#INTERVIEW: PIPER KERMAN, JASON BIGGS, LAURA PREPON & DANIELLE BROOKS ON “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK”
Hot off the success of their Original Series House of Cards, Netflix is placing its hopes in Prison-set Series, Orange is the New Black, based on the Memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman. Starring Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, a Brooklynite who is sent to jail for possession of a suitcase filled with drug money for her Ex-Girlfriend/international Drug Smuggler, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). Piper must endure her 15-month sentence, dealing with a mix of personalities at the minimum-security Facility, taken away from her comfortable life and beloved Fiancé, Larry (Jason Biggs).
In Toronto today (at one of the City’s poshest Hotels) to promote Orange is the New Black were Kerman, Biggs, Prepon and Newcomer Danielle Brooks who plays the outrageous Inmate Taystee, while Schilling unfortunately fell ill, unable to be present physically for this round of Press.
A lovely and well-spoken Kerman addresses a room of Journalists first and if any Onlooker were to guess who in the room had served time in Prison, she likely would be last on the list. She gives us a jaw-dropping statistic, “In the U.S., Women are the fastest growing percentage of those in Prison over past 20 years; their number has grown 800%. More and more, that Person wearing that orange jumpsuit is a Woman.”
I ask her to take us back in time to 1998 when she was indicted. We learned that it took six grueling years before finally she entered Prison in 2004. “I always knew I was going to jail. There was no doubt about it”, she recalls. “Much of the first year, I spent lying on my back thinking I’d ruined my life. After a certain point you just pick-up your head and decide it’s just best to get on with it. When finally I had to serve time, I was ready to get this over with.”.
Does Series Creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) however, succeed at transforming her powerful Story to Television, we wonder? “Even though Piper Chapman‘s Storylines aren’t the same as my own, I think a lot of the conflict still is depicted on the Show and that is realistic.”. Make no mistake, this Series is more than just a Dramedy – it is an observation of the injustices within the U.S. Justice System. “Different Americans are treated very differently by the Criminal Justice System”. She adds, “Life in Prison is very intentionally hidden. I thought by telling my own Story, people would walk way with a very different sense of what goes on in Prison. The Show however, absolutely does that. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”.
The vivacious Laura Prepon has become a household name for her work on massively popular Sitcom, That ’70s Show, as Donna Pinciotti. After a brief stint starring on NBC‘s Are You There, Chelsea?, the Actress actually was in Germany when she received her 14 hours notice that she landed her Role in Orange is the New Black and that she was soon to begin filming in New York. Almost completely unrecognizable as what she calls a “manipulative, international drug-smuggling Lesbian”, I ask her about her dramatic transformation and how her look was achieved.
“I actually wanted to be more tatted, but Jenji had a specific thing she wanted. There was this one tattoo of a Woman on my arm and I was like, ‘Really, Jenji??’. Every time I had to put it on, it wouldn’t stick and it’s because she (the Woman in the tattoo) knows we hated her!”, she kids. “The Rockabilly look took a while to figure out, but once we did, we were good”. But how does one stand out and define themselves among an immensely-talented Cast all wearing that same thing? “I rolled-up my sleeves, had my black eyeliner which Alex got through the bartering system and my glasses”, Prepon divulges about her customized look.
Torontonians certainly haven’t forgotten about Prepon‘s portrayal of Serial Killer Karla Homolka in 2006’s Karla. Once again playing a Criminal in this new Series, she distinguishes between the two. “Karla was an evil Individual and so was her Husband. Alex on the other hand is a good person. She’s wily, smart and does what she does to survive. She runs an international Drug Ring, but she’s good at what she does”, she explains. “I never want to get complacent in a role. I always want to push myself as an Actress. I’m proud of my work in Karla.“.
Although she long has been against the idea of Nudity, she always told herself she’d make an exception if it were done as tastefully as in Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons. Opportunity came knocking in last year’s Comedy, Lay the Favourite, helmed by that one and she agreed for the first time ever to appear nude on-screen. Once again in Orange is the New Black, she learned that disrobing would be required telling us, “Jenji and I had a conversation and she assured me it wouldn’t be gratuitous. It actually would have looked weird if I were hiding. So as long as it’s not gratuitous, I’m okay with it.”.
Danielle Brooks might be a Newcomer, but she has been hard at work honing her talents as a Graduate of The Juilliard School. And if her recently being cast in the third season of HBO‘s Girls is any indication, the disarming young Actress is onto something huge. On her experience working with this brilliant Ensemble she says, “A lot of the time we didn’t stay in our Trailers, we stood around watching each other on-set learning.”. She admits to being a huge Fan of Co-Star Natasha Lyonne (like Biggs, known best for American Pie) who stars as fiery Inmate Nicky Nichols. “Natasha is my Homegirl. She can be really chill and a ball of fire. I’ve got mad love for her and I’ve been following her Career long before this.”.
On her outrageous Character Taystee she explains, “She is a Child of the System who found comfort being in Prison. There are people whose lives outside are actually harder than being on the inside. She winds up becoming the Leader of the Black Whack and in her mind runs this place.”.
Many will be surprised that Academy Award Winner Jodie Foster and former Teen Heartthrob Andrew McCarthy each directed episodes of Orange is the New Black in its first Season. On that experience, Brooks admits “They know the lingo which Actors like. They’ve been been doing it for years and have an eye for the Craft. Jodie was quiet and soft-spoken, while Andrew knew exactly what he wanted and we had to do it! Michael Trim was just awesome.”.
Perhaps the liveliest of the four Talents today, American Pie Star Biggs‘ arrival at the Junket drew the most smiles. “Hi, F*ckers!”, he greets us, before poking fun at his own Masturbation scenes in Orange is the new Black, drawing laughter from the Journalists. “Would anyone like me to demonstrate it for you?”.
His role in the Series is perhaps a bit more subdued that what we are accustomed to from him as Schilling‘s likeable Fiancé, Larry. On prepping to create a sweet and believable chemistry between him and his Co-Star, he says in a deadpan voice, “Well, we had to have sex a couple times…”. He was joking of course, adding “Taylor is just so easy to be around and an amazing Scene Partner. She is gonna win every Award and deserves all the recognition she is getting.”.
He recalls the first scene they shot together, “It was me dropping her off at Prison, hugging her and saying goodbye. I don’t do emotional, serious stuff. I was nervous. And with anyone else I would’ve been less confident – way more nervous.”. Biggs continues, “She couldn’t have been more supportive for me as an Actor. I only knew this Girl for two weeks and felt really sad dropping her off at this fake Prison.”.
With a Cast filled with female Criminals, there is somewhat of a gender reversal in Orange is the New Black. “Larry’s the Good Guy, the more conservative of the two. He’s aware of her Crazy Girl past… he’s attracted to that, but realizes she’s ostensibly changed.”. On Larry‘s biggest challenge in being apart from Piper, he believes “We knew over the course of a Season, one of the things in play would be the strain on their relationship. A consequence of her being away is that obviously there’s something to play with. How much of a Rock can he be to her over this 15 month period? Introducing Alex to the mix, what does that do? He’s definitely tested.”.
And tested these complex Characters are indeed in the juicy and addictive Orange is the New Black. The complete first Season is now available on Netflix in its 13-episode entirety.
Listen to the complete Toronto Junket in full below:
(Photo/video credit: Mr. Will Wong)