What You Don't Know About Uzo Aduba

"Orange Is the New Black" and "In Treatment" star Uzo Aduba is nothing if not versatile. Besides making a mark for her portrayal of passionate, off-kilter prisoner Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren in "Orange Is the New Black" and the sensitive, conflicted counselor Brooke Taylor in her latest show, "In Treatment," she's also a talented musician with experience in musical theater, including a Broadway revival of "Godspell," according to Playbill.

But, as we all know, show business is tough, and even talented performers, such as Aduba, can struggle to get their big break — or even to earn enough from their chosen craft to survive. And, as Aduba told the Daily Beast, she had her share of hard times starting out. "During my time in theater, there were lows," she said. "Shows closed, unexpectedly (or worse, never opened!). The magic of landing my first role on Broadway went 'poof' in a matter of a few weeks." 

She credits her mother's encouragement and faith in her talents for helping her push on when she was feeling down. "She never played 'the practical parent' or pleaded with me to pursue something more stable. Instead, she encouraged me and supported me. 'Just keep pushing,' 'Keep going,' she would say," Aduba recalled. And, from how Aduba's career has advanced, this has proven to be sound advice. Here's more about Uzo Aduba you don't already know.

Uzo Aduba's name means 'the road is good' in Igbo

It's a common practice around the world for parents to name their children for a quality they admire or hope their child will someday embody — hence, hopeful monikers, such as "Victor" and "Joy." Uzo Aduba's Nigerian-born mother followed this practice with special focus. As Aduba told the Daily Beast, her given name, Uzoamaka, means "the road is good" in Igbo, one of Nigeria's major languages.

Not only did Aduba's given name prove prescient in light of her rise to stardom, it was an especially poignant choice considering Aduba's mother's own difficult road through life. Aduba proudly told the Daily Beast that during her mother's youth in Nigeria, she survived a near-crippling case of polio and not only relearned to walk, but become the West African Women's Singles tennis champion. 

During this time, her mother also survived Nigeria's civil war and genocidal attacks against the Igbo. "My mother is a fighter," Aduba said. And she's never forgotten her mother's battles or the love and hope embodied in her mother's choice of a name for her. "My name, less the name itself, but rather what it represents, is precious to me. There have been many struggles, trials, battles, and losses through which my name has helped me persevere," she said.

She loves rehearsing

It's a common misconception that if you're attracted to acting, you must be a ham who lives for the spotlight, thrives on applause, and loves the sound of your own voice. But, for Uzo Aduba, this is far from the truth — while she's a memorable presence on stage and on screen, it's largely because she loves the behind-the-scenes processes of acting.

As she told Fast Company, she puts intense work into understanding her characters and their motivation, deciding how to embody her characters physically and how her characters will interact with others in their world. Perfecting these processes involves rehearsing — a process that she and fellow "Orange Is the New Black" cast members loved. "I live for rehearsal," she said. "Our cast is a big rehearsal cast. We will take it upon ourselves to walk through scenes on our own in the makeup chair, in the hair chair. After we've gotten out of hair and makeup, and we're in our dressing room, we'll sit down and do our own little read of the script," she described to Fast Company.

Uzo Aduba trained as a figure skater

Acting wasn't Uzo Aduba's first passion. Long before she caught the acting bug, she was a serious competitive figure skater. As The New Yorker reported, she trained in skating from the age of 5 to 15. "There was a point I was skating every day of the week, minus Sunday," she told the publication. "I could do a triple Salchow, a double Axel, a triple flip," she added. (She wasn't the only kid in her family who loved the ice — her younger brother took lessons with her but took his passion for skating in another direction, ultimately becoming a professional hockey player.)

But, as much as Aduba loved the feeling of flying over the ice, she wasn't ready to make it her life's work. When her coach urged her to quit school to commit herself to her sport, she and her family balked. "My parents were, like, 'That's never happening,'" she told The New Yorker. She still skates for fun, however, and, as she told Fast Company, her figure skating experience informs much of how she portrays her characters physically. "I figure skated for a very long time, so movement and how I relate to movement is very integral to my process," she said.

She didn't get the Orange Is the New Black part she'd auditioned for

Uzo Aduba was going through a serious rough patch when she auditioned for "Orange Is the New Black." "The summer before I started work on 'Orange Is the New Black,' I found myself on the brink," she told the Daily Beast. "I heard the word 'no' so often that it started to feel like a second name. I watched my savings dwindle." On one particularly bad day — she'd gotten lost and shown up late to an audition that morning — she got a call offering her a two-episode deal with the series.

