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‘Orange Is the New Black’: Natasha Lyonne on How the Show Changed Her Life

Lyonne told IndieWire how she got a chance to direct an episode of Netflix’s longest-running drama’s final season.

Orange Is the New Black

“Orange Is the New Black.”

JoJo Whilden / Netflix

For Natasha Lyonne, spending seven years working on “Orange Is the New Black” was more than a job. “I really grew up there in many ways,” she told IndieWire, just as the show was getting close to wrapping its final season.

When asked how she felt about the show ending, the actress and director’s first response was to talk about her castmates. “We’re very tight. Not a day goes by where I’m not in touch or FaceTiming, texting, or something with Uzo, Samira, Danielle, Taylor. I’ve spent some of the holidays with Kate Mulgrew. We’re really a pretty tight tribe,” she said.

It’s a tribe that Lyonne, whose career stretches back to 1986, continues to surround herself with, as seen by the casting of Dascha Polanco — or as Lyonne referred to her, “Dash” — in the series “Russian Doll.” Lyonne created the show with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland for Netflix, and Lyonne cited her overall experience working with the network as literally life-changing.

Betweeen the cast, creator Jenji Kohan, vice president of original content Cindy Holland, and Netflix in general, Lyonne said, working on “Orange” was “a very healthy way for me to become the person that I was going to be, seven years later. I couldn’t have known that then, but there was something about that show and being in that group of women that was a very supportive, healing environment.”

Beyond acting, Lyonne also got the opportunity to direct an episode of “Orange’s” final season, following on her experience directing episodes of “Russian Doll.” To get the “Orange” gig, she said, she showed Kohan a copy of “Cabiria, Charity, Chastity,” a surreal short film she’d made starring Maya Rudolph. “We’d just been talking about it and laughing about it because it was so crazy and then this came up pretty quickly after that. I threw my hat in the ring and very quickly they said yes,” she said.

It was a choice that touched her, she said, because “I feel like these people have seen me through every mood swing on my spectrum. So it was very life-affirming as a person to realize that those people who had seen me through seven years still want to be that close with me and in fact give me newer responsibilities and more trust.”

Natasha Lyonne and Oatmeal, "Russian Doll"

Natasha Lyonne and Oatmeal, “Russian Doll”

Courtesy of Netflix

As of this week, production has wrapped on “Orange Is the New Black,” and Lyonne may be sad to see it go, but feels like its legacy will live on. “the scale of what happened on that show as far as diversity and leading the conversation around women and the themes that Jenji is trying to touch with the injustice of the prison industrial complex, it’s really, I think, a show that has deep meaningful roots that will continue to be felt.”

Plus, Lyonne felt pretty confident that she and her castmates would maintain their bond. While “Orange Is the New Black” was her first show as an adult series regular, she had precedent for keeping on-set relationships alive, thanks to one of her very first roles — “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” “I’m still close with Paul Reubens,” she said. “So hopefully we’ll all be stuck for life.”

”Russian Doll” Season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix. “Orange Is the New Black” Season 7 will premiere later this year.

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