TV Goodness Q&A: Creator/EP Jenji Kohan and series star Taylor Shilling Discuss Netflix’s Orange is the New Black [INTERVIEW]
We’ll admit it. You had us at hello. When we heard the name of this new series we were instantly intrigued. What could it mean? And we’ve been fans of at least of few shows set in prison. Based on the acclaimed memoir of the same name, Orange is the New Black is a series aboutÂ engaged Brooklynite Piper Chapman, whose decade-old relationship with drug-runner Alex results in her arrest and year-long detention in a federal penitentiary. To pay her debt to society, Piper must trade her comfortable New York life with fiancÃ© Larry, for an orange prison jumpsuit and a baffling prison culture where she is forced to question everything she believes about herself and the world at large. As she struggles to adjust to her new reality, she finds unexpected laughter, tears, conflict and camaraderie amidst an eccentric and outspoken group of inmates.
TV Goodness participated in a press call with series star Taylor SchillingÂ andÂ Creator/EP Jenji Kohan. They discussed what excited them about these characters and this story, the Netflix experience, and about the early season 2 renewal.
Q: What blew up your skirt about the premise of this show in general and about your character in particular? Â
Taylor Schilling: “God, I love that. Well, what blew my skirt up? I was really excited that Jenji [Kohan] was attached to the project. I had a hard time on TV the last time, so I wasnâ€™t sure I wanted to do that again. But, I really am a big fan of Jenji and I knew this is her next thing and so I read it. Once I read the script, I was really, really impressed that there was a woman who was sort of like the centerpiece of her own story and that it was a role that was in reaction to a man and like it just seemed â€“ and she was driving her own â€“ sort of she was like in the center of her own narrative. So I was just really excited and I love the idea that it was based on a true story. I read it and really was ready to do anything to be a part of it.”
Q: How do you think you’d fare if you were in Piperâ€™s jumper in real life? Â
Taylor: “I think I would probably be eaten alive.”
Q: The show is based on a memoir, but what other kind of research did you do? Did you research what it’s like to be in prison?Â
Jenji Kohan: “We did tons of research. We went to visit a prison. We had speakers. We have read tons of supplementary material, books, articles. We are constantly e-mailing articles that â€“ when I say â€œwe,â€ I mean the writers in the writer’s room. We have dipped ourselves in prison culture and lore and media, and the experience â€“ and people. And we really want to be as informed as possible.”
Q:Â How actively involved was Piper Kerman in transitioning her story to the small screen? Â
Jenji: “Piper reads the scripts and we e-mail a lot. Most of her comments [are] more technical – this wouldnâ€™t happen, this is against the rules, this and that. Sheâ€™s been extremely respectful of our taking her story and then veering left with it and taking it in its own direction. But, I always want her involved because sheâ€™s the mother of all this.”
Q: Taylor, did you talk to her before you started playing the role?Â
Taylor: “No. I met her when we were shooting the first episode. And as this show progressed, she became more and more of a resource for me and it was easier to incorporate some of her. What really helped me is listening to the minutia of experience, like a lot of the sensory details and things like that was pretty cool.”
Q: Was it your decision initially not to talk to her before you tackled the project?
Taylor: “I think so, yes. I mean I know she was available if I wanted it. One of the coolest, most strange things about this project is that Jenji and I spoke before. We started [talking] about how our Richfield Prison is a fictional place and Piper Chapman is a fictional character.Â So that really freed me to just sort of create from the scripts that I was given and that felt sort of like the most fertile place to begin for me.”
Q: The guards are a lot nicer on the show then they are in the book.
Jenji: “Right. Thatâ€™s one of [Piper’s] biggest complaints that they’re not big enough assholes.”
Q: What went into making that decision? In the memoir, the tension between the prisoners and the guards is a big thing.Â
Q: To a great degree, that seems to be gone.
Jenji: “You want everyone to be a full character and no oneâ€™s just evil, or very few people, hopefully.Â Theyâ€™re characters, so you want to flesh them out.Â Youâ€™ve got to show all sides of them. There is definitely an antagonistic relationship between guards and prisoners. I do think it flares up. Itâ€™s something we may address more in season two. But season one I was really more concerned about having full characters as opposed to just villains.”
Q: When you fictionalize a real person, how do you protect yourself legally?
