Who wants to work on a weekend? Not journalists, not actors, not publicists, not anyone.
When I got my schedule for the Saturday that I was to spend in roundtable interviews with the cast of “Orange is the New Black,” I was personally daunted by the extensiveness of the day — also, I had stayed out a bit too late the night before and was dreading the idea that the cast would notice my hangover. Thankfully, the cast is as amazing as you’d expect them to be, and as it turned out, the hours spent with them at the Crosby Hotel made for one of the most fun press junkets ever in existence.
Lesson learned: Don’t ever doubt that you’re going to have a blast spending the entire day with the enormous cast of one of the best shows on television right now. Here’s how my day went down.
9:30 AM: Discipline and Chaos — Lorraine Toussant (Vee) and Kate Mulgrew (Red)
The day started off with the most calm and professional of my roundtables, featuring the lovely and poised Kate Mulgrew and Lorraine Toussaint. Toussaint, who joined the cast in season two as a mother figure from Taystee’s (Danielle Brooks) past, immediately dove into the fact that the cast was warm and welcoming.
“This cast has been the most generous cast I’ve ever encountered,” she said. “Within that first week every single woman came to my dressing room and knocked and said ‘Hi. I’m so and so. I’m so glad you’re here.’ It was pretty much like moving into the neighborhood and everybody and everyone dropped me a casserole.”
Casseroles are great, Lorraine, but serve us up another dish. Thankfully she obliged: “Jenji [Kohan, the showrunner] didn’t tell me I was a psychopath until a half-hour before we started shooting.” What?!
“I would have really liked a little more notice,” Toussaint said, of the moment when Kohan informed her that she was playing someone psychotic. “I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I thought she was just naughty and did a couple of bad things. That very first morning, [Kohan] said, ‘Yeah she’s a psychotic.’ I said, ‘Clinical?’ she said, ‘Oh yes.'”
So, since joining the show, Toussaint has become no stranger to the experience of wacko fans coming up to her on the street, though the people who find her can get a little…weird: “I was in Atlanta last week and I was having lunch with my daughter outside and a woman walked to our table and said ‘I just want to kill you.’ And I said, ‘Hello. This is my daughter. She’s nine. I’m Lorraine. This is my daughter…'”
Toussaint may have trust issues with her fans, but not with Mulgrew, whom she’s known for years from working in the theater. That trust came in handy when they had to beat the crap out of each other more than once during Season 2.
“Well, she beat me. I didn’t beat her,” Mulgrew clarified. “We were very careful about that. I think we both like to do our own stunts. But it’s always sort of fascinating when the moment actually comes, when you’re slapping me and I’m falling and you’re schlocking me and I’m dying. I’m not sure how I actually feel.”
“And you’re not supposed to,” Toussaint added. “The night that Kate and I had that fight on that dock, I’d be fine if we’d never do that again. That was an awful night. I was cold to my core and I wept and we’d been trying to kill each other for hours and hours. It was just… There was a kind of disciplined chaos all of the time.”
9:45 AM: Breakfast
One of the best things about junkets is the free grub. I had just finished off a heap of eggs and a few pastries when Laverne Cox marched off of the elevator in a blue mini-dress and shouted, “I smell bacon!” She then headed over to the buffet to grab some of the same glorious breakfast that I had eaten just moments ago. Stars. They’re just like us.
10:00 AM: Best On-Screen Couple — Matt McGory (Bennett) and Dascha Polanco (Daya)
Polanco, who plays the pregnant and moody Daya Diaz, was waiting patiently in the next room while journalists sauntered in. McGory walked in a few moments late, wiping his hands. “I’m not going to shake anyone’s hand because the lotion I just put on is really greasy.”
“Lotion…right,” Polanco said slyly, which broke the silence in the room and made everyone laugh. Going forward, it was evident that their back and forth, coquettish, witty banter is the norm for the pair. There’s so much sex on “Orange is the New Black,” but Daya and Bennett provide a touch of romance that even McGory and Polanco seem to have succumbed to the lure of their characters’ adorable relationship. These two flirt like they’re actually a real couple. “Well for me it’s really just about the sex,” McGory said, and some of the women in the room raised an attracted eyebrow.
“They should probably come up with a new award for best on screen couple,” Polanco added. “And nominate us as the only nominee and have us win.”
Despite Daya and Bennett’s unfortunate situation, it seemed that everyone is rooting for their romance to work. “I think that when we were filming that we had no idea that it stood out as much as it did when we watched it,” McGory said. “Including having its own little like cute soundtrack.”
Taylor Schilling (Piper) was supposed to have been paired up with Uzo Aduba, who plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on the series. Their pairing was rather unusual; the first out of sync team-up of the day. (Though Crazy Eyes and Piper have a connected story-line in Season 1, that interaction simmered down shortly into Season 2.)
