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It’s a fairly frequent occurrence that a storyline will involve a flashback that requires someone to portray a younger version of an actor. Sometimes, this work can serve as a launching pad for young stars looking for breakthrough roles connected to more prominent names in entertainment. Other times, the need for a younger version of a more established star gives actors the chance to work alongside their own children

That was the case for Dascha Polanco when Orange Is the New Black had a flashback to a 14-year-old version of her character Daya. The younger version was played by none other than Polanco’s own daughter. 

Playing Daya on ‘Orange is the New Black’ was a breakout role for Dascha Polanco

Dominican American actor Dascha Polanco hadn’t been in the acting business very long before she landed a truly transformational role that increased her visibility and helped launch a successful career. As IMDb explains, Polanco was working at a hospital and attending nursing school when she was approached to audition for Orange Is the New Black. Acting had always been an interest, but she didn’t get her start in entertainment until she was 28 years old. 

The role that launched her into fame was that of Daya, one of the inmates in Orange Is the New Black. The Netflix series was loosely based on the memoir of the same name and highlighted the lives of several women incarcerated for a wide range of crimes.

Daya — short for Dayanara — is a main character who appears in all seven seasons. Along the way, there’s drama centered on her relationship with her mother, who is also incarcerated in the same prison. One of the major plot lines for Daya’s character involves a pregnancy scandal. After she begins a forbidden relationship with a guard and becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she hatches a scheme to pin the pregnancy on a different guard. 

Polanco received high praise for playing the complex character who was constantly torn between her nurturing nature and the hard decisions she felt she had to make to survive her life in prison. The final season leaves fans on a cliffhanger about her survival.

Polanco’s real-life daughter played a younger Daya 

Along the complex path to Daya’s ultimate conclusion, fans get a chance to see a deeper exploration of her family life and how she ended up imprisoned in the first place. In Season 5, the show closely examines Daya’s relationship with her mother, including a flashback to when the character was just 14 years old. 

Fans immediately commented on how impressive the actor was at portraying the child version of the character. As E! Online reports, fans at the time were flabbergasted about how the younger version managed to look so much like her older counterpart. The secret was in the genes! The 14-year-old was portrayed by Dasany Kristal Gonzalez, Dascha Polanco’s real-life daughter. 

That reveal left fans with even more questions. Daya is a fairly young character — far younger than Polanco — and Polanco has been open about being a teenage mother in the past. She gave birth to Gonzalez when she was just 18. Cosmopolitan reports that Gonzalez was born premature when Polanco was “a freshman at Hunter College, where she put herself through school as a psych major.”

What has Dascha Polanco been up to recently?

Dascha Polanco attending the 'In The Heights' premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Festival at the United Palace Theater
Dascha Polanco attending the ‘In The Heights’ premiere | Roy Rochlin/WireImage via Getty Images

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Orange Is the New Black wrapped up in 2019, and by the time it came to its conclusion, Dascha Polanco had some real star power behind her. She levied that success into impressive roles in American Crime StoryRussian Doll, and In the Heights

Fans can get excited about seeing more from Polanco soon. She’s slated to appear in Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming film Samaritan, the TV series Dangerous Moms (if it gets picked up), and the TV movie Blood Relative