Jenji: “We created the characters separate from the book. Early on, we were told donâ€™t base these people on the people she wrote about. And Tessa Tuckey was a name she made up. It wasnâ€™t the name of the actual person and then we created a different character just using that name. Aside from Piper and her immediate family, most of the characters are creations of the room and not from the book and thatâ€™s how we protected ourselves.”
Q: You’re fleshing out a lot of the prisoners by explaining exactly how they got in prison in the first place. How many characters are going to get that treatment?Â
Jenji: “I wouldnâ€™t set a number on it. As long as weâ€™re interested and curious about someone, weâ€™ll tell their story.”
Q: What motivated you to adopt Piperâ€™s memoir and why call your project a ‘comedic drama’ rather than a ‘dramedy?’Â
Jenji: “I donâ€™t call it anything, other people do. So, that’s not me. Personally, I’m not a fan of labeling so I can’t say that comes from me at all. The book works for me as another page on so many levels. Itâ€™s one of those prisoners, one of those places where you can juxtapose all sorts of groups and the experiences and force them to deal with one another. I’m always looking for crosswords like that. I love that our way in was this kind of yuppie white girl story, because if you go to a network and you say, ‘I want to talk about Latinos and blacks and their prison experience and the cycle of poverty,’ itâ€™s not going to be a big sale. Because you can kind of write in on Piper and then expand the world and tell everyoneâ€™s story, itâ€™s a great Trojan horse to a certain extent. And I just fell in love with the characters in the book. I felt this is such a rich world inhabited by real people with great stories.”
Q: So this is going to be a very diverse world in terms of what we see.
Q: What surprised you about the prison experience that you maybe didnâ€™t know before you started this project? Â
Taylor: “Well, a lot of things surprised me. There are things that I had never thought about in my life. I never thought about how loud prison was. I’ve never thought about how your ears never really get a break from all this noise and that actually was replicated on our set pretty well. And I never thought about how the lights donâ€™t go out so you never really rest in that way. I never really thought about the intensity of being watched all the time.”
Jenji: “The oppression of it, just the sense of helplessness and really being part of a system and a bureaucracy that is arbitrary. I never thought of the depth of losing your freedom and what that meant. And I was surprised and delighted by ways people maintain their humanity and try to survive.”
Q: Jenji, do you see a true line or a connection at all between Nancy on Weeds and Piper on Orange is the New Black? Is there something about this particular predicament that attracts you? Â
Jenji: “I think [they’re] certainly from a similar socioeconomic background. They’re both hot. They both have that sort of adventure junkie dream in them that, where they pursue danger. What attracts me is how they walked that line and the push-pull between those sides of them,Â the side to be the good girl and the part of them that wants to be the rebel and feel that excitement and escape their stereotype.”
Q: Jenji, have you always been fascinated with women who break the law?
Jenji: “Itâ€™s not necessarily women who break the law. I’m just â€“ I’m deeply fascinated by flawed characters. And the more deeply flawed, the better. I think underground economies are a great place to find them. And I think we all have the bad girl or bad boy in us and itâ€™s fascinating to me how itâ€™s handled.”
Q: Taylor, what’s been different about this and do you think part of the difference is being on Netflix versus being on quote-unquote traditional TV?
Piper: “It feels really nice to know that there’s going to be 13 [episodes.] It feels very settling and it feels like you can really spread out and sort of juice around in the process. And it felt really nice to not have anybody talking about numbers and no oneâ€™s talking about ratings. And also from my experience, from my point of view, it felt like there was one person running the ship and it felt like there was space for Jenji to be sort of at the helm. And thatâ€™s not what I’ve experienced in television before. So, it felt more akin to an interesting movie where there were producers who were really excited by the work and wanted to make space for the directorâ€™s vision to be sort of shared with an audience. It felt more cohesive.”
Q: Taylor you do a lot of tough, emotional scenes throughout the series. Which ones were the hardest for you?
Taylor: “I think that what was so cool about this character is that the writing sort of was like a really great dance partner and just kind of led me through like a variety of different stuff. What I do like a lot is that Piperâ€™s constantly getting hit with something different and evolving as the season goes on. Sheâ€™s kind of circling deeper and deeper and deeper into herself and needing to draw from places that she previously had shut off, more and more and more. So it was just exciting all the way through.”
Q: Can talk a little about working with Jodie Foster on directing the episode “Lesbian Request Denied?”