But Schilling had unfortunately called out sick to the roundtables. Perhaps she sensed what many fans of the show feel: That for practically the entirety of the run of this phenomenal show, Piper Chapman’s story has been the least interesting element anyway. Though she’s arguably the focus of the series, her character seems to exist as a gateway, an introduction to the more troubled and nuanced supporting characters.
This left Aduba alone for what was my most crowded of the roundtables, because it appeared that everyone has fallen in love with “Crazy Eyes.” Just don’t call her that.
“I was not very interested in the name Crazy Eyes,” Aduba said. “We’re calling her that for a reason, but I was not interested in commenting on that, or just being crazy crazy, just being flagrant with it. That was not an interesting story for me to work on, that was not an interesting story for me to tell. So what I was interested in more was, there’s a line describing her that says ‘She’s innocent like a child except children aren’t scary.’ So I thought well, what if everything she did was just a hair off, a click off? Like if she wants to wink at Piper, it’s a blink, and she can never quite navigate how flirting works properly. Or, she’s somebody who acts and then thinks. To her, if she’s having a conversation with Alex about this being her wife, and she thinks she’s having a very civil discourse, she didn’t even know the pie had left her hand. Her emotions are always a 10, she loves at a 10, she’s gonna hate at a 10, she’s going to feel everything at its highest place.”
With all of that effort and detail going into Suzanne’s mentality and characterizations, Aduba really needs to unwind after a day of shooting.
“I normally walk for about 20 minutes after work,” she said. “I think of Suzanne as a treasure chest almost, so when I walk it’s kind of just to release her, to let her go, and to put everything back where it belongs. It’s kind of like she becomes a doll to me, and I just put her back on the shelf until we’re ready to play again. Sometimes, depending on what we need to do that day at work, sometimes I need to put her on a higher shelf, so she doesn’t come back down… That’s what she said.”
The room suddenly burst into laughter, realizing that Uzo Aduba had just made a “That’s what she said” joke. “It’s my favorite joke,” she said. “I might make it three or four more times.”
11:30 AM: The No-Drama Mamas — Laverne Cox (Sophia Burset) and Selenis Leyva (Gloria Mendoza)
Out of all of the inmates in Litchfield, it’s perhaps Gloria and Sophia who are the least interested in any of the drama that goes on inside the prison. Both of these characters are parents (Sophia having formerly been her son’s father) who landed themselves in jail for financial scams. Both are trying to do their time without any kind of conflict. But so far, it appears easier for Sophia than it does for Gloria.
Cox, who had finally gotten herself some breakfast, munched on a duo of croissants, spreading them with jelly as Leyva discussed the revel that, prior to prison, Gloria had been the victim of domestic violence. “When I read the script I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting that. Because you see this strong woman and you think, ‘She would never put up with that,'” she said. “But a lot of us put up with a lot of things that we say we never would. We all find ourselves sooner or later doing things that we thought we never would.”
Another thing Leyva thought she’d never have to deal with? Crazy fans. Leyva took her daughter to see “The Fault in Our Stars” and, while the credits rolled and both had tears streaming down their faces, she was accosted by a gaggle of teenage girls.
“My daughter got freaked out by that,” Leyva said. “I said to her, ‘I know sweetheart, it’s scary, but, you know, Mama’s life has changed.’ It’s wonderful.”
“Do they stop you in the bathroom, girl?” Cox inquired.
Leyva confirmed that, and Cox let her frustrations with the crazies be known. “I’m like, ‘Can I pee?!’ I’m a New Yorker, and many times I just want to go to Duane Reade and buy toilet paper and my false eyelashes, and get in and get out. Before I was on a big hit TV show, I didn’t talk to strangers on the street unless they were really cute men.”
12 PM: Tlunch=Twitter+ Lunch
The cast partook in a Twitter “Visiting Hours” session, wherein fans using the #AskOrange hashtag were able to ask the cast any random question they so desired. Some highlights: Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) probably won’t return much for Season 3, Jason Biggs has agreed to go full frontal and Natasha Lyonne doesn’t like prenups. Also, she probably won’t adopt you.
I was wearing yoga pants and slipper shoes that day, but being surrounded all morning by gorgeous women in gorgeous dresses not only made me feel like a schlub, but inspired me to try a little harder. I had a birthday party to attend that night, and by golly I was going to wear a dress. I passed Dascha Polanco as I headed out the door and exclaimed that she and the other ladies had inspired me to go find a nice dress to wear that evening. She stopped, like a deer in headlights.
“I love shopping,” she said.
“You want to come with?” I asked.
