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Triple Emmy winner Uzo Aduba talks about Christmas and ‘Crazy Eyes’

Triple Emmy award winner Uzo Aduba can play hardball on screen. Yet it turns out even the most formidable — one who can inhabit a character named “Crazy Eyes” — turns into a pile of mush during the holiday season. “I love Christmas! This is my line. There can’t be enough of it,’” she said from her California home on a foggy morning.

Aduba set the scene.

“I have the house decorated. I have Christmas playlists that I play nonstop. I curate a list on Pandora. I have Christmas movies going on a loop, along with chai-scented candles, plus a huge tree. Do you think it’s enough?” asked the 40-year-old Boston native, who studied classical voice at Boston University and competed in track and field.

Aduba famously was Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” which won her two Emmys and a SAG award. Currently, she’s on a slew of nominations for playing therapist Dr. Brooke Taylor on “In Treatment.”

In her new film, “National Champions,” she’s a hardcore NCAA executive named Katherine, who is sent in when an elite college quarterback ignites a players’ strike hours before the biggest game of the year in order to fight for fair compensation of college athletes. The film also stars Stephan James, J.K. Simmons and Alexander Ludwig.

Review-Journal: “National Champions” is one of those small gems of a movie that pops out during awards season. Was that the draw?

Uzo Aduba: It is one of those stand outs. I was really drawn to the story and the director’s vision. Plus, I liked how my character Katherine fit into this complicated sports world.

Were you familiar with the world of college athletics?

I did have a working knowledge of this conversation. And I ran track in college as a scholarship athlete. I have friends who have gone on to play sports professionally. Many of them didn’t make the big dance of going pro. They had to find a new life after sports, which is a topic the movie also touches on. The point of this movie is that college football takes a lot of time regardless of the scale of it, depending on the size of the school. Should these athletes be paid for their time and talent?

Should they be paid?

That is the question of the film. Think about how college athletes have to practice every single day, add to it the meets and the games. All of this must be done while simultaneously trying to be a dedicated student. But as for pay, I don’t think it’s for me to answer here. I’d rather the audience examine both sides in the film and come to their own conclusion.

Congrats on all of your award nominations for “In Treatment.”

Thank you. I’ve been lucky this year to find roles that are challenging emotionally. That’s the real win. That’s why a lot of us sign up for this job. I just want to tell stories about the complexities of life and humanity.

You grew up in Boston with your parents, who immigrated there from Nigeria. When did acting enter the picture for you?

Well, I didn’t act as a child, although I knew that I liked storytelling and watching movies. I also enjoyed making up songs, reading and pretending. I’ll never forget how my second-grade teacher really encouraged me. It just takes one person to give you that little push. Yet it wasn’t until high school where I got a bit more formal about it. I took a drama class and was in the school plays. I fell in love with expressing creativity. I fell in love with the arts.

And then there was your mom.

My mom knew I could sing and made me be in the choir at church. It was a bunch of adults and me. I didn’t understand why none of my siblings had to wake up for church choir rehearsals. There I was trudging through the snow wondering, “Why me?” Now I know why. Mom was a very supportive lover of the arts and she saw something in me that was leaning that way. Again, she encouraged it.

How did you get the role of Crazy Eyes?

I remember reading the script and thinking, “This is really good.” Then I went into audition and my rep called me a few weeks later. I heard, “We have some really good news. You remember that audition you went on for ‘Orange is the New Black’? You didn’t get it.” I said, “What part of this is good news?” I heard, “They want to offer you another part. Crazy Eyes.” I said, “Why did they think I was right for ‘Crazy Eyes?” Then I got the next script and I knew it was right.

Where do you keep your awards?

They’re in my office on a shelf. I’ll glance at them and go, “Holy (expletive), that’s crazy.”

What is a great Sunday for you?

Ooooh, a good Sunday is one where I don’t have to do anything. I’ve moved from New York to California. That day would start by walking my dog, Fenway. We’ll go to the park. Then I come home and call up one of my friends or siblings and we’ll go for a great brunch with really good tea. The rest of the day is spent wandering. Maybe I’ll be buzzing around the city all afternoon, or you’ll find Fenway and I on the couch just watching a good movie or maybe even “Tiger King.”

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