On Friday, several cast and crew members from the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black took to the stage at LA’s PaleyFest to talk about how Season One has changed their lives and a few things that we can look forward to in this summer’s Season Two.
One of the things that fans love (or at least one of the things I love) about the show is how we get to see backstories of the prisoners. We see them as more than inmates. They are real people with real life stories. Show creator Jenji Kohan said that we’ll get to see even more backstories this year, including those of Morello, Sister Ingalls, the new character Vee, Ms. Rosa and fan favorites Taystee and Poussey. Kohan also said there were others who we would see more background of, although she couldn’t recall them at the moment. She said that they are able to create such vibrant backstories for the characters because they weren’t able to get the rights to use the inmates’ actual names.
When we started Season 1, legal said, ‘You can’t use any of the characters in the book because Piper’s the only one who signed a release.’ So the thing very quickly became its own animal. … Season 2 is more; it’s all the little details you wanna know about.
We won’t just see a backstory for Vee, who is described as “a veteran street tough who ran her own drug business, recruiting children to serve as runners,” we’ll also see how she shakes up the prison. Lorraine Toussant, who plays the character said, “I think it’ll be interesting seeing how this character is received because Jenji has written a character who plays, and enjoys the game and is incredibly engaging and draws people into the game. And I have a great deal of fun.” She was also very tightlipped for much of the panel, finally saying that “as silent as I’ve been this evening is as silent as I am in Season 2. I certainly enter as such. There isn’t very much I can tell you.” Laverne Cox, who plays transgender inmate Sophia Burset, added that when Vee steps into the prison “she shakes everything up, I mean, nothing’s the same because of Vee.”
One character who we did see some back story for last season still retains some mystery. Kate Mulgrew, who plays Red, noted that she still doesn’t know what the actual crime that put her character in prison is. Kohan said that she had written a scene that showed exactly what the crime was, but then she threw it away. This caused Mulgrew to feign anger and then ask “Does it have something to do with my deep-freeze?” To which Kohan mysteriously replied, “Not specifically.”
Another thing that makes OINTB stand out, and one of the things that has drawn many fans to the show, is the great diversity of it’s cast. Kohan said that “these are great stories, great characters, and great women. The audience is ready for this type of show.” She also added that the diversity of the characters came about in a very natural way.
Our focus is on characters and these people as individuals, we talk about them as people we know. We don’t approach it as ‘Well, what does the black one do?’ You know these people and you can’t view it as tokenism. You have to see them as people. It’s a naturalistic world, in the real world there’s all sizes, colors, and ages and shapes and why should that not be reflected?
Cox added that a lot of the freedom to have such a diverse cast comes from the show being on Netflix as opposed to a television network, saying, “traditional networks are more risk averse.” Laura Prepon, who plays former drug runner and Piper-lover Alex Vause, echoed that sentiment, saying, “There’s no micro-managing. They believe in the vision.”
Several of the actors said that being on the show has had a huge effect not just on their lives, but on other people’s lives as well. Uzo Aduba, who plays Suzanne, said that being a part of a show not only starring so many women, but also being run by women “made us dream differently. I remember feeling reverberated from my being. I have never seen that before — that so many women were calling the shots.” Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee, feels that the show is shining a light on a segment of the population that often is overlooked, saying that “it’s telling honest people’s stories, there are women out there that are like Taystee. It’s giving voice to those who do not have a voice.” Cox said that the show is also starting important conversations about the American prison system and transgender rights.
We should talk about the conversations that this show has sparked — who is in prison and why are people in prison, things we need to talk about more in this country. It’s important for the trans community; a lot of people are having conversations about trans people that they weren’t having. Amazing conversations about diversity, a lot of important things that we need to be talking about.
Lea DeLaria, who plays Big Boo, talked about the huge impact being on the show has had for her. She’s used to facing discrimination for being a lesbian, but now that she also plays one TV, she says that things have changed. “When 16-year-old boys came up to me on the street, they used [to] spit in my face. Now they stop me to tell me how much they love Orange Is The New Black.” She says she also has signed 44 screwdrivers for adoring fans, saying, “I kept count.” All of this was after she leapt onstage from the crowd, leading to applause and laughter from the audience.
Piper Kerman, the real-life inspiration for Piper Chapman, said that there was one thing she didn’t like about Season One. She said that the guards were made to be much more kind and sympathetic than the ones she had to deal with in real life. Kohan said that “that was actually a real bone of content with Piper, who was like, ‘You were way too kind to the guards. You’re making them people.’ She was very upset at first that they were who they were and that they had sympathetic aspects, because that was not her experience of it.”
The entire list of people from the show who appeared on the panel includes Kohan, Mulgrew, Brooks, DeLaria, Aduba, Cox, Toussaint, Prepon, Taylor Shilling, Jason Biggs, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Yael Stone, and Michael Harney. Season Two will premiere on Netflix on June 6.