“I pretty much only listen to metal when I’m getting ready to play Maria,” Orange is the New Black star Jessica Pimentel proudly states just days before Season Six of the wildly popular Netflix series is set to premiere. As OITNB’s cast heads to maximum security to face the repercussions of their Season Five riot, Pimentel explains how she absorbs the darkness of metal to become her character, Maria Ruiz.

Pimentel’s Ruiz character is one of OITNB’s most complex; from branding a swastika on Piper Chapman’s arm as an act of revenge to sacrificing everything just to hold her baby girl for one fleeting moment, she's both the hardest villain and a powerfully sympathetic mother. Also, Ruiz has the most terrifying death stare in Litchfield Penitentiary, and perhaps it has something to do with Pimental's sonic preparation.

“In Season Five, she had to go through those dark places to get what she wanted and knew that she couldn’t trust anybody,” Pimentel explains about her character. “There are so many metal anthems [I listened to]… Suicidal Tendencies anthems and Meshuggah tracks like 'The Demon’s Name is Surveillance.' I was listening to a lot to Prayers, which is a cholo goth band that have that punk vibe. It’s very dark and self-preserving and I felt that’s what the season was about. I listened to a lot of really aggressive music that season because I really had to get myself into that protective, tough, me-myself-and-I mindset. It was really the hardest season for Maria.”

“With Season Six, I was listening to Zeal & Ardor a lot. That slavery vibe, especially in the first album, you have the sound of the chains and the chain gang and killing people and washing your hands of blood — it was pretty significant. 'Burn the young boy, burn him good.' Making people pay for things, maybe not in the right way. That was very much the vibe for me that whole sixth season we just shot.”

“It’s a real prison now, we’re no longer in our ‘cookie cute’ jail,” the actress adds. “We’re chained almost the whole time, so we have handcuffs on all day, which is horrible. The prison cells are different, the way we’re allowed to move within the prison is different. We have much less freedom. It was kind of like that dark bitterness; it’s much sadder and much darker than any other season so far.”

Working days as long as 22 hours, the process of nailing a scene is extremely demanding for the entire OITNB cast. Emerging from the darkness of maximum security can be just as important as getting mentally prepared to enter those cells, so Pimentel harnesses the power of metal to escape from her Stanislavskian mindset.

“These characters are really heavy and we owe it to our fans to bring them to life. That means putting a lot of yourself in it,” Jessica says. “I can see over the years how we’ve changed physically from it: grey hair, your eyes change and the way you walk changes. [laughs] As far as decompressing [after a scene] I put on the happiest, pumped-up thrash music… whatever is the opposite of the scene I had.”

As the popularity of Orange is the New Black has skyrocketed over the years, Jessica Pimentel has become one of heavy metal’s most beloved ambassadors, repping underground music and turning young OITNB fans into burgeoning headbangers.

“I just won the Metal Hammer ‘Spirit of Hammer’ award,” raves Pimentel. “That was freaking awesome, it’s like me and Darth Vader. [laughs] I feel like even though we’re a large community, we’re still not the norm. We’re never going to be the popular culture. We’ve been embraced or used by popular culture a lot to make a point for being bad or being a weirdo, you know? It’s a really great thing to see someone who knows and loves metal doing something in the mainstream, so you don’t feel like a weirdo, you don’t feel like a loser. You can do anything you want, you can be anything you want. You’re not defined by the type of music that you like. I feel so much love from the metal community.”

Back in 2016, Pimentel and Meshuggah drummer Tomas Haake publicly discussed their relationship for the first time on the Loudwire Podcast. With their bond remaining tighter than a ‘Shuggah breakdown, the duo now split their time between New York City and Sweden while working around their busy schedules.

“This is the life that we have. He’s a working, traveling musician. I’m a working, traveling musician/actor. No matter where we live, as long as we’re doing this, it’s always gonna be like that if you want to work,” Pimentel implores. “A project that I was gonna do fell through and I was able to tour with Meshuggah for a month. It was awesome. Now that his tour’s over and I have to start working, he’ll be here, so we’re never apart for that long. Even if we were both under one roof all the time, we would still have times where we would be apart, until we just decide to retire to the north of Sweden and just go fishing every day or something. [laughs]”

Orange is the New Black has been renewed by Netflix through to Season Seven, and right after Pimentel finishes an exhaustive press tour to promote Season Six, she’s headed back to prison. “The next season will, tentatively, begin shooting in a couple of weeks,” she reveals. “I am so prepared. I think Season Seven is going to be our best, we have a lot of great things happening. This is the most excited I’ve been, so far, for a new season.”

The newest season of OITNB drops on Netflix at midnight Pacific Time, so your Friday can be spent avoiding work while binging an entire batch of new episodes. To check out Jessica Pimentel’s crushing metal projects, give a listen to Alekhine’s Gun and her more recent role as Brujeria’s new backup vocalist.

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