horror movies, there are too many, The last new Horror movie I saw and loved was The Witch (2016). – It seems the best Horror related stories are in television now. There are some new quality Horror films, but it seems the superior quality is in television.

Jessica Pimentel – Yes, I am not sure what it is. There is kind of a new respect for television now. You are getting A movie stars and A writers on TV now as kind of norm. It is almost perhaps more satisfying for a writer to write several one hour episodes of genre they really love then opposed to a movie for years and years. Television is a faster pace, from beginning to result. The beautiful thing about television, when you are writing a series, like the one we have now, things change and evolve. You pick up things from actors and their interaction that kind of make the story even more alive. That also adds to the coolness factor and it makes the Horror genre seem very real. It makes it a little bit more scary. 

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. – Good point. Another thing with a television series like Orange Is the New Black, you have the ability to develop characters more. In a film, you are limited within 1-2 hours usually. With a series, the possibilities are endless. 

Jessica Pimentel – Right, you have your place and that is kind of that. Maybe an actor will bring something to it that a writer didn’t see before or director will direct the actor in a way the actor didn’t think of, but that is a very short amount of time to work with. With a TV show, it can go for years.

For the simple development of Maria Ruiz, she has taken an extreme arch from beginning to end. I look at pictures from Season 1, and see how different Maria looks. She doesn’t even look like the same person, because it is me. From the press pictures from the first season, looking cute, shiny, hopefully, and happy, to Season 4 to straight animal. I am shot in a certain way, shot from certain angles and having a lot of angry, violent scenes as opposed to the beginning of the series.


For more on Jessica Pimentel: Instagram | Twitter

For more on Orange Is The New Black: NetflixFacebook | Twitter 

For more on Alekhine’s Gun: Facebook | Bandcamp

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