Jenji: “You know, it happened because she had a deal at Showtime to do a show and very wisely she realized, ‘I havenâ€™t done television and I want to check this out.’ And when Jodie Foster says she wants to come direct your show, you say, ‘Yes.’bThe title of the episode really had nothing to do with her being the director but it was a total treat to have her on set and at the home for that episode.”
Q: Taylor, did you enjoy working with her?
Taylor: “Yes, I think sheâ€™s really smart and really good at what she does. And funny, I just like her. I like her as a person and I admire her talent as a director.”
Q: And the show has a lot of like sort of little lesbian elements to it…
Q: And the book had those too. Was that something you intentionally wanted to play up?
Jenji: “I donâ€™t think itâ€™s particularly lesbianism as much as sexuality. Sex is so many things.Â Itâ€™s â€“ you know, its emotion and itâ€™s closeness and itâ€™s expression and itâ€™s oppression, and itâ€™s so many things. And I think I’m a big adherent to the [Kinsey] scale where there’s 10 percent â€“ and 10 percent, I mean the random we all float in the middle. And when you’re in prison, you need that expression. You need your sexuality, and if the only people there are women and you might express yourself with other women. I think certain people in the prison are absolutely lesbians and I think others who might be gay for this day. But more than an exploration of lesbianism, I think itâ€™s just about an inherent human need to express yourself sexually.”
Q: Jenji, what sold you on Taylor for the role? And Taylor, can you tell us about the audition?Â
Jenji: “I mean, first of all, she came in the room and she looked the part. It was just what weâ€™d all had in mind as kind of cool, blonde, girl next door, American goddess. And then, when she gave a stellar performance and also proved to be funny, it was that realization that there was actually a unicorn in our room. Taylor is such an incredible find because sheâ€™s the whole package and you so rarely get that.Â She just took it.”
Jenji: “You rock.”
Taylor: “That just made my morning.”
Q: Taylor, what as the process like for you?
Taylor: “Like I said a little earlier, I was so taken by the script and such a huge fan of Jenjiâ€™s. I just really wanted to be involved with it. And so, I donâ€™t know. I mean the process itself was pretty normal, going in and reading except it felt really easy. There’s some parts that just feel like â€“ they fit a part of that â€“ has been kind of lacking something, and all of a sudden, I feel fuller with it and this kind of just sailed. So itâ€™s been fun. Itâ€™s been fun from the very beginning.”
Jenji: “I think this is an element of destiny to it. You know, the right person came to inhabit the role and Taylor is so complicated and so fascinating and she brings so much to this role and it was easy in a way because it was meant to be on us, I think.”
Taylor: “Yes. I love this.”
Q: Jenji, with your experience with half-hours, why do this as an hour show and how did the process compare?
Jenji: “I wanted this to be an hour just because itâ€™s a big ensemble. I want to give everyone time. I wanted to give us time to tell these stories. Itâ€™s just longer. I donâ€™t change anything stylistically or tonally because itâ€™s an hour, a half hour. I’m not a big subscriber to ‘this format needs and that format needs that.’ It just gives us more time to get into the stories and maybe a little more room for new ones or pretty pictures. But I kind of just do what I do. And if itâ€™s an hour, itâ€™s longer; if itâ€™s half hour, itâ€™s shorter. ”
Q: Congratulations on the early season two renewal of the show. With the predetermined time frame that Piper is in prison, how long do you guys envision the show will continue?
Jenji: “Four hundred years. Itâ€™s going on forever. As long as theyâ€™ll have us, I feel confident that we can stretch this sh*t out forever. As long as weâ€™re interested in these characters and the stories, itâ€™s prison. We can make the rules.
Q: What do you think about what do you think about getting renewed for season two before the first season has been released?Â
Jenji: “Look, it works for me. I think itâ€™s terrific and I think it shows that Netflix has balls. They were just like, ‘We like it. We believe in it. Weâ€™re going to pick it up,’Â and I’m just grateful. I think itâ€™s awesome.”
Q: Are you excited about the new technologies in which television and film can be delivered to viewers? This seems like so futuristic, but the future is now in a lot of ways, isnâ€™t it?Â
Jenji: “I think itâ€™s awesome. Itâ€™s instant gratification, which has its pluses and minuses but itâ€™s so nice to be able to get what you want when you want it.”
