When actress Lolita Foster—best known for her role as corrections officer Eliqua Maxwell on Netflix’s prison dramedy Orange is the New Black—enrolled at UVA, she had every intention of becoming a writer.
“I enjoyed the escape that literature provides. I admired authors like Joan Didion who have the skill to transport and teach the reader. But, in my first year, I saw a production of Noises Off … I looked at the talent that was on stage—from the lights to the set to the actors—and I said to myself, ‘That. I want to be a part of that,’” says Foster (Col ’01).
So she took the leap, enrolled in acting classes and auditioned for King Lear, the next play. She admits she was “terrible.”
“I mean, Shakespeare? Off the bat? Who did I think I was? I read a monologue, trembling, and—of course—was cast as nothing,” Foster says.
Undaunted, Foster kept auditioning and was cast in the lead role in Measure for Measure her fourth year.
“Lolita was a fearless and fierce, yet lighthearted, presence in class and in rehearsal,” says associate professor of drama Kate Burke. “She was one of the most self-possessed students I have had the pleasure to teach.”
Upon graduation, Foster spent a year as an acting fellow at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. From there, she starred in numerous plays in New York. In 2013, she was cast as “desk corrections officer” on Orange.
Initially, she says, it was a one-and-done job. “One of the writers came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know if anyone told you, but we enjoyed your performance so much that we were asked to keep writing for you,’” she says. “It’s one of the best compliments and greatest blessings that I’ve ever received.”
Foster appeared in 24 episodes of Orange. “I’m very grateful for the time I had,” she says. “Orange is brimming with actors from so many disparate cultures and races that it’s reflective of actual society. I don’t think the industry realized how much the population craved a show starring people that looked like them.”
She also appeared in 2016’s All We Had, which was actress Katie Holmes’ directorial debut. Next up is 2017’s Going in Style with Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin.
“Just to be in the same room with both of these legends is wild and humbling,” Foster says. “I remember waiting for the crew to set up the scene. Alan was strumming the ukulele … and Morgan was singing along. It was at that moment I thought, ‘Yep, life ain’t so bad.’”