Executive producer Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is the New Black has accomplished something no other show has ever — received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Drama Series after already being nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series. But that’s just par for the course for a show that routinely pushes boundaries in its depiction of race, class, and gender; cutting through society’s dividing layers via a women’s prison, where souls are laid bare and the commonality at humanity’s core is revealed as its greatest asset. Next summer the show returns for its fourth season, now in production, as we learned from stars Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Selenis Leyva, Natasha Lyonne, Lea DeLaria, and Taryn Manning at last week’s Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles…
On whether season 3 was lighter than the first two seasons…
Selenis Leyva: I think that we’re always dealing with different things every season, and, yes, after Season 2 in particular, it was very dark and menacing because of the character introduced, Vee. But I think that this season, Season 3, we really focused on a lot of the emotional aspect of each character and we really went in there and saw them in a different way. I know that Gloria Mendoza and Sophia, we really saw them struggling with motherhood and we saw other relationships develop. So I think there was a different feeling, and I think that’s always Jenji’s idea, to give different stories and different feelings and colors?
On whether the guards got more inept and buffoonish suddenly…
Lea Delaria: Yeah. Probably not the one that raped Pennsatucky, but I wouldn’t say that they were buffoonish. I think there were different levels, like there is with the prisoners, of directness and comedy. And they have their own little microcosm of society going on as well, and I think we saw that happen there.
On Natasha Lynonne’s abridged storyline last season…
Natasha Lyonne: Well, I was excited to read it. I would actually argue that there were huge stakes for Nicky Nichols this season, much more than in any previous season. It makes sense that a self-destructive person would suffer in that way.
On how far away from Piper Kerman Piper Chapman is now…
Taylor Schilling: I think the short answer would be “far.” I think that would be the short answer. We started out really clear that Piper Chapman was very different than Piper Kerman. And Piper Chapman is a fictional character. Pretty much starting on the tail end of episode 1, the paths diverged from the book quite clearly.
On the show jumping Emmy categories from drama to comedy…
LD: I would say it’s a dramedy, and I’ve said that often. It’s odd that the Emmys don’t have a dramedy category.
NL: I think it really is a testament to the show and the writing, that it managed to score nominations in both categories really speaks to that.
SL: That’s never been done. I don’t think any show’s ever gone from comedy, being nominated for comedy, to a drama. So we are more than thrilled to be acknowledged. Whenever there’s acknowledgment, we know there’s wonderful work out there. So to be considered in both categories is beyond amazing.
On whether the show can push much further than it has for the past few years…
Uzo Aduba: I think the show has already. Jenji, that she can say and tell as many different stories, varied characters she can find within her being to create… What’s exciting and inspiring to see from her is that she does not limit herself. She doesn’t feel bound by rules and ideas of what a TV show should be. She has the perfect platform in Netflix to do that as well, because this is new. It never existed before this. So they were able make television the way that they wanted television and stories to be created. And she jumps in with such an authority and a spirit of a adventure, along with her team of writers as well, that it’s boundless. From script to script, you don’t know what it’s going to be. You’re excited.
On how much input the cast has had into their characters…
TS: I remember one of the first times I met Jenji, I’d just been on this trip with my grandmother. I don’t even actually know why I’m telling this story. She did this weird thing where I opened up her freezer and there was a dead bird in her refrigerator, which she just thought might be helpful for the humane society, at some point to know about, so she was saving it. And, bless her heart, she wanted to make sure it got into the right hands. So I told Jenji that story. And then one of the first scenes of Episode 1, Red is cleaning out the freezer and she’s throwing out a dead bird. There was a dead bird with wings and everything. It’s like, “Oh, this is how this works.”
On how much Taylor is like her character in real life…
TS: I think that Piper is constantly peeling away parts that… She came into prison pretzeling herself, I think, a little bit into expectations of what she thought the world needed of her. Those things are being, sort of, systematically ripped away, and all sorts of new things are emerging all the time, like just boiling up or, the other image of her, sort of, like, drilling down, like through the topsoil and through all the strata of being to what is real. That is the thing. Like how much is there to peel away, and what is the real experience? If you’re not trying to be something for someone else, what’s left?
