If we learned anything about the wardens on the second season of Orange Is the New Black, it’s that they’re just like us. [Warning: Spoilers through season two of Orange Is the New Black to follow.] We watched as Healy tried to work on his anger-management issues in therapy (sort of), O’Neill strummed the banjolele, and, most memorably of all, Joe Caputo rocked out as the bass player in the bar band Sideboob. The last moment inspired Vulture to get on the phone with Nick Sandow, the actor who portrays new assistant warden Caputo. He told us about learning (or rather, learning how to fake-play) the bass, the sexual element of power, and working with producer Martin Scorsese on The Wannabe, an upcoming film he wrote and directed. But first, can we talk about Fischer? He fired Fischer!
I can’t believe you fired Fischer!
Yeah. I can’t believe I did, either. I know he regretted it the second he did it. I think with Caputo, something that close and meaningful, it’s too much for him. As soon as he did it, he knew. He just knew. I don’t think he in any way had any designs on doing that, but she confronted him and pushed him in front of everybody, and his ego got the best of him.
There’s a really interesting sexual element to power, and I think we see that with all of the male wardens. It can be kind of funny, but also creepy when you jerk off to inmates. What do you think of that aspect of his character?
I felt it was very normal. I didn’t find it alarming. I guess the way I thought about it was, Sure, this is what people do. Right? I don’t know. He’s certainly not hurting anybody. What I thought about it was that they did it with no judgment. To me it’s just a normal human function, male or female. What’s interesting to me is that some people found that stuff creepy. I can see why, but I don’t quite get that. You know, the creepy aspect. I guess it is, but it’s very vulnerable and private.
We talked with Alysia Reiner (who plays Fig) about what she calls “the beer-can scene.” It must have been good to be called the beer can, right? Not a bad thing.
I guess not. I don’t know. I don’t think the idea of a beer can is too appealing to anybody. [Laughs.] I think he was pretty shocked and taken with the encounter himself. He had no expectation of that. This is going to be weird, [but] I do think there’s something potentially to him seeing her as vulnerable like that for the first time. Like you said, sex and power, they move along the same lines. I think there was something to that. It sort of snowballed from there.
I certainly don’t think it was diabolical in the sense that he had any of that planned out. I think it sort of came to him, and he certainly wasn’t going to push it away. For me as Caputo, I think it was something that, you know, he may have had a couple of sessions in his mind before that actually happened.
There’s a great antagonistic chemistry between the two of you.
Yeah, no doubt. We both took our jobs and the sort of want and hunger for power very seriously and knew that each of us were in each other’s way to some degree. Although she always had the upper hand.
When Fig tells him that he won’t know how hard it is, it seems to come to fruition in the final episodes.
Exactly. Yeah. He’s in for it. He has no idea. He’s a bit of an innocent in that he has no idea what lies ahead of him, and I think Fig is onto him. You can take your good intentions and see how far they get you. I also think it’s hubris. He’s been wanting this. Now he’s got it. We’ll see.
How do you think he’ll run the prison differently from her?
How do I think he’s going to run it differently? It’s a good question. I don’t think Caputo really knows. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy that has any plan. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy that has absolutely anything up his sleeve. On the first and second day of his new job, he’s just trying to keep his head above water. Do I think that he’ll go about it without embezzling and these other things? Yeah, I think that he’s got a sense of wanting to do the right thing. And in this structure, I don’t know if there’s room for that. The whole prison structure is built on a fault. There’s no right way to do it just because the foundation is so faulty. I think there’s a lot of compromises along the way and once you get in a higher position, those compromises become more profound. He’s certainly going to get faced with those. I think that at the crux will be Caputo’s battle.
How did Sideboob come about? You’re pretty awesome.
Yeah, I was blown away by that in the script. Actually, Jenji had asked me in the season-one premiere if I played the bass, so I had an inkling. But I don’t play the bass. I took some lessons. I promised Jenji I would take some lessons. And then I asked [the instructor] if he could teach me to fake it. There’s no way I’m not going to pull this off.
How did the band come together?
There are a few guys who are in the band who are onscreen with me who played in a band called Adopted Highways. I think the music supervisor put them together. The lyrics of the song the writers wrote, and they put music to it. That one song [that] I sing, that’s me singing. But me playing? I’m totally faking it. It’s amazing what they can do in the studio, too. It’s really unbelievable.
Is there a song that you like in particular?
Yeah, I really dug “You Slay Me.” The lyrics are great. The song is really funny. They really did a great job of getting the humor, but there’s something really profound about it. Somewhat cheesy. I think really at the core of Caputo, because he’s a bit of a cheeseball, but I think there’s something at the core that’s really sensitive. I don’t watch the show, so my memories of everything are script form from a year ago.
You don’t watch the show at all?
I don’t watch, no. I’ve watched both premieres because I went to the premieres. But I’m not going to watch until we’re done — or at least I’m done.
Is there a reason for that?
I sort of like being in the blind. You know, sometimes you come on a TV show and you know what the show is and the vibe and it sort of influences you. With this, I didn’t know what they were going to do, and after the first season, when we were going into two, I knew before we premiered, I’m not going to watch it. I don’t particularly like watching myself, but I didn’t want that influence. I think it sort of moved into superstition at this point. I liked being inside it and approaching the character that I’m working with only the idea of what’s in front of me, or what I imagined.
Can you tell me about the film that you’ve written and directed?
The film is called The Wannabe and it takes place in the early ’90s. It’s a love story. It’s a very strange one. The lead character Thomas [played by Boardwalk Empire’s Vincent Piazza] is obsessed with becoming a gangster. He’s obsessed with gangster lore and gangster movies. He’s from the Bronx and he meets a gal from Queens. He is infatuated with John Gotti and attempts to get in his good graces by trying to fix the last Gotti trial. And then the film takes off from there in sort of this wild ride.
You’re in post-production now, right?
Yeah, we’re just finishing up the edit. I just finished a round of notes with our New York producer, who is Martin Scorsese, which is really, really exciting. I just did two rounds of notes with him. It’s been great to work with him and have his ear and his mind on this.
What have some of his notes been?
Some things are very specific where he’ll turn around and say, “Oh, that one shot, go five shots later. You’re in too early.” And you’ll watch and be like, five shots. Dang. Right on. So he’s very specific in one sense, and in others he’ll give you a general, “Do another pass, do another pass where you’re saying, ‘Okay, do I need this dialogue? Do I need that?’ Just a dialogue pass.”
Did Scorsese’s films influence you while you were writing the script?
The genre you can’t separate from Marty, and the film is a comment on the genre and its influence on popular culture. I think it’s why Marty was attracted to it. The lead character was a cinephile and a gangsterphile. That’s Marty’s M.O. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx, the world was infested with organized crime — although we didn’t consider it organized crime. We didn’t even consider it Mafia. It was just Uncle Frankie and next-door neighbor Gino. Everybody was just making money however they could. There’s a lot of filmmakers I love and I’m passionate about, but I think Marty pushes out the forefront of the genre. And there’s some older Italian stuff, a movie called Mafioso that was influential. And The Godfather, which became a way we spoke. We grew up quoting these movies like they were part of our language.