Q: Did you approach this show differently than a show like Weeds knowing that itâ€™d be a show that would possibly be binge-watched? Did that change the way you kind of framed your narrative? Â
Jenji: “It didnâ€™t for this season because we were just sort of trying to craft our episodes and just to have it done. I’d like to think about it a little more in season two, but not too much because it seemed to work the first time around. I think a good story well told is a good story well told whether you’re watching them all in a row or not. However, it might be fun to take a closer look at how the previous episode ends and how that end relates to the beginning of the next episode. Weâ€™re also talking a lot in the room about planting seeds that can grow over the course of the season knowing that people might be watching them in bulk, sort of bury some Easter eggs and let people find them later on.”
Q: With this series, do you think the audience is better served spacing the episodes out, taking time to think about them in between, or do you think Netflix thought it would work well watching them all at once like itâ€™s a 13-hour movie?Â
Jenji: “I think people should watch however they want. Itâ€™s their experience and they should choose how to have it.”
Q: Where you were when you found out about the renewal and what was your immediate reaction? Â
Jenji: “I donâ€™t know where I was. And I think my immediate reaction was, ‘I’m so tired. I need a little more time.’ But it was very quickly followed up by excitement. Itâ€™s very flattering and itâ€™s a wonderful vote of confidence and this is what we dream of – getting to do what we do.”
Taylor: “I donâ€™t remember where I [was] either, but I know I’m so excited to be able to go back to work and explore this character and work with my cast mates for another chunk of time. I feel really privileged. This is a really fun experience.”
Q: How did the Regina Spektor theme song come about?
Jenji: “I begged her to write a song and she said yes. I am a huge, huge Regina Spektor fan. I think sheâ€™s a genius and just a lovely soul, and I wanted her voice on it. And she agreed, which is just the coolest thing ever and knocked it out of the park.”
Q: Do you think that you’d keep the theme song going into season two? Â
Jenji: “I’d love to.”
Q: Is there any particular prison that you based the production design on more than any other and did you â€“ did you visit Danbury? Â
Jenji: “We did not visit Danbury, we went to Chino. But Michael Shaw, our genius production designer, did his own research and really created that world, physically. Heâ€™s just great at what he does and I think part of my job is to let really talented people do what they do and so I have to give credit to him and his team.”
Q: So many shows nowadays are just going with the one title cards shot. Do you think itâ€™s important to have a memorable opening credit sequence to connect with the audiences?Â
Jenji: “I like an opening credit sequence. It sort of sets up the audience and letâ€™s them settle in and get ready for the show. I’m also really proud of this opening sequence that we did with the Thomas Cop group and with Reginaâ€™s song. All the women in the opening title sequence are former inmates and I just â€“ I love the phases and I’m really proud of it and I think itâ€™s great.”
All 13 episodes of Orange is the New Black will be available on Netflix at 12:01 am PT, Thursday July 11th.
Edited for space and content.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Thank Me Later: Will Trent
[Warning: spoilers ahead.] I’m on record as loving and losing shows over at ABC so I’m usually very reticent to pick something up on the network until it’s been renewed, and I seriously hope I’m not jinxing it, but I took a chance on the deeply odd and very sweet…
Dennis Heaton Talks The Imperfects
Longtime readers at TV Goodness will know that Motive is one of my ride-or-die series, and as such, I am fiercely loyal to its creator, Dennis Heaton. He followed up that fantastic reverse procedural with Netflix’s The Order and is back on our streaming screens with The Imperfects, which dropped…
Kelly McCormack Talks Favorite Moments in A League of Their Own
[Warning: Mild spoilers for season 1.] Now that you’ve had a chance to watch A League of Their Own, here’s the rest of my chat with Kelly McCormack about her favorite moments of the season. Seeing the iconic Peaches uniforms for the first time wasn’t just a goosebump moment for…
John Griffin and Harold Perrineau Talk From on EPIX Season 1 Finale
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] How are we doing, #FROMily? In case you missed it this morning, the very good news is that that cliffhanger will be followed by a second season, which was gifted this morning ahead of the linear broadcast of the finale. I always legitimately appreciate when we…
Elizabeth Saunders Talks EPIX’s From
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] One of the things that makes EPIX’s From such a fun ride is the abundance of Canadian cast members. Elizabeth Saunders, who plays Donna, is a favorite from her turn on the third season of Mary Kills People [streaming on Global TV in Canada and Roku…
Corteon Moore Talks From “Broken Windows, Open Doors”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode.] Tonight’s episode of From had us all in our feels as we learned through flashbacks about the Sophie’s Choice Boyd had to make to save his son, and back in the present as Boyd said his piece with Ellis before heading into the woods with…
Pegah Ghafoori Talks From “All Good Things…”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode] Tonight on From, Fatima’s anniversary celebration turned into a Colony House of horrors when a misguided Kevin let his monster bae in and she promptly killed him and left the window open for her crew. While the party devolved into terror and sent everyone running,…
Shaun Majumder Talks From “Book 74”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode.] Tonight on EPIX’s From, Father Khatri made a bold move, kidnapping Sara instead of turning her in, and then recognizing her as a vessel for some big messages. That startling realization speaks to him on multiple levels–as a man of faith, a man trapped in…
Avery Konrad Talks About Sara’s Struggle in From “Silhouettes”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode.] Over the course of the season so far on From, we’ve witnessed Sara’s battle against the voices telling her to to do terrible things, and tonight we saw her unravel further, threatening the Matthews and lashing out in a moment of terror with horrifying results….
