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'Weeds' Creator Jenji Kohan on Her New Netflix Series 'Orange Is The New Black' and Why 'Likability is Bullsh*t'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire July 8, 2013 at 12:54PM

Netflix kicked off its big year of original programming with "House of Cards," a political drama that brought in the major movie talents of Kevin Spacey and David Fincher as a show of seriousness. But the streaming service's newest series (and by our vote its best to date) comes from a writer and producer whose first love has always been the small screen.
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Taylor Schilling and Jason Biggs in 'Orange is the New Black'
Patrick Harbron/Netflix Taylor Schilling and Jason Biggs in 'Orange is the New Black'

What's the possibility of more seasons with this story? It does seems to have an obvious end point.

Oh, I can spread this shit out for years. Season one, we looked at it after, and it was really like three months when we counted real time. So I could keep this shit going. We could slow down. There are no rules. It's Netflix. I could do a whole season in a week if I wanted, not that I necessarily would, but that's the joy of this.

As you mentioned before, this is a series about characters you don't get to see on the small screen that often. Can you tell me a bit about the casting process and if there's any find you were really happy to be able to put on TV?

Oh my God, there are so many finds. You have these incredibly deep pools of actresses who never get to flex, who are always in auxiliary roles or playing the criminal on "NCIS." You have these pools of Latina actresses and black actresses and older actresses that are untapped and they run deep and we just found incredible talent. All you want to do is write for these women because they're great and it's like, "Where have you been?" And they've been here, there just wasn't the opportunity.

"You have these incredibly deep pools of actresses who never get to flex, who are always in auxiliary roles or playing the criminal on 'NCIS.'"

In terms of our leads, Taylor was perfect because she is that shiksa cool blonde girl next door All-American thing but she's actually a hot girl who can play comedy -- which is incredible. She was so much more complicated. That was a gift. I have to think shows have a certain destiny and they attract who they need when it's supposed to be, and that's happening here. We got the people who were supposed to be here, and boy, they rose to the occasion.

Natasha Lyonne's hilarious -- I'm happy to see her on screen again.

She's a fucking genius and endlessly fascinating. I love watching her. I love writing for her. I just... respect.

How much did you think about prison cliches in film and TV? Part of the series seems to be about challenging them, setting up a scenario where you think you know what's going to go down and then not going there at all.

You definitely want to subvert the paradigm, but also you want to give a nod to them because... well, I open on showers. That's my homage. There's got to be a shower scene. It's a prison. It's women in prison. But yeah, you don't want to write a cliche. You don't want to write stereotypes. You want to write people. I think we hopefully avoid some of the cliches because we're so invested in characters as individuals and telling their story instead of just picking a trope and following it. And sometimes stereotypes are true, and sometimes cliches are there because they're there. There's only a certain number of experiences in prison. There's an endless number of people and stories, but prison is prison. There's the bars and the walls and the beds and the showers, and you have to address some of that.

Having done 'Weeds' and now "Orange is the New Black," what are your thoughts in terms of how television is changing? We have all this talk about the "golden age of TV" and how it's rivaling film -- do you feel that's fair?

Orange is the New Black 6

I do. I do. I do. First of all, I think this is the new frontier. I have three kids. They watch, but they don't watch television. They watch what they want when they want, and they cherry pick, and they binge. That's the future. I think there's something incredible happening in television now because it's a medium where the writer is king, which is lovely. I think [studio] film has become a product by committee governed by fear. It's just not as interesting. I love the small screen.

It seems like whatever hesitation there used to be in terms of filmmakers or acting talent coming over to TV, that's faded.

It's not entirely gone. For a lot of people film is still the dream -- the captive audience in the darkened theater -- but I love TV. I think it's fantastic. I think people would be foolish to dismiss opportunities in television because it's not the movies, particularly actors. I don't necessarily need film directors coming in because they're too slow. But I would love to see performers embrace television as equal to film because the material available to performers in TV is phenomenal and I hope really talented people take advantage of that.

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, Netflix, Orange is the New Black, Jenji Kohan







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