On whether there are characters they haven’t gotten to spend a lot of time with but they’d like to in coming seasons…
UA: Oh, man. Yes. I mean, I’m just giving a shout because I love her and that’s my girl. I mean, Dayanara, Dasch, Dascha Polanco, I’ve never done a scene with before. And I would love to see what Suzanne thinks of the baby, you know, how she is there. And I just love her so much and think she’s amazing. Have we ever done a scene together, Natasha?
NL: I don’t remember. We spend so much time in real life together.
UA: Yeah, I know. That’s exactly right. So now my brain is like, “Was that real, or was that when we were…” But there are characters you want to see, just because you have such a specific idea of how they relate. And I would be interested in revisiting characters. How would Suzanne and Piper relate to each other? I’d be interested in seeing how that has changed, the dynamic of that relationship has changed, now that Vee is gone and she’s seeing with a different eye.
NL: I was just saying last night that I would really love to see the Hawaii episode of the show. But I don’t think we’re likely to ever get it. Just an idea I’m throwing out. [Laughs.]
SL: I would love Gloria to have her moment with Pennsatucky because there’s something about that that sounds really fun. I would put you in your place, tell it like it is, maybe give you a little cleansing. I think I should do a cleansing all around. But I want more time with the guys too. They’re so amazing, and I haven’t had a chance. But you know what? It’s that song, “A little bit of this one in my life….” I feel like I want everything in my life.
On season 4…
TS: Ooh. We’re shooting it right now.
Taryn Manning: We’re on [episode] 4.
SL: Yes, we’ve read the scripts so far. And I can’t tell you anything.
LD: This is what I can tell you about Season 4. I’m in it, and it comes out sometime next year.
On whether Selenis is in it…
UA: Very big.
On whether Natasha is in it…
NL: Keep going, Philip Marlowe… I feel a great deal of solidarity with the cast of Game of Thrones in how to take this.
On shooting season 3’s final scene in the lake…
SL: It was cold. [Laughs.]
UA: You were cold?
SL: It was freezing.
LD: It was freezing.
UA: I loved [it].
SL: You were, like, frolicking.
LD: You were so happy.
UA: I was into it.
LD: She was so happy.
SL: It was freezing, but it was so beautiful. The space is gorgeous. But I do remember, by the second day, I was like, “Enough of this lake.” But then we saw it, and I cried throughout the entire lake scene. I cried because I saw all the stories come together, and it was beautiful, and the journey was so clear. Everyone’s journey was very clear. It was such a cinematic moment. I felt it was really just a way to go. And then the buses, oh.
UA: Thirty-nine episodes where you’ve been watching this tension really build of these people who have never been beyond that fence. And we keep seeing shots of it throughout any outdoor scene, but you know these people have been confined and restricted to this one world, and that builds up. It builds up. It’s building inside of them definitely, most certainly. To have that expression happen, it was interesting getting to watch these women, have the opportunity to see these women for a glimpse, even if it was just a glimpse, of who they are when they are not in this world because they got to step outside of it for that one breath, you know. You get to see them live that breath outside, and you see that they’re joyful, loving, full, happy people. These relationships are all real. Being there, it felt that way. Maybe I just got myself ready to be like, “It’s warm outside.” I thought it was warm. It was warm the first day. But everybody was in a good spirits. I loved that. That was my personal favorite day of work the entire season. That was my favorite day.
LD: I learned something very surprising while we were filming that episode. Direct your attention to T. Mann over here, to T-Money, who weighs, soaking wet, maybe 80 pounds, I think. She almost drowned me. When she started to play that chicken game with me in the lake, she held me down in that lake, and I could not get up. The girl tried to kill me. It was amazing.
Be sure to check out our Orange Is the New Black recaps!