‘OITNB’: Michael Harney Talks Season 3, Lesbians and How He Nearly Became A Priest

“I’d be trippin’ and hangin’ out drunk at a bar and talking about Jesus"

Michael Harney on 'Orange Is The New Black'

Michael Harney has more than a few jaw dropping stories to tell about his wild days of over-indulging in booze and drugs.

The ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK star admits his early twenties were “years of addiction and just insane behavior.”

“I’d be trippin’ and hangin’ out drunk at a bar and talking about Jesus,” he remembers.

The Bronx native — who now portrays sometimes unlikeable prison guard Sam Healy on the hit Netflix series — eventually put a cork in the bottle and began what would become a two-decade long career in television, film and live theater.

“But I never lost sight of [God],” he points out.

In fact, at one point, the actor even considered devoting his life to the cloth.

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“I was going to become a priest years ago,” he tells me.   “But I wanted to have a family and I love women too much.”

“Back then it was pretty much a done deal that if you wanted to have a marriage, there was no way you could become a priest.  I don’t think I could handle the celibacy aspect.”

Here’s more of what Harney had to share when we spoke about faith, lesbians and season 3 of OITNB.

How prepared are you should your life take a turn and you end up behind bars?  Could you withstand the prison system?
No.  I would not.  [laughs]  That’s an emphatic no!

Is it strange for you to be making entertainment out the unhealthy state of our prison system?
No.  It is not strange at all.  In fact it turns me on.  Being able to embody a key player in that environment and the day to day workings of that prison is an honor and a privilege for me.  I get an opportunity to live it out.  To me, the light at the end of the tunnel is that people might say, “I might do something similar to that too if I was in his position.”  We are all struggling with our own obstacles in our lives. And Sam is no different.  So it is not a strange experience.  It is something as an artist that is really quite a privilege.

How do you think the audience is going to see Sam in season 3?  Will we be more sympathetic or will we see him as an asshole?
A lot of people say, “Is he a good guy or a bad guy?”  I don’t go there.  I don’t craft the characters that way.  I live through the circumstances that our great writing team gives me.

But our perception has changed a bit.  He was a real dick in the beginning and by the end of season 2, I found myself liking him a bit.
That is life.  Even people who do the worst things in life have the capacity to do things that are really loving and charitable.  We are all spinning into existence so to speak on a daily basis.  So for Sam it is pretty challenging because the circumstances are pretty hefty.

Sam is not fond of lesbians.  Does this create problems for you with the LGBT community?
No.  Not at all.  I think by now they know that I am playing a character.  I have told people that I love lesbians about a million times.  The superficial perception amongst viewers in the gay community is “Oh, he must be a real asshole.”  That is if you are superficial.  But most people in that community are not superficial.  They are fairly deep individuals.  So they realize for the most part that I am just participating in the artistic process.

Any interesting fan encounters?  Do lesbians want to come up and have their photos taken with you?
Oh, yeah.  Not just lesbians.  It is just part of our celebrity-obsessed culture.  But I blend in a lot.  I could be at Yankee Stadium at the World Series and people would just think I am the mailman.

You have been lucky to be able to successfully navigate this business for almost four decades.  What is the secret?
I fell in love with the art of acting.

Does it ever piss you off that there are so many people in this business who seem like they can’t act, yet they fall into wonderful roles.
I don’t look at it that way.  I look at it like you are part of God.  This day is part of God.  This guy fell into that role.  It was supposed to happen.

What are you passionate about — besides faith and acting?
I live pretty much a hidden life.  I have a special needs son and my life is really about love and service in many respects.  If I am not with him, I am advocating for him.  If I am not advocating for him, I am setting up some kind of service for him.  If I am not doing that, I am reading scripts and working with my team, figuring out what to do next.  Really, for me, it is a very simple life.

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK returns June 12 on Netflix.

Sean Daly

Sean Daly

Editor-In-Chief at TheTVPage.com
Sean Daly is a veteran entertainment journalist.His work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The Toronto Star and other top publications. He was the west coast TV reporter for The New York Post from 2008 - 2013. Sean is the author of Inside AGT: The Untold Stories of America's Got Talent and Teen Mom Confidential: Secrets and Scandals From MTV's Most Controversial Shows.
Sean Daly