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EXCLUSIVE Q&A with Orange is the New Black’s Michael Harney [+ Season 2 Preview] 

Photo Credit: Netflix
Photo Credit: Netflix

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be shut in this weekend devouring the new season of Orange is the New Black. The prison dramedy premieres season 2 on Netflix on June 6th. And while waiting for the new season since the shocking season one finale has been a prison sentence all in itself, we’re willing to pardon Netflix for the long wait as long as we get plenty more Crazy Eyes this season.

Exploring the hierarchy and complex relationships of prison life in such a candid way is just one of the elements that made Orange is the New Black such a great hit last year. To get an idea of what it’s like to work on this show, we went straight to the top of that prison hierarchy and spoke with Michael Harney, who plays CO Sam Healy. While he may not be the top dog of the food chain, he’s high enough to exert some serious force over inmate Piper and her cohorts. But is CO Healy all bad? Michael took some time to give us his take on CO Healy, what they’ll be exploring in Healy this season and what the reception of the show has been like. Don’t worry about any spoilers though. Michael was as tight-lipped as locked prison bars about any plot details. (Darn.)

Photo Credit: Netflix
Photo Credit: Netflix

Sam Healy presented himself in the beginning of Orange is the New Black as Piper’s buddy, her paternal guide to cruising through her prison sentence. But as the season rolled on, Healy showed himself to be an intolerant bully. Michael has a different take on Healy though. “It’s interesting, I guess because of the genre, people often ask me, ‘Are you a good guy or a bad guy?’ I always say the same thing. I never look at it that way. Ever.”

“I don’t look at him from place of judgment. He’s dealing with his limitations as a person based on his historical experience in the best way he can. It’s really a pretty intense exploration of areas that are unfamiliar to me, in terms of being pretty far away from where I am personally. It’s been somewhat of a challenge to do it and not get into that place of judgment that would cause me to comment on my performance as I’m doing it. So what I’m doing is I’ve found ways of just living through and it’s often drawing parallels with myself and the storyline to justify the behavior I need to live through.”

According to Michael, we will see more of what those historical experiences and limitations are for Healy in season two, although he wouldn’t give anything away. Except for the fact that we will see Healy with his Ukrainian mail-order wife. “You’ll see more of my backstory and you’ll be able to experience more of how I deal with the obstacles that are in front of me in the prison professionally and how I deal with the relationships with the inmates. There will be a lot more exploration but I can only be general at this point.”

When asked about Healy as a person, Michael went into why he thinks that Healy is a good character. “I look at it like all of us are walking around with clay feet. How can I relate to this guy in a truthful way? In many respects I have no real connection with where he’s coming from in certain instances. It’s really been quite challenging and it’s also been extremely fulfilling artistically to play this guy. Some of the best roles we have as actors are those that we can sink our teeth into living a life that has tremendous challenges, a life that is experiencing great conflict and then try to overcome that.”

“One of the things that I’m very consistently grateful for is the fact that the writers are really exploring Healy in a very thorough way and in a way that helps the audience to explore what the real issues are of prison life, both for the inmates and also for the people who work in the prisons. And the connection between the inmates and the professionals who are working in the prison. I think that those issues are going to be explored more thoroughly in season two. The direction of which, I have to leave for blank for you. Spoilers.”

One thing you have to wonder as an audience is how closely Orange is the New Black resembles experiences in a real prison. Michael explained, “I worked in prison reform years ago and I’m also in touch with some people in that world and most recent have had a real take on what you’re talking about came from Piper Kerman, who had just finished talking with guards in a women’s prison and they said it’s the most realistic show they had ever seen. And that’s been my experience so far. So I’m very grateful for that. I’m sure you can get varying opinions from different people but I think this show in a very wonderful artistic way is exploring a lot of the real situations and real issues that exist inside a prison of this type.”

Beyond Michael’s role as CO Healy, he’s had a long career in television and film, including credits on Deadwood, Weeds and HBO’s True Detective. About True Detective, Michael talked a little bit about his experience. “It’s a really tight script. Just a really solid script. I had a really good experience there. Exploring another character and working with Matthew [McConaughey] and Woody [Harrelson] made it easy. They were totally there, present. I was able to really get into the work and let it happen. Just a really good experience for me.”


Season 2 Trailer:

Sneak Peek:

Orange is the New Black season two premieres Friday June 6th on Netflix and we all can’t wait to get back to Litchfield Pen and all the crazy locked up in there.

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