Samira Wiley Biography

Actress (1987–)
American actress Samira Wiley is best known for her roles in 'Orange Is the New Black' and 'The Handmaid's Tale.'

Who Is Samira Wiley?

Born in 1987, American actress Samira Wiley made a splash onto the Hollywood scene starting in 2013 when she began playing Poussey Washington on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black (OITNB). In 2016 Wiley guest starred in FX/FXX's comedy You're the Worst before picking up a role on another streaming hit, The Handmaid's Tale, as Moira. Wiley has also appeared on the big screen, including the Kathryn Bigelow-directed period crime drama Detroit (2017).

Samira Wiley Photo

Samira Wiley from the series 'The Handmaid's Tale' attends a photocall during the 58th Monte Carlo TV Festival on June 17, 2018 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.


Wiley stands at 5 feet, 3 inches tall.

Movies and TV Shows

'Orange Is the New Black'

Wiley earned her first major film role in 2011 with the comedy The Sitter. While playing small parts on television and doing some theatrical work, she nabbed her breakthrough role as kind-hearted Poussey Washington on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, thanks to the help of some well-connected friends who were fellow Juilliard alums.

Wiley played Poussey — a lesbian and lovable best friend to inmate character Taystee Jefferson — for the first four seasons of the hit show before her character was killed off. (Wiley guest starred as Poussey in Season 5.)

In an interview with THR, Wiley opened up about how Poussey's violent death hit a profound chord with fans and why their heartfelt reaction was important amidst the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"There are people everyday who we lose. And especially, with the Black Lives Matter thing, there have been so many people who we’ve lost and there’s people in our country who don’t have any connection to that," Wiley explained. "They don’t know a black person, or the only reference they have are people on TV. And Poussey is this character that, she just has such a good heart and not only that, she had so much potential."

Wiley added: "... we’re making television at the end of the day, it’s all smoke and mirrors and it’s all fake, but it’s not because it makes people really feel things that are real." 

Still, she also found time to play other roles, both in film and television, including the crime dramas Rob the Mob (2014), 37 (2016) and Detroit (2017) as well as the network shows The Catch (2016) and You're the Worst (2016).

'The Handmaid's Tale'

Between 2017 and 2018, Wiley was cast in yet another huge streaming hit, The Handmaid's Tale. On the dystopian drama, which is based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, she plays Moira, a Handmaid in training and best friend of lead character June (Elisabeth Moss) who runs away only to become a prostitute named Ruby. She realizes later she's interested in dating only women. For her supporting role in the series, Wiley was nominated for an Emmy in 2017.

Although she was hesitant at first to take on another lesbian character for fear of being typecast, Wiley accepted the risk because she felt her character Moira represented so much more than her sexual orientation. 

"I want to be able to bring life to Moira in the same way that I brought life to Poussey and made that person real," Wiley told The Washington Post in 2017. "That’s always my goal. I think that Moira is a hero. She is the one in the book that you’re not going to question, 'Is Moira going to survive?' Because you know she is." 

In 2018 Wiley also starred in the comedy flick Social Animals.

Video Game 'Walking Dead'

Wiley has also lent her voice to some prominent audio projects, including portraying the title character in the video game The Walking Dead: Michonne.

Personal Life

In March 2017, Wiley married OITNB writer Lauren Morelli after a short engagement. The couple had their wedding in Palm Springs and had their apparel designed by Christian Siriano, with Wiley opting for a ballgown look.

“Married life is great!” Wiley told Ebony magazine months later. “I’m really enjoying it. People always ask you: ‘Is it different?’ and I don’t see a real difference externally, but more so just in myself and how I think about us as a unit, rather than me as an individual. I feel really grown up!”

Early Life and Education

Samira Denise Wiley was born on April 15, 1987 and was raised in Washington D.C. with her two siblings by co-pastors Christine and Dennis Wiley. As leaders of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, Wiley's parents have been called "pillars of the LGBT religious community" as they had once been the only church in their denomination to have performed same-sex unions in the D.C. area.  

After graduating from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Wiley moved to New York City to attend the famed Juilliard School where she focused on theatre performance, earning her degree in 2010.

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