If it weren’t for Greenville, the world would never have met Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, one of the most beloved characters on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” And that’s because Danielle Brooks, the Juilliard-trained, Screen Actors Guild-award-winning actor who played Taystee for seven seasons, spent her formative years right here in the Upstate.
“I lived in Greenville when I was four ’til I was 17,” Brooks says, “I went to Greenbrier and Hillcrest Middle and League Academy and Hillcrest High. I’ve been to a lot of different schools.”
And there’s a reason that Brooks went to all those different schools, up to and including the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities.
“My mother was very adamant about finding the schools for me, and Greenville has been so good at arts education that there was always some kind of program for me to be a part of. I was in children’s theater, I saw shows at the Warehouse Theatre; the Governor’s School is where I learned what a monologue was and where I read my first August Wilson play. I know for sure that I would not have gotten into Juilliard without the Governor’s School. So I’m grateful for that, because where most kids get their discipline and dedication through sports, I was able to find that through the love of theater because of Greenville.”
That discipline led Brooks to fame and acclaim, not just on “Orange Is the New Black” but on the Broadway stage, where she played Sofia in the Grammy-winning musical version of “The Color Purple.”
It was during that Broadway run that one of Brooks’ co-stars gave her the kernel of inspiration that led to her new project: portraying gospel legend and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson in “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia,” a biopic that will premiere on the Lifetime network on April 3.