The all-new season, which is now streaming on Netflix, picks up exactly where season four left off, with Polanco's character, Dayanara "Daya" Diaz, pointing a gun at correctional officer Thomas Humphrey (Michael Torpey). It's all a result of the riot that broke out in the cafeteria after inmate Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) was accidentally murdered by prison guard Baxter Bailey (Alan Aisenberg).
"Right now, everyone collectively has unified to take things and to just not take it anymore. To say, 'We won't tolerate it,'" she told ET of the inmates' reactions to the injustices happening inside Litchfield Penitentiary. "And I think as women, politically now we're going through the same thing, where we're unifying and we're not going to stop. Resist until we do not stop."
Polanco revealed that while the incident with the gun was split up between seasons, it was all shot at the same time. She remembers the filming of that particular scene to be very "intense" -- she did not expect her character to -- SPOILER! -- pull the trigger "at all" before reading the script.
"I was coming into a season where I wasn't sure what was going to happen to my character, but I wanted to know and was ready for [her fate]," she explained. "At this point in the show, Dayanara was ready to take things into her own hands and to take a risk and say, 'I've had it. This is my moment of freedom. I'll worry about it later, but for now, what I've suffered, what I've endured, what Bennett (Matt McGorry) has done, what I've had to sacrifice with Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) and my daughter, I don't care at this point.'"
The Dominican Republic native said she usually relies on music to help her get into character, but for this specific scene, she had to dig deeper.
"I had gone through a moment in my life that was just hard and difficult, a lot of things going on," she confessed. "There was a removing of people, there were defamations of myself as a person, and so I felt that was such a right moment to use those emotions to transcend them right into that gun and to Daya. That's how I felt about everything in my life -- like a bullet inside a gun. I just wanted to shoot out and be free."
Besides what she declares her "selfish actor needs," Polanco said she was "proud" of Daya for having that moment.
"It's about time," she said. "It was very internal for Daya. She was releasing the last bit of resistance that she had. That was it. That was her moment to exhale."
It was a "do or die" moment" for Daya, something Polanco could easily relate to. Before she became a household name, the 34-year-old actress was juggling two jobs and studying to be a nurse -- but it wasn't the true future she saw for herself.
"It was going home and complaining to my family and having that one person to say, 'Look, there's a situation,' and me taking that moment to say, 'I am going to invest in myself,'" she explained. "'Even if this is a scam, I'm just going to risk it, because if I don't do it now, I'll live in regret.'"
OITNB marks Polanco's first full-time job as an actress, and to this day, she says she's never picky with the opportunities that come her way.
"I do things because I'm on my own journey and in my own lane. I'm not looking at what everyone else is doing," she admitted. "There's no drawing me to any roles, I'm not in the point in my career, even as a Latina, to be like, 'Oh my God, I'm attracted to this role!' It's more like, 'This is the opportunity you're going to get. You go for it, you get it, you got it.''
"The truth of the matter is, the opportunities for Latinos are not the same as the opportunities for whites and African Americans," she added. "So, when I heard about Orange, it was through my manager. They sent me to the audition and I was just like, 'OK, I'm going to go,' and that was it."
Polanco admitted she "had no idea" OITNB would "become of this magnitude," and is well aware that she wouldn't be where she is today had it not been for her ability to keep pushing through tough times.
"I never thought it'd be as successful as it is, not because I didn't believe in it, but because I just didn't know," she recalled. "I was just excited to have a job. Whether it was on Netflix or YouTube, it didn't matter. I was just like, 'Look, I have a job. I'm doing what I love to do.'"
"Like Daya, to be able to persevere is one of my characteristics," she added. "I have to take a moment to remind myself that, not too long ago, I needed to go to welfare to pay for rent. Being in circumstances [like that], these are real things that I had to go through, and there's a point in your life where it's either do or die."
Now five seasons into OITNB, Polanco is "most proud" of how the prison dramedy has changed the game, and truly believes the show can ignite action and spark awareness of real-life issues.
"I think we've done something revolutionary," she exclaimed. "Now, more so than ever, we're having more conversations of the prison system, the incarceration rate, we're having documentaries … there are more stories about what women go through in jail."
"We've opened up conversations in forms that other shows have not, and for me to sit here and say we don't provoke that would be a lie," she continued. "If we don't do this for the purpose of humanity, than what are we doing it for?"
Polanco hopes the series will continue to raise the bar on what topics to cover and eventually put an end to labels.
"I don't need to be grouped. I'm a woman, I'm a mother, I'm a girl, I'm whatever you want to call me. I am a human who has been doing her thing without having to fit in," she said. "I have moments where I doubt myself, where I feel insecure and feel like I should put my head down … and you know what? I'm done with that."
"I'm proud of where I came from," she continued. "I'm an immigrant to the United States of America. I will always be the Dascha I was while I was in high school, and I'll stand up for what I believe in. To this day, I'm still the same Dascha."