Since premiering in 2013, Orange Is The New Black has enjoyed a banner four-season run. The Netflix dramedy has picked up a slew of accolades and plenty of critical acclaim, particularly for its groundbreaking depictions of race, gender, and sexuality.
Fresh off the release of the show’s fourth season, its all-star cast stopped in to chat with New York Times culture reporter David Itzkoff Friday at TheTimesCenter as part of the TimesTalks series. Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Uzo Aduba, Samira Wiley, Danielle Brooks, Natasha Lyonne, and Kate Mulgrew were all featured at the event, and EW was on the scene. Read on for five things we learned from the panel.
OITNB was a crossroads for much of the cast
What the stars of OITNB were doing just before landing in Litchfield has been documented in fragments over the years, but hearing the show’s impact altogether really put into perspective what a turning point it was for much of the cast. For those who had already notched significant on-screen roles, the opportunity seemed to pop up at a time of ambivalence: Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon had both grown disillusioned with television, and Natasha Lyonne was at a point where she was “glad to be getting a call at all.”
For others, the series served as a true breakout: Samira Wiley was bartending in New York, and Uzo Aduba had officially thrown in the towel on acting the day before scoring the gig. The odd one out? The delightfully cheeky Kate Mulgrew, who said, “I don’t recall what I was doing, but I’m sure I was having a martini and a cigar.”
The Time Hump Chronicles are a real thing
In season three, the inmates become obsessed with the Time Hump Chronicles, an erotic sci-fi series penned by Suzanne (Aduba) as part of the prison’s drama class. Turns out, there’s a real-life copy of the stories somewhere on set. “There was a book. There was absolutely a book,” Aduba said. “Jordan [Harrison, an OITNB writer] had started writing a story, and the props department came and they wanted it written in my script, and they wanted illustrations. They said, ‘If you want to add, have at it,’ [so] I did.”
Pablo Schreiber was the most intimidating castmate to work with
OITNB is a show that often toes the line of morality; It’s hard to know who to root for in a prison full of criminals. ‘Pornstache,’ an often-abusive guard played by Pablo Schreiber, was an early villain in the series, and one who Lyonne says was one of the more intimidating faces on the roster. “There was just something about him more than anyone else,” Lyonne said. “He’s a great actor, Pablo, but he’s also very tall. He’s really physically imposing…It’s legitimately scary…There were scenes that were physical, and I would always be a little bit shaken [afterward].”
Natasha Lyonne and Kate Mulgrew brought real-life experience to their roles
The OITNB women may not have committed any actual crimes, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t able to draw from real-life grit on screen. Lyonne, who plays recovering junkie Nicky Nichols, has been vocal about her own past with drug addiction, and on Friday she opened up about how she brought it to the part. “When you know something firsthand, there’s a responsibility, in a way, to tell the truth…to try to get it right and not lie about what addiction looks like,” she said. “I think I’m much harder on myself than someone who might be researching from a distance.”
Mulgrew, who portrays the tenacious Red, worked with inmates at New York’s Rikers Island. “It deepens [the show], certainly. Even though we’re fond of saying it becomes a bleak atmosphere the minute you walk onto the soundstage, that’s a little grandiose,” Mulgrew said. “When you go into Rikers and you’re working with 18, 19, 20-year-old boys, it’s unspeakably bleak…They’re so desperate to be free, and they won’t be. They’ll be transferred to a long-term facility. There’s a sense of desperation and awfulness [there] that is beyond expression.”
Alex and Piper might not ever “settle down”
Alex (Prepon) and Piper’s (Schilling) relationship is dysfunctional to say the least. And yet, it’s difficult not to want them to end up together. So will those crazy kids ever make it?
“There will never be any settling down for Alex and Piper, which is why it’s such a fun relationship to watch,” Prepon said. “It’s just one of those things where you really can’t control where your heart goes. They love each other and they hate each other, and they manipulate each other and they help each other when they need it, but the thing that’s so great is that it’s always grounded in the reality that they do ultimately love each other. You’re always kind of rooting for them because of that genuine love.”