The ladies (and men) of Litchfield ditched drab uniforms and cinderblock walls for colorful dresses and a swanky Manhattan hotel this past weekend, when Netflix held a press day for the dramedy’s second season in New York City. Nearly all of the series’ regulars were on hand for paired two-on-one interviews with journalists, including (deep breath) Danielle Brooks (Taystee) and Samira Wiley (Poussey), Jason Biggs (Larry) and Laura Prepon (Alex), Kate Mulgrew (Red) and Lorraine Toussaint (Vee), Taryn Manning (Pennsatucky) and Michael Harney (Healy), Dascha Polanco (Daya) and Matt McGorry (Bennett), Laverne Cox (Sophia) and Selenis Leyva (Gloria), Yael Stone (Morello) and Natasha Lyonne (Nicky), and Uzo Aduba (Suzanne). Conspicuously absent: series star Taylor Schilling, who was to be teamed with Aduba; according to Netlix reps, she fell ill a few days before the junket.
Naturally, a day spent among this much talent yielded tons of fascinating tidbits about OITNB, the people who make it, and what’s in store for season 3—which is already being shot in New York. Read on to find out how to make prison hooch, which actresses initially fought to play each other’s characters, Red and Vee’s strange pre-lockup connection, and what really went on during Daya and Bennett’s closet encounter. (Hint: The words “mons pubis” will be uttered…as will many, many spoilers.)
“Amanda” and “Mackenzie” almost didn’t show up for season 2
Why were viewers nearly deprived of a return visit from Poussey and Taystee’s delightful white alter-egos? Simple: The show feared driving one of its most popular gags into the ground. “We were kind of like, ‘Is this forcing it?’” Danielle Brooks explained. “Obviously not; people enjoyed it. So the writers knew what they were doing!”
Samira Wiley had no idea that Poussey was in love with Taystee
Not until shooting for season 1 was nearly over, at least. “It’s so funny—so many people picked that up. I saw that everywhere on the internet after season 1, but like, I didn’t see it!” she exclaimed. That changed around the end of season 1, when a director told Wiley to look at Taystee differently in a crucial scene: “And only then was I like, ‘Oh.’“
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Kate Mulgrew wins the Most In Character award
Brooks and Wiley, who are close in real life, didn’t echo Taystee and Poussey’s schism by spending less time together as they shot season 2. As Brooks explained, “With certain characters, you do need to find a deeper space. But when your characters are so connected to who you are, you don’t have to go so much outside of yourself.” Other OITNB cast members do stay in character even when they’re not shooting, though; Wiley cites Kate Mulgrew as an example. (I’d get a taste of that later in the day during my interview with Mulgrew, when she slipped seamlessly into Red’s voice to answer a question posed to Lorraine Toussaint.)
Samira Wiley’s parents are on board with Poussey’s scissoring scene
“I just talked to my parents this morning,” she said. “My parents, they’re the freaking greatest, I swear. They knew that I had trepidation about them watching it, and they were like, ‘You don’t have anything to be ashamed about, Samira. We watched that episode, and it’s so clear to us that this is what you’re supposed to be doing.’ I almost cried this morning.” For the record, Brooks is a fan of the Wileys as well: “I talk to her parents to get advice,” she told EW.
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There’s one new skill Wiley didn’t have to learn for her flashback scenes
The actress had to work her tail off to fake fluency in German—but when asked if she needed joint-rolling lessons as well, Wiley gave a wry smile and an answer that made Brooks cackle in glee: “Naaah.” Brooks, in turn, prepared for her character’s role in Vee’s underground cigarette racket by turning back to an old favorite: “I watched Set It Off, and I was kind of obsessed with Queen Latifah’s character. So I kinda just channeled her—but I don’t know how to roll no blunt.”
Brooks thought Taystee’s nickname had a less savory origin
Before learning her character’s true backstory, Brooks “kind of thought she’s going to be a stripper. I thought it was a stripper name… in those beginning episodes in season 1, that’s where my mind was going.”
This is what’s really in prison hooch
According to Wiley: “I’m actually diabetic, so it’s just like, water with food coloring and chunks of, like, fruit cocktail, I think. They put something in it to make it taste sweet, and I was like, ‘You have to take that out! I can’t drink this!’”
Episode 3′s game of Celebrity has a real-life inspiration
The episode’s writers got the idea from a contentious game of Taboo that the cast played during a gathering at co-executive producer Lisa Vinnecour’s house. “It was so funny, because when we got the episode, we were like, ‘Hold up! Was she [the writer] at the house?’” Wiley recalled. She and Brooks played on different teams; they don’t remember who won, though each actress is pretty certain it was her team.