Hannah Cheramy Talks From “Choosing Day”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode.] Tonight, on EPIX’s From, the Matthews participate in the show’s version of the sorting hat, choosing where to call home–the town or Colony House. At the end of the episode, Julie makes the decision to split from her family and instead settle in with Fatima…
What They Said: Three Revealing Conversations from Survivor’s Remorse “Closure”
WARNING: Spoilers for Survivor’s Remorse “Closure” The latest episode of Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse featured conversations that showed characters really digging deep into their thoughts, emotions and motivations.
Two Takes: The Catch “The Knock-Off”
Who can you trust? If this episode of The Catch was any indication, the answer is just about nobody. Betrayal was running rampant as Felicity (Shivani Ghai) arose from the dead to seduce-con Margot, Gretchen (Maria Thayer, Gotham, The Mindy Project) played gold-hearted Alice 2.0 before swindling Ethan, Tessa jumped…
What They Said: Top 3 Quotable Moments from Preacher “El Valero”
Both Quincannon and Jesse refuse to give up on what they each think is rightfully theirs. While Jesse is struggling to face the consequences of his actions, Quincannon has laid his past demons to rest and is hellbent on moving forward and putting Annville on the map again. Despite a…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Supergirl “Worlds Finest”
Oh, Supergirl. That ending was cold. But I can’t hate on you because the latest episode has quickly become one of my favorites.
What They Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Black Sails “XXIII”
The dialogue in “XXIII” is phenomenal. It’s always a fun ride when Black Sails carries its viewers along without giving them the chance to catch their breath. When an episode moves at this unforgiving pace, there is no chance for a breather nor is there a respite from the information…
What Lucifer Said: Favorite quotes from Supernatural “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Supernatural episodes are almost always funny but thanks to the dialogue and a certain man speaking said dialogue, I laughed a lot during “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” You know, when I wasn’t busy fearing for Sam’s life or wondering what in the world was going on with Dean and…
What They Said: The Flash, “Legends Of Today” and Arrow, “Legends Of Yesterday”
Two nights of Arrow +Â The Flash = what more could we ask for?! I don’t know what it is about blending these shows, but I canâ€™t help but feel that every time they come together, they somehow become greater than the sum of their parts. And thatâ€™s saying a lot…
What they Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Graceland “Little Bo Bleep”
Shoot outs. Fake outs. And long-awaited revelations. “Little Bo Bleep” was a jam-packed episode that wrapped up some loose ends and totally frayed others. Â It finally gave us one Sarkissian in jail and pulled back the curtain on Briggs’ master plan, but it also set up Jakes for a world…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Poldark “Part 4”
â€œWhat have I told you, I don’t require my wife to crochet and sip tea, but I do require her to remember she’s not a beast of burden.â€ No, Iâ€™m not talking about The Rolling Stones! I have to admit though, just for a second, the lyrics popped into my…
3 Moments of Goodness from Brooklyn Nine-Nine “Johnny and Dora”
The most satisfying part of this season’s finale has to the Jake and Amy kiss. Well, they kiss three times but the last one is the best one — and it means something. The Charles and Rosa dynamic was also great. I love how she’s convinced he doesn’t know anything…
Leave a Reply