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Wednesday 1 October 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

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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

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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."

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