Jason Biggs is a serious wordsmith
He called the ire that his character provokes in Orange watchers “fanimosity;” Prepon noted that he had also coined the phrase “masturbacting” earlier in the day.
He also knows that you don’t like Larry
Said Biggs: “I get it. It’s set up that way, to an extent.” He understands that most viewers want Piper to choose Alex over Larry; he gets that his scenes distract from the world of Litchfield and sometimes seem beamed in from an entirely different show. (“The Larry spinoff, which four people would watch.”) Still, Biggs will defend his character’s decisions, including sleeping with Piper’s best friend Polly: “Listen, is that going to make things better? Of course not. But I do believe Larry, all the things he’s doing…it is him acting out, it’s him trying to take care of himself, being selfish. But I think you’re allowed to be kind of selfish, given these extreme circumstances.”
Don’t expect another isolating season opener
Season 2′s first episode followed Piper as she was briefly taken from Litchfield to Chicago to testify against Alex’s old boss. According to Prepon, season 3′s premiere won’t have a similar conceit; “everybody” is in it, the actress says. And that includes Prepon herself, who’s back full time on OITNB next year, after appearing in only a handful of season 2 episodes. “All the girls are so close, I feel like I never left,” she said. “Or like I was there all of season 2. We all wanted me to be there for more of season 2.”
Larry’s future on the show is hazy
“It’s very unclear at this point, even for me” if Larry will be a part of season 3, said Biggs. “I have not shot anything yet, no.” That said, filming on the new season began just a few weeks ago; Larry haters shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.
Kate Mulgrew didn’t get the junket’s format
After declaring that her interview room was too cold—”It makes me have to pee”—the woman behind Red came to sit on a hallway bench. There, she wondered aloud who had been paired with Prepon for interviews—then scoffed when she heard the answer. “Who comes up with these pairings?” she asked a passing Netflix publicist. “Why is Laura Prepon with Jason Biggs? They have nothing to do with each other!”
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Michael Harney is a consummate gentleman
Prison counselor Sam Healy may be a misogynist who fears a future in which women run the world and men have been rendered obsolete—but the man who plays him is kind enough to pull a chair out for a journalist before she sits down for an interview. What a mensch!
He’s also worked in a prison before
Albeit not professionally: “I did volunteer work at a prison, at Ossining State Penitentiary. I used to go up and visit a guy and work on his case with the Fortune Society and United Church of Christ many years ago, when I was in college,” he said. Both Harney and Taryn Manning, who plays Pennsatucky, said the show has made them think seriously about the importance of prison reform; specifically, Harney name-checked the real Piper’s work with the Women’s Prison Association, and especially its2nd Chance Campaign.
It wasn’t hard for Yael Stone to keep her mouth shut about Lorna Morello’s crazy backstory
How’d she keep from spilling the beans about her character’s flashbacks for months and months? “Pretty easily,” she said matter-of-factly. “I would have been in a lot of f—ing trouble. But yes, I think it’s a beautiful storyline, and I’d like to protect it as much as I can. I still feel weird now talking about it, because I”m like, ‘Aww, what if people haven’t seen it?’”
Natasha Lyonne and Stone wanted each other’s parts
Stone initially auditioned to play Nicky; Lyonne “wanted to audition for Lorna, but they wouldn’t let me, because they already liked me for Nicky.” Now, though, the two can’t imagine what would have happened if they’d switched roles. “I would be sh– at that [playing Nicky]. My audition was terrible,” Stone said.
Glamour is exhausting
Clearly, the show’s cast relishes the chance to get out of their beige prison garb; interview outfits tended toward bright, colorful dresses paired with sky-high heels. As morning turned into afternoon, though, the show’s female cast members started getting a bit more lax about their ensembles; Laverne Cox paired her short, tight dress with a nondescript hoodie, while Danielle Brooks was spotted walking around in a hotel bathrobe and cozy slippers.
This is what happened when Dascha Polanco and Matt McGorry filmed Daya and Bennett’s last sex scene
In the actors’ own words:
Polanco: “I have no rhythm when I’m giving a fake—”
McGorry: “An air job.”
Polanco: “The point was that I was not on rhythm, so they’re like, can you do it this way, can you do it that way? And I’m just like, I can’t…So they give me a banana. I get the banana, and I’m like, ‘great.’ We stick it in his pants—” [turning to McGorry] “—remember I was like, poking you with the banana?”
McGorry: “Right. It was chaffing my upper pubis.”
Polanco: “Your mons pubis.”
McGorry: “My mons pubis, because of the hard part of the banana. You know how bananas work, the anatomy of a banana.”
