'Orange Is the New Black' at PaleyFest: Five things we learned
The Dolby Theatre stage was filled with a beautifully eclectic group of women when the cast of Netflix’s critically acclaimed series Orange Is the New Black sat down for their first PaleyFest panel. Well, it was almost all women. Joining creator Jenji Kohan and stars Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, and Natasha Lyonne, among others, were two of the men of the series: Jason Biggs and Michael Harney. However, the talk of the night mainly focused on the diversity of the show and the bond the cast mates have outside of their prison set. From the amount of giggling that went on throughout the night, it appears they know how to have a good time together sans screwdriver (more on that later!).
From a new inmate to explanations of some of the differences between the original book and series, the panel revealed some exciting things for OITNB fans eagerly anticipating the show’s return to the streaming site in June. Here are five things we learned:
There’s no place like Netflix
Unlike some other traditional networks, both Kohan and the cast were enthusiastic about their working relationship with Netflix. Kohan said the company created a comfortable environment to work in because they were fans themselves and rooting for the show to succeed. “There’s no micro-managing. They believe in the vision,” said Prepon. Kate Mulgrew, who plays head cook Red, noted that it was exciting to be a part of something new and that they are “riding the wave” with the new technologies that have really changed television for ever. But besides their own show, the cast was quick to admit that like most everyone else, they too binge-watch House of Cards. Kohan said she didn’t know how people were going to consume the show before it premiered but realized for season 2, the culture of binge-watching allowed for different pacing because “instead of a week away, you could just see them in a hour.” This allowed Kohan to hold back on some stories a little bit and not feel as rushed to get to the ultimate conclusions she wants.
Diversity: Why not?
That was the simple response Kohan had when asked about the many different cultures featured on the show. “These are great stories, great characters, and great women. The audience is ready for this type of show.” The cast playfully joked that there couldn’t be any tokenism in the cast because there are too many black women in the cast to begin with. “Traditional networks are more risk adverse,” said Laverne Cox, who plays trans inmate Sophia. The show has also opened up many conversations around the country about prison reform, specifically in the trans community. Lea DeLaria also claimed that the personal perception that she has felt as a lesbian in real life and on screen as Big Boo has drastically changed — for example, she said, teenage boys who would once spit in her face now embrace her. She also claimed that she has been asked to sign 44 screwdrivers from excited fans. Don’t they know what her character uses them for?
Going beyond the book
Fans who have read the Orange Is the New Black book know that there are many differences between the source material and the show, noticeably the inmates’ names. Kohan explained that the plan was to use the names in the book, but three days into production on season 1, the legal department said they couldn’t use any names from the book except for that of author Piper Kerman — no one else had signed off. Specific details about characters were used and some comparisons might be easy to spot. Kohan said she wanted the first season to be able to stand on its own in terms of story telling in case there wouldn’t be a season 2. With 13 more episodes, they are able to expand the world a little more and dig deeper into the character’s stories, she added. As for the author’s take on the show, there was one season 1 storyline that Kerman wasn’t happy about: she said the series’ portrayal of the different guards was too kind and sympathetic compared to the experience she had while locked up.
The look of incarceration
One of the things the cast said they loved most about the show was each character’s own unique personality and characteristics, often shown in some physical form, from makeup to hair color. Mulgrew notes that her character’s signature hair was a way for others to pay attention to her and that each individual stamp or quirk is vivid against the bleak background of their prison set in upstate New York. The set, a former children’s hospital, is almost too close for comfort for some of the cast. “You can feel the pain in the walls” said Lyonne, which is one of the reasons why Kohan decided to use flashbacks in the script, showing the characters in their time before jail. It was a device developed early on in the process, Kohan explained. Knowing that working on a TV show can become your life, she said, “I didn’t want to spend my whole life behind bars!” Getting a break from the oppression both in life and on page, showing the women in earlier days allows the characters to wear different masks and show different aspects of their personalities that they may not be able to show while behind bars. Still, not everyone knows how their character even got in jail! Mulgrew grilled Kohan to try to discover Red’s crime, only to learn a scene had been written about it — and then it was thrown away. All the creator would say is that it does not specifically have to do with those bags in her freezer. “I can always bring it back!” Kohan joked.
A new inmate for season 2
When we return to Litchfield for season 2, many questions will need to be answered. First is definitely the conclusion of one of the most shocking cliff-hangers ever, involving Piper and Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning). But we will also be introduced to a new inmate named V, described as a misunderstood, street-wise drug maven who isn’t afraid of intimacy. Lorraine Toussaint plays the complex character and was immediately welcomed into the cast with open arms. “It was like taking an Oprah master class. I felt like a better actor,” said Danielle Brookes, a.k.a. Taystee, on working with the veteran TV actress. Without revealing too much, the cast said that V has a lasting effect on others and that nothing is the same after she gets there. “She plays and enjoys the game. It’s a great deal of fun!’ said Toussaint. And though she couldn’t pick a favorite moment from the show, Kohan did reveal that the nun, Taystee and Miss Rosa will also be featured in more stories this season.
Orange Is the New Black
Jenji Kohan’s absorbing ensemble dramedy, based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, takes viewers inside the walls of Litchfield, a minimum security women’s prison where nothing’s as simple as it seems—especially the inmates.