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OITNB’s Laura Prepon on Dancing to ‘Milkshake,’ Singing Meatloaf, and the Mystery of Real-Life Alex

Laura Prepon. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted on Monday afternoon, before Buzzfeed reported that Prepon would not be returning to the show as a series regular. Netflix has since weighed in by saying, “Our season is still developing and nothing is confirmed.” When we asked Prepon — who was in L.A. when we spoke to her pre-report — if she was returning to the show, she said, “Yeah, of course. It’s just scheduling. It’s all scheduling, girl.”

There’s a scene in Orange is the New Black where Piper asks Alex what their future might look like; Alex tells her she doesn’t know. “If you wanna have babies and remodel your bathroom, then please: go, do, nest,” she says. “But if you wanna do X on a beach in Cambodia with three strangers in drag … ” We know the route Piper took: She chose Larry. She wrote a book about her time spent in prison. It’s now a Jenji Kohan show on Netflix. But what about Alex? We don’t know! Real-life Alex hasn’t spoken up about the series, at least not publicly. And Laura Prepon, who plays the fictionalized version of her on the show, insists she hasn’t spoken to her privately, either.

Did Alex wind up on that beach in Cambodia? Is she happy? That we care about her fate at all is a testament to Kohan and Prepon’s nuanced take on her: Yes, she’s a drug dealer and the reason Piper is in prison — but she’s also a woman who came from nothing, who loved and lost, and who maybe got used, which is sad. We spoke to Prepon, also known for playing Donna on That 70s Show, about where she imagines Alex is today and why her character really isn’t all that bad.

You didn’t get to meet Alex before or during season one. Is she still MIA?
She is MIA, girl. I do not know where she is. And it’s kind of like … we don’t talk about the real Alex — I don’t know. I did want to meet her, but they were like, “That’s not possible.” So I don’t know where the hell she is.

Were you given any reason why it wasn’t possible?
I wasn’t, actually. Honestly, even though we’re based on the real people, the thing about our show is they really let us do our vision of these women. I know that I look nothing like the real Alex, whereas Taylor, you can see the resemblance between her and the real Piper. But also with Taylor, Jenji was like, “We’re doing your version of Piper. Don’t worry about trying to be Piper Kerman.”

I guess I’m asking less because I want to know how you used the real Alex as inspiration, and more because I feel this need to know where she is. We get the satisfaction of knowing where Piper is now, but not Alex.
I understand, totally. Trust me! But, yeah, that’s just not possible. [Laughs. 

Where do you imagine her today? In the scene where Alex and Piper are talking about whether or not you could have a future together, Alex says something like, “I’m good at moving large amounts of heroin.” Is that what she’s doing?
Honestly, whatever she’s doing, she’s definitely in a position of power. Because Alex is a power-hungry girl. She’s all about survival; she loves that whole [drug] world because she was in control of it. Wherever she can be, she wants to be in a position of power — and that’s also her relationship with Piper. We always talked [on set] about how I’m the spider and Piper’s the fly. Like when we were doing the strip scene and I was on the bed and she was dancing for me, we talked a lot about that scene and the director was like, “Listen, you do not go to her — she always comes to you.” But then Alex falls in love with this girl, and Piper really does a number on her, and Alex doesn’t know how to deal with it.

Alex comes off as being more loyal, more genuine in her love for Piper. And there’s this question of whether Piper is just using Alex and everyone.
Absolutely, and that’s what’s so cool about this show; you think it’s one thing and then you realize that’s not what’s actually happening. Like Piper actually manages and maneuvers her way through this prison world by being a manipulative person.

Alex and Nicky get together at the end of the season. Do you think they’re a better fit than Piper and Alex?
I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. You can’t control where your heart goes. Alex loves Piper. But I know that Alex and Nicky have a really cool relationship. It’s like in that bathroom scene when Alex says, “Same coin, different sides.” I honestly don’t know what they’ll do with it. We’ll see what happens. Natasha and I have a lot of chemistry.

Let’s talk about some of the happier Alex and Piper moments, like when they dance to “Milkshake.” Was that always the song you guys were going to dance to, and did you make the dance up yourselves?
It was always “Milkshake.” And there was a choreographer. Whatever you do — even if you’re doing a Square Dance — they have to bring in a dance choreographer, you know what I mean? So Taylor and I could have come up with a funny, retarded dance — sorry, I know I shouldn’t use that word — but most of the time, no matter what it is, you have to bring in a choreographer. So even though our dance looked very amateurish and funny, there was a choreographer.

I read that your family has a tradition of singing “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” around the holidays.
Oh, every time we get together. It’s our family anthem.

Have you brought any traditions like that to the set?
No, I mean, that’s honestly something that’s on such an epic level of the Prepon world. Like, I remember one of my best friends, I brought him to my aunt’s wedding in Jersey, and I had warned him, “Listen, at some point in the night, Meatloaf’s ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ is going to play — and we do a dance to it.” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.” At the end of the night, it was played. All the girls line up, all the guys line up. And we act out the song to each other. And he was literally standing to the side, his mouth agape, like, What the hell am I witnessing?

Is that a deal-breaker for you? Like, to be your friend, someone has to be able to roll with that?
Oh, absolutely. And also it’s whether I can date someone. My ex-boyfriend, I brought him to my sister’s wedding, and he was like listening to the song before the wedding. He was like, “I need to know all the words.” He was like studying the song, so when we got to the wedding he could be involved in the performance. It was hilarious.

Why is he your ex-boyfriend, then? He sounds like a keeper.
We’ll talk about that when we’re having a cocktail or something.

Right, when you actually know me. You’re also big into poker. Have you brought that to the set?
No. To be honest with you, I play with all guys. A couple of my girlfriends, I’ve taught them how to play. But they’re usually a little nervous to play in our game because it can be a little intimidating. Our poker table is eight guys and then I’m the ninth; I’m usually the only girl at the table.

How did you get involved in Neighbros, your web series?
The lead guy with the shaggy hair [Scott Michael Foster], that’s my ex-boyfriend.

The “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” ex-boyfriend?
Yeah. We’re still really good friends! We’re business partners; we have Neighbros together. When we were dating, we created it together. I direct it, I edit it, we write it together — it’s me, him, and our other friend Jaime [Jorn] — and it’s just this really fun thing we’d do on our free time. And it’s awesome and we actually just made it into a pilot; I directed the pilot. We’re shopping it around to people right now. It’s hard, because last year I was in prison all year [laughs], so it kind of makes it hard to do your extracurricular stuff. So when I’m not working, I try to focus on all of that stuff. Like I’m directing my first feature this year.

What’s your first feature?
The feature is based on my mother — she’s like this amazing, eccentric woman. It’s basically based on my upbringing in Jersey. It’s based on our relationship. It’s basically my Garden State.

I want to pull at this “guy friends” thread a little more, because you’ve said it before in other interviews. Why aren’t you more into having women friends? And is doing this show helping?
It’s weird. When I got into my later twenties, I did start acquiring a small group of tight-knit girls, and they’re all amazing and awesome, and I actually remember two years ago, I went and got a manicure with a girl — because usually I go with a guy and he gets a pedicure while I get a manicure — and I went with a girl, and I’m like, “Oh my God … this is what girls do! This is insane!” But I’ve realized how important it is to have women in your life. You get to a certain age where you’re like, I need women around.

Laura Prepon on the Mystery of Real-Life Alex