“I wish! But I have more interviews!” And that was probably the closest I will ever come to shopping with Dascha Polanco. Or any star, for that matter.
2:00 PM: Total #BAEs Natasha Lyonne (Nicky Nichols) and Yael Stone (Lorna Morello)
Yael Stone’s dress weirdly matched the wallpaper in the room, and she paused to take an Instagram photo which makes her look like a disembodied, floating head. Related to her bizarre wardrobe coincidence, the first journalist dove in with a question about Lorna’s style.
“I almost couldn’t see past my own breasts,” Stone said about the padding attached to her chest. “I could rest my chin on my own tits, which has never happened before.” All of that padding and Ed Hardy-meets-Lisa Frank style helped shape Lorna’s backstory of a fantasy-obsessed stalker, which was quite the shock in Season 2.
“What a delicious turn of events,” said Stone. “It’s [like being] given a gift when you shock a bunch of people. Luckily, people didn’t seem so mad at Lorna as much, like still feeling sorry for her. Which is crazy! I mean really people were like, ‘That damn Christopher.’ I didn’t really feel like there was enough compassion for Christopher really.”
Lyonne (who was dressed all in black — her preferred color since she was 17 — and thus had no danger of blending into the wall) addressed how the show is viewed as her “comeback.”
“It feels really nice that there’s still space for me in this industry and that everyone is so warm to me. I’ve obviously had really tricky problems that I’ve had to work out. It’s not a ton of fun being infamous,” she said. “It’s a lot more fun to talk about work that you are proud of than to always be talking about your personal problems. Now it’s like all day I know that I’m their Bae.”
“Netflix has put us both on Twitter and it’s really immediate access,” Lyonne continued. “So I now have a constant reminder of so many people who are calling me Bae.”
“I just learned today what that means today!” Stone said, no doubt having learned the term during their Twitter interactions.
“It’s like, ‘You’re like a babe, but I don’t have time to spell that out for you,” Lyonne clarified. “Like, I’m a busy person. I’m like on the Internet so I just need to cut to the chase and call you a Bae. You know what I mean? It’s just B-A-E. You, for example,” Lyonne gestured to Stone, “are a total Bae. I would even give you like, you’re even like a hashtag Bae. Like all caps.”
2:30 PM: Calm, Cool and Collected: Michael Harney (Healy) and Taryn Manning (Pennsatucky)
In Season 1, Pensatuckey was definitely an instigator — some would call her a predator. Healy had his moments of genuine care, but his homophobia and vengeance became a threat to Piper’s happiness. In Season 2, however, Pennsatucky is basking in the aftermath of being beaten up, and has calmed down a bit, while even Healy himself has started to care a bit more, creating a safe space for the inmates and trying harder at counseling. Both characters developed a softness that wasn’t there in Season 1. What gives?
“There’s a sense of peace that can come over you when you spend a lot of time like in solitude,” said Manning. “You’re sort of like stripped of any outward distractions and all you have is yourself working through things. Buddhist monks go into the Himalayas and don’t speak for a long time.”
Also, even Harney can’t avoid the fans. “One girl [came up to me] and she was really shaking,” he said. “I didn’t realize that she recognized me and she came running down the stairs. I just looked at her like, ‘What is going on!?’ She goes, ‘I recognized you!’ I said ok and dialed it down. Anyway the next day I was at a dog park and saw her again and I sat down with her and I started talking to her. And she got totally calm…What I was trying to do was kind of show her that I’m like. I said, ‘What do you do?’ I was trying to show her that we all have our pants around our ankles in the morning.”
3:00 PM: Will the Real Twittergrammers Please Stand Up? — Samira Wiley (Poussey) and Danielle Brooks (Taystee)
No one can deny that real-life friends Samira Wiley and Danielle Brooks are experts at taking selfies. Their presence on Instagram and Twitter is practically epic at this point. Though both of them were new to Twitter when the show began, and specifically opened their accounts to connect with fans, they were already Instagram fanatics. What makes them want to share so much with the viewers?
“It was a tool that I had just between me and my friends when I just wanted to share my day,” Wiley said. “When the show came I didn’t necessarily post it anywhere but people found out that that was my Instagram and I just started having more and more followers. So it’s kind of morphed into this other thing, but I always try and keep it to what would I want my friends who aren’t here right now to see.”
“I always had an obsession with photos,” Brooks added. “Like if you look at my house, I have pictures everywhere and I think that’s my — what do you call it when you collect something? — I love collecting photos, so Instagram is like everything!”
The question begs: do they read the comments?
“I read the comments on Instagram more than on Twitter,” Brooks said. “I like my Twitter account but Instagram is more my thing, but I do try to read the comments. It’s nice because it’s your page, so most of the time they’re nice comments.”