This was great news for both her checking account and her vision as an actor. As she recalled to Fast Company, she remembered thinking [after reading the script], "'That is really good. I would love to be a part of something like that,'" she said. But, when she got the call, there was an unexpected twist: "They said, 'We have some really great news for you ... Do you know that audition you went on for Orange Is the New Black? ... Well, you didn't get it.'" Their response confused her. Then she learned the good news was that they were offering her another part instead — that of Crazy Eyes.

Aduba was initially puzzled by the casting decision. Yet, the showrunners knew something she didn't — and, as the Daily Beast reported, she became a regular on the show the following season.

Orange Is the New Black changed her life overnight

"Orange Is the New Black" was Uzo Aduba's first television role, according to the Daily Beast. It not only pulled her out of the demoralizing professional slump she'd been in, but it became the breakthrough role she'd been waiting for. Still, as she told Fast Company, her focus in portraying the character was not to endear her to viewers (although she ultimately did), but to make her character real and compelling. "I just never even thought about it, in terms of the making of this character, with any sort of expectation of affection. I just really wanted to go in and ... tell her story from her perspective," she said.

Little did Aduba realize the impact her portrayal of Crazy Eyes would have on viewers and how quickly it would change her life. "I saw my Twitter changing overnight, and then my Facebook friend requests were coming much more heavily, and I was like, 'Wow, I wonder what this is?'" she told HuffPost. She soon found out. "People were stopping me on the street to say, 'Oh my God, it's Crazy Eyes!' [w]hich is kind of a funny thing to have people shout at you on the street," she recalled with a laugh.

Uzo Aduba is the first actress to win both comedy and drama Emmys for the same role

Uzo Aduba understood her "Orange Is the New Black" character, Crazy Eyes, to be both intense and complicated. "She was like was an adult carrying a sledgehammer and a pacifier, showing how an innocent child could be scary, meaning her intentions would be always good," she explained to Fast Company. "But her execution might be somehow mismanaged." To Aduba, this meant that, whatever she did, no matter how well meaning, "it never lands quite the way that she thinks it should with people."

In short, Aduba understood Crazy Eyes to be a fundamentally well-intentioned soul who doesn't know she's got several wires crossed. She also doesn't do anything by half measures. "Everything about her exists at a 10," Aduba told Fast Company. "She gets angry at a 10. She loves at a 10. She feels like she's fallen ill at a 10." In short, there's something sad and sympathetic about Crazy Eyes — but, if you've seen "Orange Is the New Black," watching her try to navigate her world is also pretty funny. 

Aduba's ability to master this tricky balance earned her a rare honor: She's the only performer to ever win both comedy and drama Emmys for playing the same character in the same show. According to the Television Academy, she won the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2014 and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2015.

Her mother inspired her work ethic

Uzo Aduba understood from the start of her career that everything about acting would be hard work — from hustling for auditions to refining her craft to performing. "I left my home in Massachusetts after college to move to New York City to pursue my dreams of acting. I took roles for free. I waited tables. I didn't care because it was work," she told the Daily Beast. She was fortunate, however, to have an inspiring role model to keep her going: her mother, who had survived a life-threatening illness, war, immigration, and widowhood to earn a master's degree, remarry, and, according to The New Yorker, raise five successful children.

Aduba knew the best way to honor her mother's struggle and sacrifice was to adopt her drive and work ethic. "My uncle once told me, 'Your parents didn't leave Nigeria for you to just be standing still, Uzo.' These words resonated with me long after I had first heard them, and I took them to heart," she told the Daily Beast, adding that she took "any available opportunity to practice my craft. I would not allow my mother's journey to be in vain."

Uzo Aduba quietly married in 2020

While Uzo Aduba has gotten a lot of press in recent years, you're much more likely to hear her talking thoughtfully about her acting than to see her splashed across the tabloids with her latest beau on her arm — as People noted, she has always kept her private life to herself. For instance, when her mother — her biggest supporter and role model — died in 2020, she didn't mention it publicly for several months, preferring to process her loss and her grief in private.

In a similar vein, she kept her courtship and 2020 marriage to filmmaker Robert Sweeting to herself until nearly a year after their private New York wedding ceremony. She finally revealed her marriage in a 2021 Instagram post showing a photo of the happy couple on their wedding day along with a quote from "When Harry Met Sally": "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

The actress is also a trained classical singer

Uzo Aduba didn't initially set out to be an actor. During an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," she revealed to Colbert that, as a student at Boston University, she majored in classical voice and studied opera. She explained that studying opera involves much more than just singing. "In the morning, I'd wake up and we'd do, you know, movement and roll around the floor for the acting component of the program, and in the afternoon, we'd do music history and music theory, and I was like 'I think I like the rolling around on the floor a bit more,'" she said. "And, so I realized, you know, that when I leave here, I think I'm going to be an actor."

