Picking up in the aftermath of season 5’s prison riots, the sixth season of Orange Is the New Black finds the inmates we’ve come to love languishing in maximum security. This new environment will be completely different than what they were used to up on the hill and will test them in new ways — from awful guards to antagonistic fellow prisoners.
“It’s going to be quite a circus to see how these women navigate so much newness in their world while still dealing with [their own] baggage,” cast member Danielle Brooks tells EW about the new season, adding that Taystee and her cohorts have to figure out how to “stay alive when they feel like they have nothing or no one to motivate them, and they feel very alone.”
Ahead of the season premiere, Brooks breaks down how this season compares to the emotional fifth season, the new environment, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we spoke last year, you described season 5 as “balls to the walls.” How would you describe season 6 in comparison?
DANIELLE BROOKS: Season 6 is going to be somewhat of a circus, I guess, because there is no more Litchfield. They’re stepping into new territory, new guards, all while tackling the old. We’ve seen how difficult it is with them being in Litchfield, a place that was kind of comfortable for them. To now go to a new space, it’s new territory. I definitely think it’s going to be quite a circus to see how these women navigate so much newness in their world while still dealing with [their own] baggage.
How did it feel to step onto this new maximum-security set after spending so many years at Litchfield?
It definitely felt weird. It’s funny — as actors, we’re on the same journey as the characters. The fact that we actually let go of where we shot most of the exteriors, like the library and Mr. Caputo’s [Nick Sandow] office… it was definitely sad to leave behind. But we’re still going. The show ain’t over!
Where does this new season pick up?
I think the first episode is going to surprise people. After that, it kicks right back to where it finished. You’re going to figure out where these women end up. Who stays, who goes. You’re going to find out who’s built for this, where loyalty lies. At this point, a lot of [them] are going to be getting in trouble. There’s no other way around it.
Last year, Taystee had this big viral moment. How does that affect her in this new environment?
I think the question is, how does one stay alive when they feel like they have nothing or no one to motivate them, and they also feel very alone? We’re definitely going to get to see that side of Taystee this season. Even at the end of the season, we see her debating on killing Piscatella [Brad William Henke] and she breaks down. I think she’s fought all the fight that she can, and we’re going to just try to see how she stays on her feet or not. I think it’s starting to weigh on her, and we’ll see how that pans out this season and how she tries to stay afloat.
Taystee learned several lessons in season 5, specifically that she was capable of so much more. Will it be hard for her to apply those lessons in the new season?
Yeah, I mean, she’s still going to max, so it’s definitely going to be hard for her to apply [them]. When you’re in maximum security, that definitely brings about separation. Not having her core group to lean on anymore is detrimental to her world because Taystee has always tried to find people to lean on, whether that was Vee [Lorraine Toussaint], Poussey [Samira Wiley], or Suzanne [Uzo Aduba], or Black Cindy [Adrienne C. Moore]. We’re going to see if she finds a friend or not this season.
Did you find this year’s story as emotionally draining as season 5?
Last year was a lot. I’m not going to lie; it was probably the toughest [yet]. This season is a different kind of weight. It’s still personal to her, but now it’s more about her than it is about fighting for Poussey. How does she fight for her own life? I think that’s the lesson that she’s going to learn this season.
Were there any moments of levity for your character this season? Did you get to do anything fun?
Yeah, I think the one thing that I loved that the writers haven’t let go of is that Taystee still tries to search for the joy in each moment. Particularly in seasons 1 and 2, you can definitely see somebody who was dealing with pain, but her way of dealing with that was through laughter and humor. So we’ll get glimpses of her trying to find that again, and we definitely might be blessed with a flashback this season — a flashback to some things she’s been through to get her here.
Last season ended with most of the women being bused off to other prisons. For you as an actress, was it weird coming back to work and not seeing all the faces you were used to seeing?
I think that was the hardest part for me. All of us are used to our core group, or even playing with a new player every now and then. Last few seasons, I got to really play with Caputo. I truly missed that this season. I love working with my girls, and I love the times that we get to spend together. You’re going to get that, but that has been more of a selfish challenge for me to not work as closely with people I did for so long. Already having Samira gone for a full season kind of ripped at my heart too, as much as it ripped at the fans’ hearts. So I’m just holding on and continuously loving this journey that I’ve been able to take, and getting to speak for so many people that can’t speak for themselves. I cherish every second that I get to be on set and I get to tell these stories. I just say that because we’re so much closer to the end of the road than we were at the beginning.
The complete sixth season of Orange Is the New Black will be available Friday on Netflix.