Polanco: “So then they’re like, ‘It’s not smooth enough.’ There’s like, skids, you know?”
Polanco: “So they had to give me lotion, and I put lotion on the banana, and was able to, like…”
McGorry: “It worked out great.”
Polanco: “It did.” [jokingly now:] “Once the banana was peeled, everything was exposed…”
McGorry: “Exactly. That’s a deleted scene. We put some ice cream on it—”
Polanco: “And hot caramel. And we ate it.”
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Bennett’s not going anywhere season 3
Yes, McGorry has a role in ABC’s upcoming Shonda Rhimes drama How to Get Away With Murder—but that doesn’t mean he’s off OITNB, at least for now. “I’m in season 3 as well,” he confirmed.
Like Red and Vee, Kate Mulgrew and Lorraine Toussaint have history
And this exchange, too, is too good not to reproduce in full:
Toussaint: “I knew Kate from the ’90s. We did theater—we didn’t actually do anything together—”
Mulgrew: “We were in rep together, weren’t we?”
Toussaint: “We were in rep together, at the [Mark] Taper [Forum]. And one of her husbands—” [She and Mulgrew both start laughing]
Mulgrew: “Print that.”
Toussaint: “One of the previous [husbands], he was the director, and the assistant artistic [director] at the time.”
Mulgrew: “That’s right, he was the associate artistic. He directed these plays. Big fan of yours, he was.”
Toussaint: “Yes, he was.”
Mulgrew: “Did you like him?”
Toussaint: “I did, very much. But I didn’t know him the way you did.”
Mulgrew: “Handsome, right?”
Toussaint: “He was a cutie-pie.”
The slocking scene was season 2′s most dangerous shoot
While filming Vee’s sock-lock attack on Red, Mulgrew was harnessed to a 50-pound camera. “I had to fall, and she had to come right within like, an inch of my face,” she explained. “And Lorraine is a stickler for the physical, because she’s right—you can easily be hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing, and this was perilously close.” It was also emotionally grueling—though not for Toussaint. “That scene, that slocking, was the only scene I think I did where I completely disassociated. Completely,” recalled the actress. “I might as well have been writing a check.”
Vee’s dead. Definitely. Maybe
When asked to clarify once and for all, Toussaint just laughed. “They want me to say yes, so I’m going to say yes,” she continued. “But…” And with that, she wagged her eyebrows suggestively. Maybe there’s a ghost in Litchfield in season 3?
Uzo Aduba isn’t sure whether “Crazy Eyes” was born or made
Her character’s flashback episode clarified that Suzanne’s brand of mental instability isn’t just in “the action of acting out—it’s the volatility, and more importantly, it’s the calm that she can return to after she’s done something like beat up Poussey in the shower.” And while Aduba still doesn’t have a medical diagnosis for Suzanne, the actress says season 2′s third episode didn’t make Suzanne seem like a child with mental illness; “I almost feel like, are we talking about a time where we were in the pre-ADHD phase, you know? And is this someone who was not given the attention that they needed?”
Here’s why Sophia is immune to Litchfield’s tribalism
During their joint interview, Laverne Cox and Selenis Leyva mused that their characters, Sophia and Gloria, are both allergic to drama; “they just want to do their business,” Leyva said. That’s especially true of Sophia, whose stature—figurative and literal—keeps her above the fray that absorbs the black inmates when Vee comes to Litchfield. “Everybody has to get their hair done. She doesn’t have to play the politics everybody else has to play,” Cox said. “Because of her firefighter background, because she’s taller than most of the women there, I don’t think they’re going to bother her. Nobody’s going to take Sophia. She doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, really.” That’s all well and good for the character, though Cox sometimes wishes Sophia weren’t quite so stoic: “In real life, Laverne actually likes to stay out of drama too—but as an actor, I love to be in the thick of the drama.”
Laverne Cox gets the irony in Sophia’s anatomy lesson
“What I thought was hilarious was, Laverne refuses to talk about anything surgical or below the waist—publicly, anyway; privately I’m very open,” the actress and activist explained. “But I thought it was very interesting and ironic that Sophia is like, ‘this is what it is.’ But there’s a lot of transwomen I know who are like that, who are very sort of proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish in their transitions. They’re very proud of their new bodies. And Sophia is that person. So it felt very true to who she is.”
Finally: Mary Steenburgen will play Pornstache’s mother in season 3. Or not.
While waiting in the hallway before his next interview, a reporter mentioned news of the Oscar winner’s casting on OITNB — as well as a report about her character’s identity. Unfortunately, the streaming site would neither confirm nor deny details about the role: “That’s what TVLine is inferring,” a Netflix rep shot back. So much for season 3 scoop.