EXCLUSIVE: Samira Wiley Opens Up About 'Amazing' Life After 'Orange Is the New Black'

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“It feels really amazing to me,” Samira Wiley tells ET about
life after Orange Is the New Black,
the Netflix series on which she played Poussey Washington -- [Spoiler Alert] -- before being killed
off at the end of season four. Starring in the new ensemble film 37, inspired by the 1964 murder of Kitty
Genovese in Kew Gardens, New York, Wiley is slowly putting that experience
behind her. “I come from a training program where we were playing different
characters every week, so to be able to be back out there and be hungry, I
found some good and some sort of optimism in being away from the show.”

Admittedly, there was a grieving process that Wiley went
through multiple times. She learned about her character’s fate a year before
her cast mates, and well before audiences who watched it this past June. But
she came out stronger on the other side. “I feel like I grew up on that show …
Those were really formative years,” she says of her first series regular role
on a TV show. “I’d never played a character as long as I played Poussey. Spending
time with her, so much time embodying that character, it was so -- and still is
and always will be -- so special to me and a part of who I am.”

MORE: The 'Orange Is the New Black' Totally Wants to Do a Musical Episode (and Has a Few Ideas on How to Do It)

But now she’s back out there, “able to jump into all these
different genres and different characters,” Wiley says, including a role
opposite her Orange Is the New Black
onscreen partner, Kimiko Glenn, in the social media thriller Nerve and a recurring role on the FXX
comedy You’re the Worst.

“It was such a blast to have Samira on set,” says Kether Donohue,
who plays Lindsay on the raunchy series. On the show, Wiley plays a therapist,
Justina Jordan, to Aya Cash’s Gretchen. “I only have one scene with her,”
Donohue says, “which was a dream because she’s so talented and sweet.”

Wiley’s latest role is playing Joyce Smith, a pregnant
mother and wife who moves into an apartment complex that later becomes the
setting for a gruesome rape and murder. The real murder of Genovese became
infamous when it was reported that 37 witnesses did nothing to intervene. 

“The movie is not really about the crime, it’s about the
response to the crime,” Wiley says of 37 (in theaters and on demand Friday, Oct. 7),
which she considers a fresh and bold form of storytelling. “Not even seeing the
crime itself is a bold choice, but a real testament to what the movie is
supposed to be about.”

While Wiley wasn’t familiar with the story before signing
onto the project, she quickly became fascinated -- as audiences have with many
of the real-life stories that have become wrapped up in the nation’s obsession
with true crime
. “I can’t even put my finger on why, but I would imagine it’s
just an interest in the human mind and human behavior, especially when
something is so far from you,” she says. “It's an interesting psychological
study to me. I'm definitely caught up in the Kool-Aid of true-crime

Genovese’s murder is a particularly gripping story that has inspired
an episode of Law & Order: SVU
and a fictitious, interactive play in an episode of Girls. It’s also the subject of the documentary The Witness, which is now streaming on
Netflix. “It’s infamous in New York,” Wiley says, adding that filming exterior
shots just blocks away from where the original murder took place was a surreal
experience. “I felt a large amount of responsibility of being there and wanting
to tell the story with truth and honesty. I definitely felt that in a very
palatable way when we were on set there.”

MORE: 5 True Crime Stories You Need to Watch

While she’s dabbling in film, Wiley will be returning to TV
on Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s
as Moira. The dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood is being turned into
a 10-episode series slated to premiere in 2017 starring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes.

And it’s a far cry from Orange
Is the New Black
, which still remains with fans not quite ready to let go
of Poussey. “There are so many people that are so attached to her in a way that
I don’t think I understood until this happened,” Wiley says, referring to her

But her hunger for work and new experiences will keep her
pushing forward. “I’m excited to get in there and create something completely
different,” she says.