Please be advised: For this interview, we talked to Taylor Schilling about the second season of Orange Is the New Black, from top to bottom. As such, there are spoilers galore.
Call Piper selfish all you want. How could she not be? By the time we reach the end of Orange Is the New Black’s second season, the onetime organic-soap-maker has been betrayed by her ex-girlfriend, has realized her old life is an awkward fit, and has suffered through what we can all agree is the worst confession of all time (when her fiancé and best friend tell her they’re boning). Of course she also manages to get some measure of revenge, by figuring out a way to bring her self-serving ex Alex back behind bars. The way Piper chooses to survive prison is a singular ride (often a train-wreck-y one) that we never want to end. During a filming break on OITNB’s third season, Taylor Schilling chatted with Vulture about the Laura Prepon drama, all of Piper’s uncomfortable outbursts, and how she feels about the show competing as a comedy in the Emmy race. But first, a word about those cigarette-running roaches of Chicago.
Were those cockroaches real? They looked real.
Yes, and they were really big. I don’t know what they did to make them that big, but they were cockroaches on steroids. I tried to peek when they were on set, but I couldn’t handle it. Did I even touch them? I don’t remember.
I don’t think so.
Right, right. In the scene, I didn’t end up having to touch it. So, so yucky.
Series creator Jenji Kohan has repeatedly referred to Piper as Orange’s “gateway drug,” her means to selling a show about women of different colors, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Did you talk to her about what that meant for you heading into the second season?
Not really. We just talked about how the show has always at its heart been an ensemble piece. It’s a window into the lives of these very different women, and that was always the context in which the stories were being told.
I thought Jenji might be saying Piper would be less of a focus.
It was a little bit of a concern, but ... [Pause.] I don’t know. I trust Jenji.
In any case, this season begins with an all-Piper episode, picking up after she’s been transferred to another prison for reasons that aren’t exactly clear in the beginning.
She’s been through such a trauma with what happened between her and Pennsatucky last season, so it was really important to follow through with it and see how that played out in her head.
You have that great scene in the plane where Piper’s unravelling before another inmate because she thinks she might have killed Pennsatucky. That was super uncomfortable to watch.
It was a super-intense thing to shoot, and at the same time, pretty seamless, because there was so much logic to what was happening. It made a lot of emotional sense, and almost happened quite naturally.
Laura Prepon’s uncertain future on the show was an ongoing news story for months while you shot the second season. What was that like for you, given how tied Piper’s story is to Alex?
I love working with both Jason [Biggs] and Laura, so when all that stuff was happening and we weren’t sure — I wasn’t sure what was happening. I just missed her. I missed having her to work with. I was really happy when that all got resolved. Actually, it got squared away pretty quickly.
So you knew she’d be back, and when, and for how long?
Yeah, there was almost no lag time thinking she was gone. I would not have been able to handle [her leaving]. Alex is a really important element to Piper’s story. It’s not a part of her life that can be left open-ended. That woman is a foundational part of who she is.
How did you feel when you found out that Piper was initially the other woman in Alex’s life?
It made sense that it started in this place of deceit. It was not bred honestly, and I guess you can see how that laid the foundation for everything that followed. It wasn’t surprising.
What we’ve known of Piper is that she hasn’t been all that comfortable with lies — it’s why she’s in prison. But something changes by the end of the season.
Yeah, at the end of the season, she’s a little bit more in a place of getting what she feels like she needs and wants at any cost. There’s a little bit more of a “fuck it” attitude. She’s spent her entire life trying to be a good girl, please people, even unwittingly, and that identity is getting stripped further and further and further in prison. And the longer she’s in there, the less she has to lose.
Alex deserves some payback, anyway.
Totally. There’s totally an element of Piper going, “Watch me hold my ground now.”
She comes to a lot of those realizations when she gets furlough and goes back home.
That is when the shift starts to happen: going back home, seeing what life was. She finds out that it isn’t who she is anymore. Piper’s really lost her place in that world, and we see her more alone than we ever have. I think that’s terrifying, and at the same time there’s a freedom and a liberation in experiencing that none of the old ways work anymore. Maybe prison is where she fits. Maybe it is her home.
On the other hand, when the other inmates resent it when Piper is granted furlough, she explodes in a rant that starts, “Yes! I am white … I guess white privilege wins again. And as a speaker for the entire white race, I would like to say I am sorry that you guys got the raw deal.”
I know, I know. [Laughs.]
Well, thank God this cast is so amazing. Thank God we’re so comfortable because, you know, Piper’s doing her best. She’s really doing her best, but I don’t know that the way she articulates herself is always the best. That was another intense scene to shoot. There was pie-throwing in it. Uzo [Aduba] threw all this pie at my head. It was a lot. We weren’t really hugging between takes on that one, but everyone was really supportive afterwards, like, “You did it.” [Laughs.] “Way to go.” The show really asks us to do a lot of crazy shit, that included.
I laugh-squirmed. What do you think about the show competing in the Emmys as a comedy?
I don’t think the show is a comedy, and I don’t think it’s a drama, so I get the dilemma. I can also really understand it skewing toward comedy more than drama? It’s hard to say unequivocally, but it probably lives in that world a little more.
The journalist who asks Piper to help him investigate the corruption at Litchfield sort of drops out of the story before the end of the season. Fig’s resignation seems like it would raise flags. Do you think he’ll be back?
Absolutely. It’s interesting story-wise to start to expose different things that are happening within the prison. I’m curious about it. I don’t know what they’ll do with him, but I think it’s such a valuable exploration.
I know you have to run, but was it just me, or was Piper wearing a little more makeup in prison by the end of the season?
Really? That was not supposed to be happening.
Just me, then.
[Laughs.] That was a boo-boo, and that is something we should not talk about.