Saturday 20 December 2014

Back to the new black: Orange Is The New Black cast reveal how the show has changed their lives

Keely Bolger

Published 03/06/2014 | 10:27

American drama Orange Is The New Black has been a runaway success since the first series was shown last summer. Now with a second due to launch, Keeley Bolger meets the cast to find out how the show has changed their lives

Aside from Jason Biggs, when Orange Is The New Black premiered last year, most of the cast were relatively unknown.

Fast forward 12 months, however, and things have changed. The American comedy drama, which follows bisexual Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as she transitions from engaged Brooklynite to inmate, after being sent to prison for transporting drug money, has been such a hit that American Pie star Biggs is no longer the only famous name attached.

Along with Schilling, Laura Prepon and Danielle Brooks also have key roles in the series - and they're all amazed by how well the show's been received.

"When we first came to London last season, this guy came up to me and was like, 'Are you Danielle Brooks from Orange Is The New Black?'" recalls Brooks, 23, who plays likeable inmate Taystee.

She says it "blew my mind" when the fan asked to take a photo with her. "There hadn't been much coverage," she adds. "So I knew we were part of something magical, that the show was going to be a success and it was going to be an incredible ride."

Incredible just about sums it up; not least because the show was shown entirely on paid-for-streaming service Netflix, making it an unlikely hit.

It launched with little fanfare, and yet, as well as winning a legion of fans already, Orange Is The New Black picked up the Outstanding Comedy Series gong at the annual Glaad Media Awards, which celebrates fair representation of the LGBT community in the media, and has scooped a string of other nominations, including a Best Actress in a TV drama series nod for Schilling at the Golden Globes.

Now, with the second series about to reach Netflix, the cast are more excited than ever.

"There's something about coming back, knowing that people approve and are into it, that gives you a vote of confidence," says Biggs, 36, whose wife - American actress Jenny Mollen - recently gave birth to their first child, a baby boy called Sid.

"Laura [Prepon, who plays Piper's ex-girlfriend Alex] has done a show that ran for 10 years [she starred in That '70s Show with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis], and I did a movie where we came back and did another one, so we've had that experience of, 'people like this and they want more of it' - and that's what's happening here, but it's no less exciting," continues the actor.

He plays Larry in the show, Piper's devoted fiance and a struggling writer.

"It's additionally fun for me to see some of the other people, like Danielle, for whom this is their first big project. To see their excitement and just how blessed they feel, it's really a great thing to be part of."

The show's inspired by real-life events and is based on Piper Kerman's memoir, which details her stretch in prison for money laundering, an offence she'd committed a decade earlier because her then girlfriend, Alex, was involved in a drug ring.

The first series saw Piper adjusting to life behind bars, embarking on another relationship with Alex (who's serving time at the same prison, though Piper's still officially with Larry) and, following numerous run-ins, ended with a cliffhanger brawl between Piper and fellow inmate Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning), a former drug-addict-turned-religious-preacher.

Series two will see Piper "going deeper and learning more about who she is", says Schilling, as well as giving a closer look at the other inmates and their shifting alliances and conflicts.

If the reaction so far is anything to go by, the cast are in for another run of success, but they all agree that it's a bonus to work on a series where viewing figures aren't the sole focus.

"That's actually the real gift of working with Netflix. We get to have a really insulated experience without the pressure of ratings or advertising; it's nice," explains 29-year-old Schilling who, prior to taking the lead role in the series acted opposite Zac Efron in 2012 movie The Lucky One.

Despite the low-key promotion, the show gained a faithful fan base - who, it seems, have come to love certain aspects of the characters.

"Before we went back into season two, Natasha [Lyonne, who plays Nicky], was like, 'This is so weird - my hair is like its own entity, it's like a thing'," says Prepon, laughing. "Her character's known for her crazy hair, my character is known for her glasses, we're all known for these specific things which fans love."

And while Schilling is "so grateful for this show" and Brooks is pleased that there are "better choices" for her since taking the role, Biggs, it appears, is enjoying his image transformation.

"For me, I think there has been a bit of a perception change," says the actor, who will probably never shake off those memorable and painfully awkward American Pie scenes.

"The role and show are certainly different from what I think people are used to seeing me do!" he agrees, smiling. "If [it] marks a turn in the sort of things I do in my career, then that's a bonus, but I'm just having fun, even being the small part of the show that I am."

Prepon laughs and concurs with her co-star: "We're all just spokes on the Orange Is The New Black wheel.

"It is interesting going back into a show where the audience just love it," Prepon adds. "There's a little bit of pressure, because you don't want to let anyone down and you want to make sure season two is as much loved as season one.

"But at the end of the day, it's a great show and the cast is phenomenal. And no matter what, it's going to be fun to watch."

EXTRA TIME - INMATES ON SCREEN

Porridge (1974-1977)

Four decades on and this landmark sitcom, starring Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale as inmates at the fictional HMP Slade, is still held as a comedy classic.

Prisoner Cell Block H (1979-1986)

Aussie drama Prisoner Cell Block H spiced up Eighties TV, particularly when questionable prison guard Joan "the freak" Ferguson was introduced.

Bad Girls (1999-2006)

This gritty ITV drama set in Larkhall Women's Prison followed the exploits of a group of troubled inmates, including the ruthless Shell Dockley, played by Debra Stephenson.

Prison Break (2005-2009)

This American crime drama revolved around an innocent man on death row, and his brother who deliberately gets sent to prison to help him escape.

Prisoners' Wives (2012-)

Focusing on a group of women whose other halves are locked up, this Sheffield-based drama stars Emma Rigby and Polly Walker.

All 13 episodes of Orange Is The New Black will be available on Netflix from Friday, June 6

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