Despite their epic friendship, penchant for telling jokes and engaging Instagam, these two are quite serious actors, having both attended the prestigious Juilliard School.
“It was so cool to get to go from just being the kind of comedic relief in that way to having some real in-depth moments,” Brooks said. “We’re trained actors, and to actually put that to work and be challenged with the writing and be able to work with amazing people, it is exciting for me, especially as someone who plays the sidekick in other roles, or the best friend who’s only in two scenes.”
“The nude scene that I did was my first nude scene,” Wiley said of Poussey’s backstory, wherein she not only scissored with her girlfriend, but spoke German the entire time. “My first sex scene was actually great because I had to focus on saying the right words! I don’t know how many shows would throw that at me and be like ‘It’s yours, catch it.’ But yeah, I felt like I caught it and I’m proud of myself.”
3:30 PM: The Bond of the Scorned Lovers — Laura Prepon (Alex Vause) and Jason Biggs (Larry Bloom)
“Hello, my name is Jason. I play Larry and I like lemon cakes!” Biggs shouted as he and Laura Prepon entered the day’s final roundtable session. Apparently, the buffet had satisfied once again. As Biggs chomped on baked goods, we immediately dove in to the fact that Prepon was noticeably absent from much of Season 2, only appearing in four episodes. While no one wanted to be the downer that brought up Scientology, Prepon’s religion (and its rumored objection to the homosexual themes of the show), I asked if Prepon had missed being around.
“Girl, it sucked. I hated it. All the girls would text me from set,” Prepon said. “Netflix didn’t put everyone on a six year contract, so I was doing a year-to-year contact and had another job come up that was already an existing thing. Jenji [Kohan] and I talked about this the night of the premiere of Season 1 and I was like, ‘What am I going to do? This sucks.’ She said, ‘We’ll sort it out. We’ll make it – be in as many as you can.’ But I’ve already worked it out so I’m in all of Season 3!”
By the time Biggs had finished devouring his lemon cake, another journalist had brought up the fact that Prepon’s character, Alex Vause, might have surpassed Donna from “That 70’s Show” as a fan favorite. Will she forever be known as Donna? Will her past roles stick with her forever?
“I didn’t have sex with a pie though,” Prepon added. We all know who did.
“I’ll tell you what,” Biggs said finally, “I will always be the pie-fucker. Before this it was Donna but now her character, Alex Vause, is going to be even bigger than Donna. I’m sure your fans are crazier about Alex. They probably do crazier things.”
The duo noted that Twitter and Instagram weren’t a thing when they got their start in teen-centric comedies of the ‘90s.
“It’s much easier to interact with fans these days,” Biggs added. “A lot easier… dangerously easier.” He gave an obvious side eye to Prepon, until she confessed.
“I know a lot of my fans,” she said. “I know them by their names. I am like yeah, Chloe made me poker chips and Clair made me a t-shirt and Jason’s like ‘Woah, fuck.'”
“And Jessica stabbed me in the neck!” Biggs mockingly added.
“They’re nice, supportive girls!” Prepon said in defense.
“I just don’t want you to get Selina-ed,” Biggs added. Then things turned to this question: By the way, not to hijack the conversation but poor Larry. How does Larry compete with a “lesbian icon?” Not to mention the hate thrown his way?
“You know, it’s true. I get more hate than I get love and that’s because more people are willing to vocalize their hate,” Biggs said. “People that hate you are much more willing to get on Twitter and say, ‘You fucking suck. I hate you. You’re a shitty actor and you should die.’ It’s fascinating. Yahoo wrote — are anyone of you with Yahoo?” Thankfully no one was. “Yahoo wrote an article asking ‘Why is Larry still on the show?’ I am going to kill myself, and I do want whoever wrote that article for Yahoo to know that she or he is the reason I killed myself. I want that on record now.”
But what about the growing relationship between Larry and Piper’s best friend Polly (Maria Dizzia)?
“Again, I’ll be dead, so they’ll have to recast if they do explore that,” Biggs said, in full self-deprecation mode. Though he did express a desire to play the character of Pennsatucky. “No one can play her better than Taryn, except me.”
“Now you have a reason to live!” said Prepon.
“Well, no. They’ll hologram me in like Tupac because I am going to be dead tomorrow guys. Mark my words.” At this point, Prepon and every journalist around the table was appropriately cracking up. For a guy who makes a living in comedy, Biggs is one of the few who are actually, genuinely hilarious in real life.
“Honestly, all kidding aside, what if I really did die tonight? What if I got hit by a subway? Would you guys wake up and read the newspaper? Like, what would you do first? Laugh? I would laugh.” We were still laughing as we all exited — for more lemon cakes.