When Suzanne Wilson, née Minotti, was announced as homecoming queen of Commack North High School, she hopped a fence to accept her crown.
Little did she know, years later, she would go to prison… as a background extra on “Orange Is the New Black.”
Throughout high school, Wilson played tennis and volleyball, plus softball for a season. Although popular among her peers, she figured the homecoming queen title would go to one of the cheerleaders she was up against.
Leading up to the announcement at halftime of the homecoming football game, she stood with some of the other nominees behind a fence by the field.
“I didn’t even come very dressed up to the game,” Wilson recalled with a laugh. “I was very comfortable; I was in jeans and a sportcoat.”
The moment they had been waiting for finally came, and Wilson’s name was called. “I was not planning on winning at all,” she said, “and I didn’t know what to do.”
Wilson remembers all of her friends screaming and cheering her name, and in the frenzy, she couldn’t find the opening of the fence.
So, she hopped it. She remembers the joyous reaction from her classmates while doing so.
“That’s a funny thing that everyone remembers -- that the homecoming queen jumped the fence to get onto the float,” Wilson said.
After graduating in 1979, Wilson attended LIU Post and later went to work at Fortunoff as an assistant buyer. She was eventually promoted to a retail buyer position. Wilson said she stopped working after having two daughters, Julianne and Justine, with her husband, John. She proudly noted that Julianne was named homecoming queen at Sachem High School North in 2009.
Now, Wilson resides in Lake Grove and is back to work. She’s a substitute teacher at Centereach High School, works in sales part-time at Jostens -- a company that creates class rings and yearbooks -- and often lends her talent as a background extra in television shows that shoot in New York City.
Wilson can be spotted in shows including “The Blacklist,” “The Good Wife,” “Madam Secretary,” and “Orange Is the New Black.” On “Orange,” Wilson says she appeared in season 3 as a “core prisoner,” meaning she recurred in several episodes. Wilson said she filmed her scenes in Astoria, Queens, and Orangeburg, New York.
“I did so many scenes with all of the principals,” she said. “And they all happened to be very nice and fun on set.”
Wilson said she shot scenes eating in the cafeteria and playing basketball in the prison yard. She bonded with the other background actors on set: “It was great because you were there all the time with the same people. There were little camaraderies between all of us, and it was a really cool experience.”
If she could go back, Wilson would tell her 18-year-old self not to sweat the small stuff.
“Try to look at the big picture of things,” she said. “The small stuff means nothing once you get older.”