I’ve been writing about Orange is the New Black ever since I binged it on Netflix. I wrote about it when I called Netflix the new Feminist Hollywood Leader over on The Broad Side and I interviewed Alysia Reiner over at Indiewire’s Women & Hollywood. It was then that she told me, how on OITNB they “have a crazy talented writers room with more women then men in the room, as well as awesome women directors, fabulous female producers and of course our mind blowing female ensemble cast.”
Well, as someone who is very invested in seeing more of a presence for women in film and television and as someone who has worked at female-dominated companies like Lifetime & Oxygen and now at She Speaks, I knew that when I was invited to visit the set of OITNB, I had to be there. It didn’t matter that when I woke up this morning, there was a serious snowstorm that would follow me all the way in my car to Queens to Kaufman Astoria Studios. I was determined to meet the people behind the scenes and the actors who have turned this small show about a group of women in prison into a smash hit for Netflix and snow wasn’t getting in my way.
If you haven’t watched it yet, let me bring you up to speed. Inspired by Piper Kerman’s memoir, OITNB tells the story of fictional Piper Chapman, a yuppie who ended up in a tough women’s prison in Litchfield, Connecticut. The show’s set-up is this – it’s been 10 years since Chapman’s “accidental’ involvement with international drug cartel her then-girlfriend was spearheading. After being implicated by her, Piper then spends 15 months in jail. The show is loosely based on the book, taking themes and characters and fully fleshing them out by creator Jenji Kohan, the show’s writer, who happens to be the creator of Weeds, another female-inspired series.
We started out the day with a short sit down with Matt McGorry and Dascha Polanco, who play Daya, an inmate recently impregnated by corrections officer John Bennett. They were not only authentic and down to earth, but also very humble about the show’s success. When asked whether they knew OITNB would be the hit that it is, they both shook their heads. Matt said that whey they started filming the show, Netflix’s other smash hit, House of Cards, hadn’t aired yet. When it did, that was a BIG moment for the OITNB cast because they understood its potential. He smiled and declared that the cast had really lucked out. They both also talked about the strong writing several times during our conversation, reiterating its role in making the show what it is.
Dashca, who had been in nursing school before the first season started filming, embraced her luck from day one. She realizes that luck like this could be taken away at any moment and that it’s important to embrace the moment. “This experience really showed me that anything can go right when you put your mind into making it happen,” she told us. Matt also stated that the entire cast relishes the opportunity to do something ground-breaking and feel a sense of gratitude. “No one feels entitled,” he said.
As we walked around the production area and also during our set tour, we bumped into many characters from the cast. I instantly recognized some of my favorites including Emma Myles who plays Leanne, Lea DeLaria who plays Big Boo, Samira Wiley who plays Poussey, Yael Stone who plays Lorne Morello and Constance Shulman who plays Yoga Jones. Costumer designer Jenn Rogien gave us a personal tour of the set’s wardrobe, which costumes 48 inmates while filming (and each needs a closet full). We were shown the prison uniforms (yes, they are real), policeman uniforms, EMTs, etc. Since the show revolves largely around flashbacks, she talked about the process of doing research for different time periods, factoring in socio-political factors. Her process and the amount of clothes were fascinating to learn about. I loved finding out that Jenn also costumes the gals at Girls on HBO, my other favorite show. When I asked what it feels like to be working on two of the best shows on television, she said she is thankful every single day. There was a lot of gratitude going around the set.
Our tour around the set took us to Red’s kitchen, the cafeteria, the bathroom (those famous showers!) and their sleeping quarters. We weren’t really allowed to take photos to avoid giving you spoilers but I can tell you…
That OITNB will be returning for a second year “sometime in 2014”! Sorry I can’t tell you more than that. I also didn’t find out what happens to Piper or Tiffany after their showdown in the finale. Nor did I find out if Piper reconciles with Larry. Nor did I find out if Mendez will return to the prison in a work capacity. Nor did I find out how Daya is going to care for her baby in prison. We did see a scene getting shot, but I also can’t talk about that.
Nonetheless, I was on the set of Orange is the New Black today and it was amazing.
Care to binge the first season again and come back to discuss?
Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix Steam Team. They have provided me with a subscription to their service in exchange for monthly blog posts related to their streaming content but all opinions and experiences are my own.