10 Things with Kelly Karbacz
How did you get your start as an actor in the business?
I started singing and taking dance lessons at a very young age, and I fell madly in love with the theatre after seeing my first Broadway show. One year, my dance school put on a variety show competition, and while most other students decided to dance, I decided to sing. I won first prize and there happened to be an agent in the audience. I was invited to audition for the agency and was fortunate enough to be offered a contract. The rest is history!
What was the first job that you booked and how did you react when you finally booked it?
My first big break was playing the role of “Louisa” in The Sound of Music at Lincoln Center’s New York City Opera. I auditioned with a slew of other kids, and after several callbacks, I was offered the part. I remember being on cloud nine, bursting with joy, and knowing for sure that I wanted to perform for the rest of my life. I was blessed to be directed by the incredible James Hammerstein and even got my Equity Card from that gig. Being on that grand stage, night after night, solidified my passion for musical theatre.
You’re currently on one of the biggest shows on TV right now, Orange is The New Black on Netflix. How were you first introduced to the series and what made you want to take this on?
I was a huge fan of the show and very invested in the world of Litchfield before being cast. I felt like it was in my wheelhouse and a good fit for me as an actor, so I knew I would jump at the chance to be a part of it, if given the opportunity. Our casting director, Jen Euston, has always been so good to me, and she actually brought me in for several other characters throughout the first three seasons. Reading for Sankey, however, was the first time I auditioned to be an inmate. I knew Sankey would be challenging to play, but there was no question I was up for it.
On the show, you play the role of Kasey Sankey, a primary member of the White Power Group. What are the good and bad sides of Sankey?
Sankey is introduced as more of a villain so it is often difficult to highlight her good qualities. I suppose her positive traits include her strength, loyalty, fearlessness and willingness to do whatever is necessary to survive and to protect her family both inside and outside of Litchfield. Her negative side, of course, is her adherence to a racist ideology which she allows to dictate most of her behavior.
Besides having multiple altercations with others in the prison, what do you enjoy most about playing her on screen?
I do enjoy all the action and being able to physically and verbally spar with the extraordinary ensemble of actors that I’m privileged to call my cast mates. They are all generous scene partners who up my game on a daily basis. I also relish the opportunity to be so raw and stripped down in order to play Sankey. In that uniform, I transform on set, and without any glamour as a mask or barrier, I feel this greater freedom to go places that I normally would never allow myself to go. It’s almost a requirement to bring Sankey to life because she is so aggressive and extreme, and so very different from who I am in my own life.
There are always surprises happening on OITNB. What can fans and viewers expect to see from the White Power Group and the rest of the inmates on this fifth season?
Fans will learn more about our lives, see us form alliances they may not expect, and witness how we react to the shift of power as the inmates take over Litchfield. For Sankey, viewers will see sides of her they haven’t seen before and will watch her continue to evolve and struggle with her beliefs. Season 5 will once again highlight how OITNB is a true dramedy, and will show how we cope with loss, and find the strength to not only carry on but to stand up and fight. The prison riot, hostage situation and chaos that ensues over a three day span make for a season that is crazy intense. To say the stakes are higher than ever is an understatement.
On the theater side, you made your Broadway debut in the leading role of Maureen Johnson, in Rent. How much of a thrill was it to be on stage and how was your approach different than that on TV?
I don’t know if there are words to describe the true bliss I felt being able to play “Maureen” in Rent on Broadway. It was a dream role for me, and to have it come to fruition, and be given the chance to perform it eight times a week on a Broadway stage, was life changing. Theatre is very different from television. Theatre is intimate, and you and the audience are breathing as one and taking the journey together. Their reaction is immediate and you as the performer have one shot to nail your moments. Each night has to be fresh and new and the stamina required for a long run is epic. With television, you finesse and work the same moments take after take until the scene is where it needs to be. You can usually reach a much broader audience as well and a heavy shooting schedule of course has its own challenges. I’ve worked on a multi-camera sitcom in the past and that to me was the best of both worlds, a theatre/tv combo. I was able to perform in front of a live studio audience and yet the end result could be seen all over the world.
What type of career would you have if you weren’t working as an actor?
When you start out in this business, because it’s so tough, many people tell you that if there’s anything else you enjoy doing, you should definitely do that instead. I’ve never entertained an alternative because I’ve always known that no other career would make me happy. I was always certain that being an actor was the only thing that would bring me great joy.
Which fashion designers fit your personal sense of style?
I always lean toward the classy and sophisticated. I often wear Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Vince Camuto, Theia, Carmen Marc Valvo and many others. I love fashion and I’m looking forward to taking bolder fashion risks as my style continues to evolve.
We look forward to seeing you on Orange is The New Black this season. What other projects do you have coming up?
I’m diving back into my theatre roots by working on two different pieces- one musical and one straight play. Both roles are rich, complex characters and I’m having a ball being able to help develop them. They are in the early stages so I can’t share any details yet, but I’m very excited to see what comes next!!
Facebook: Kelly Karbacz
Photos: Nicolas Wagner