The Paley Center for Media kicked off its inaugural PaleyFest: Made in NY series with a panel devoted to Netflix’s breakout original series “Orange is the New Black” on Wednesday. The show’s creator and executive producer Jenji Kohan was on hand, along with members of the cast — Taylor Schilling, Kate Mulgrew, Natasha Lyonne, Danielle Brooks, Taryn Manning, Uzo Aduba, Jason Biggs — and Piper Kerman, author of the memoir that served as the basis for the show.
It was a lively evening with lots of jokes about how the show doesn’t air on TV…but rather on streaming devices. There was also lots of poking fun at Jason Biggs, who plays the title character’s long-suffering (and occasionally, insufferable) fiancé, Larry. Biggs admitted that since he plays most of his scenes opposite Piper (Taylor Schilling), he “still hasn’t met the rest of the cast…Most of my scenes are with Taylor, so it’s kind of like we’re doing a different show,” he said.
Though the panelists didn’t reveal any hints about season 2, which is shooting now, they did reveal some behind-the-scenes stories we hadn’t heard before. Here are the top 10 things we learned about the show from last night’s panel:
1. Natasha Lyonne, who plays Nicky Nichols, hasn’t watched any episodes beyond the pilot.
“I want to keep it as filthy and real as possible. I don’t want to jinx myself by watching it.” — Natasha Lyonne
2. Laura Prepon (Alex) originally read for the part of Piper, but Kohan knew she wasn’t right for the part.
“I wouldn’t worry about Laura in prison. I needed Piper as someone I would worry about. Taylor evokes a different response.” — Jenji Kohan
3. Kohan took the storyline in a different direction than the source material, in part, for Kerman’s sake.
“I can’t imagine how tortuous it would be (for her) to watch the actual story week after week.” Plus, “at a certain point, the show is a different medium and we have to serve a different audience and present differently.” — Kohan
4. Kohan isn’t concerned about whether Piper is a heroine or an anti-heroine.
“I don’t write heroes or anti-heroes. I write characters, and flawed characters. Piper is a flawed character.” — Kohan
5. The mysterious prison yard chicken may — or may not — return in the 2nd season.
“I don’t know if the chicken will be back. But maybe it needs to.” — Kohan
“The chicken is everything” — Kate Mulgrew (Red)
6. Kate Mulgrew had to dramatically change her hairstyle for the role of Red.
“I had long, lovely, healthy, brown luxurious hair and every time I’d come out of the hair trailer, I’d go to Jenji and she’d say ‘back, shorter, shorter, more and more magenta’ and finally, eggplant.” — Mulgrew
7. The role of Larry is the hardest role Jason Biggs has ever played.
“It’s been the hardest role I’ve ever had to play. My confidence levels coming into it were really low because I haven’t really done a whole lot of intense stuff like this in recent years anyway and also because the material is so good. For a minute, I was like ‘Oh, maybe Jenji made a mistake.’ I was very nervous and I’m still nervous when I get some of these scenes.” — Biggs
8. There was no question that the part of Sophia Burset would go to a trans woman.
“We only brought in trans actresses for the role. Ain’t nothing like the real thing.” — Kohan
9. Kerman had no qualms about selling the book’s rights to Kohan.
“From that very first meeting, I had no question that she had this curiosity and inquiry about every detail of life inside the walls of a women’s prison. That gave me a great deal of confidence about turning over the story to her.”
10. Suzanne a.k.a. “Crazy Eyes” is driven by love.
“It was less about the crazy element — that’s such a surface level easy thing to play — that to richen her, I was more interested in the idea of the pursuit of love and how far one would go for love.” — Uzo Aduba