She didn't leave music behind after graduating, however, nor did she limit her musical pursuits to classical performances. As Playbill notes, Aduba took singing roles in several Broadway shows, including "Godspell." And while she has established herself as a serious dramatic actor, she's still passionate about music and welcomes opportunities for more singing roles. "I'd kill to sing again," she told The Guardian. "I practice every day. In fact, I have a vocal lesson in a couple of hours."

Her In Treatment character is informed by her own life experience

Uzo Aduba throws her entire being into her characters — a practice that requires a lot of emotional energy.  As Aduba told Fast Company, getting into the character of Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren in "Orange Is the New Black" was so emotionally intense that she regularly took a 20-minute walk after shooting the show to decompress and "just put her [Crazy Eyes] away."

Even more intense for Aduba is her role as Dr. Brooke Taylor, the conflicted therapist at the center of "In Treatment." This is not only Aduba's first starring role in a television show, but one that hits uncomfortably close to home: Dr. Taylor, like Aduba herself, is struggling with the recent death of a parent. "This was one of — if not the first — times where my life was aligning with the thing that I'm being asked to play," she told Self. For Aduba, this has meant it's been nearly impossible to employ her usual technique of stepping way from her character at the end of the workday. 

In addition, Aduba told The Guardian that she's also been in therapy herself ("I'd take my session during [lunch breaks] from filming, which was very meta"), which has given her a deeply personal understanding of the difficulty of being a counselor. "It's filled with holding other people's pain, suffering, trauma, joy, whatever – while simultaneously keeping stock of your own," she told The Guardian. "That's a heavy job."

Uzo Aduba holds sprinting records at Boston University

Uzo Aduba's versatility isn't limited to acting and music. As she told The New Yorker, sports have always been a part of her life. After a childhood of serious competitive figure skating, she switched to track, where she also excelled, winning state championships in sprinting. "I've always ran all my life," she said during an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." Her love of running earned her a track scholarship to Boston University, where she specialized in the 100 meters and 200 meters, and set records for the university that still stand.

At first glance, it may seem that no two activities could be more different than tearing down a track and portraying complicated dramatic characters on TV — but Aduba told Colbert that her track experience helped prepare her for the challenges of acting. "I think that playing sports and the preparation of sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and any given Sunday could be your day really helped prepare me to be out here to pursue this," she said. "And I'm grateful to have done it because it's been amazing."

She's a co-owner of a women's soccer team

Uzo Aduba has long hung up her racing flats and skates, but she's still a big champion of women's sports. As Glamour reported, in 2020, she and several other prominent women in acting and sports — including Mia Hamm, Eva Longoria, and Natalie Portman, who spearheaded the effort — banded together to bring a National Women's Soccer League team to Los Angeles. It was Portman's goal to bring in "incredible partners" from the worlds of sports, entertainment, and business, and Aduba was one of them. "I got a phone call saying if I wanted to support women's sports, a women's soccer team," Aduba told Jimmy Kimmel during an interview on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." "I love sports and I just want that space to exist for other women, young girls especially."

She added that one of her goals for the team — to be called the Angel City Football Club — is to provide "superstar" role models for young women in sports. And she, herself, may be one of them — she said she plans to attend as many of their games as she can when she's in town. "I love sports — I love soccer," she told Kimmel.

Her daily routine is beyond wholesome

As a serious dramatic actor with a hardcore athletic background, Uzo Aduba understands the value of a healthy mind and body — but trends are not for her. Instead, her daily routine, which she shared with Women's Health, reveals a low-key, grounded approach to staying emotionally and physically well.

As Women's Health reported, she starts her day by walking her dog — largely because the dog won't have it any other way. "Whether I want to sleep in or not, he is absolutely going to start the day," she said. The rest of her day — when not dedicated to work — is just as wholesome. She dedicates part of each day to catching up with family and friends. "Spending time with my loved ones — that's a huge priority for me," she said.

For Aduba, lunch is not at a trendy restaurant, but made from scratch at home. "The way that I really like to take a break is to cook," she said. "It also helps me not lose my energy throughout the day. Number one, because it nourishes the body, number two, because I'm still in a creative process." Finally, she likes to end her days in bed with a good book. "I definitely sleep better (just one of the benefits of daily reading), and I also dream better" with a book in hand, she told Women's Health. On her nightstand? A novel called "My Sister the Serial Killer" (here are other books celebs recommend). Sweet dreams!