Emma Myles is sitting in a bar in Manhattan’s East Village nursing a margarita and telling a story about how she once escaped from a house fire with her cat, V. The tale takes a good 15 minutes to recount, as the actress, who’s best known for her role as Pensatucky’s pal Leanne Taylor in Orange Is the New Black, talks excitedly and emotionally about V and the bond she shares with her. Feline-related tangents also ensue. By the time Emma is finished talking and returns her attention to her drink, it’s apparent that she’s proud to be besotted with cats.
With season two of Orange Is the New Black now available to stream through Netflix, I talked to Emma about V’s backstory, the feline dimension to her character on the show, and the mechanics of exactly how you’d go about keeping a contraband cat while inside prison.
Catster: So, who’s your cat?
Emma Myles: That’s V. She’s a cat who has a clipped ear, and I feel like she’s always had a complex about it, like a Vincent Van Gogh complex, and that’s why I named her V. I got her at a rescue, a church adoption event, but I passed by her at first because my main goal was to get an orange tabby.
Are you just mentioning orange cats as branding for the show?
No, it’s not branding! I love orange tabbies. But I have a black tortoiseshell now. I once had a boy orange tabby, and he was the sweetest. I wanted to have one again in New York, but the only orange tabbies I found were kittens, and my schedule wasn’t really right for a kitten — I wanted a cat who was used to the litter box.
One of my friends told me there was a church adoption event and said we should go and look at cats. I was like, “Come on, you can’t just go and look at cats — you’re gonna get a cat!” We were in there for maybe an hour, and then on the way out I passed by a cage with a cat who looked exactly like a cat I grew up with. I knew it was meant to be.
What’s V’s personality like?
Well, she first caught my attention because she was so sweet and all cuddly. Once they put her in the box to take her home, though, it was like in Christmas Vacation, where the aunt goes to bring them the cat in the box and he’s immediately clawing to get out. I remember walking over the highway in Bay Ridge where I lived trying to get her home. I couldn’t tell how it was going to work out, but the only time she’s ever hissed at me in six and a half years was when she was in the box.
But I understood — the last time someone put her in a box they clipped her ear and took her uterus! You could see why she wasn’t happy about it, but she was fine the next morning. She’s the best cat I’ve ever had.
She looks a little scary in some of her Instagram pictures.
I know! She’s not, though. I’ve never experienced a cat who’s so chill. She has a really good sense of humor. If I’m doing something in the kitchen she’ll run in and look at me, I’ll stare back, and she’ll run away because she wants me to chase her! She’s more like a dog than a cat, but she’s super sweet and we’ve been through a lot together.
In the apartment I initially had her in we had a fire. It was a two-family house, and my landlord below me was working on one of his motorcycles late at night, and it was winter so he had a space heater next to him. He turned around, and at 11.30 p.m. there was a massive fireball. I had ear plugs in and had taken some melatonin so I hardly heard my buzzer. I was like, “Who’s buzzing it at 11 o’clock at night?” Then I hear my landlord screaming, “Em, Em, get out of the house! Leave everything and get out!” I open the door and I see smoke starting to billow up, and my immediate thought is: Cat.
My roommate comes out of her room clutching her computer. She says we have to go but I’m like, “I’m not leaving until I find my cat.” I look around and find that she’s under the bed and she wouldn’t come out. So I started to flail my arms to scare her so she could jump out. I grabbed her, put my jacket and slippers on and ran out the door. After the 25 seconds it took to find her it was already pitch black with smoke. I had to push my roommate downstairs because she was like, “It’s too smokey, we can’t go down.” I’m like, “Are you crazy? Get out of the house!”
Was V freaking out?
No, it sounds really corny but we have a strange, super close bond, and she knows I’m trying to make sure she’s okay. I didn’t use a cat carrier, and I was scared she was going to run away once we got outside. I put my hand over her face so she wouldn’t breathe in any smoke, and I held my breath and ran down the stairs. All the neighbors were out and there were fire trucks, so I had to run like eight houses down to get away from the commotion. I hid in a little nook and just held her for like 45 minutes. She cried a lot and she held on to me, but she never once tried to get away and run down the street.
I see from your Instagram that V also really likes boxes.
I call her a cardboard artist. She’ll pick very specific parts of the box that she’s going to gnaw at — it’s almost like woodworking. She also loves Q-tips and does kinda like a Zorro thing where if you put a Q-tip on the floor, she’ll immediately jump on it and de-fuzz each side of it. Then she’ll nip it and it will be left in a V. She’s amazing.
Does V show any interest if she sees you on TV?
No, but she used to be obsessed with Tina Fey. Anytime Tina Fey would come on screen she’d perk up from her nap and stare at the TV. But I don’t think she realizes that I’m on TV, or she doesn’t care — but she should!
How would you go about writing a cat into the script of Orange Is the New Black?
It would have to be like how Big Boo has Little Boo, so like a therapy thing for over-angry and aggressive inmates. I would so much rather have a cat for that. What’s funny is that apparently my character, Leanne Taylor, really loves cats, too; in my prison bunk there are pictures of cats all over the wall. One of them looks like my cat, so I’m gonna see if I can get V in there. But we haven’t done any shots where you can see all of my cat pictures yet.
Which characters in the show would be for and against having a cat?
Who’d want to get it out of the prison? I think obviously all of the COs. Although I think O’Neill would have a soft spot — he’d be all about the cat. He’d be having his yogurt and petting the cat. Pensatucky would like the cat, too.
How would having a cat in prison affect Leanne’s character?
I’d like to say it would result in her having magically better teeth. Because, you know, cats are filled with magic and rainbows, just like unicorns.
Have you ever suggested a cat to the show’s writers?
I’m going to call them today.
How would you go about hiding a cat in prison?
You can’t control cats! You can’t be like, “Sit down and be quiet.” So I would probably just stick him in my pillowcase and be like, “Stay here, kitty.” Or fold him up in a blanket and be like, “Oh, this is just my blanket.” But it wouldn’t work — you’d get in a lot of trouble with a cat in prison.
Are any other members of the cast big cat people?
Yes, they’re all huge animal people in general, really. Julie Lake, who plays Angie, really likes cats. But who really doesn’t like cats?
Apparently some strange people don’t.
That’s because they haven’t had a good cat experience. I feel like those are the same people who have blanket statements about certain types of people. You can’t put a blanket statement on an animal! A lot of people are so terrified of Pit Bulls; I know at lot who are super sweet, of course.
I don’t understand people who don’t like cats. I don’t trust them!
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About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.
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