Spoilers ahead for those who have not finished the second season of Orange Is the New Black.
Not that Lorraine Toussant went Method to play Red’s prison rival Vee, but she did scare the bejesus out of Kate Mulgrew. “Lorraine is Juilliard-trained and absolutely becomes the part, a real psychopath. I really felt as though I was running for my own life, trying desperately to save myself,” Mulgrew laughed. High praise considering the Orange Is the New Black co-stars have known each other for decades. Mulgrew and Toussaint became friends years ago, while Toussant was doing plays at Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum under the creative direction of Mulgrew’s then-husband. Vulture chatted with Mulgrew about their reunion, Red’s new crew of older ladies (the Golden Girls!), and the secret to perfect mashed potatoes.
Lorraine told me the first time you guys saw each other on set is when Red and Vee first see each other in the hallway.
It was a Clint Eastwood moment. It should’ve been in slo-mo, the two of us were pulling our guns out.
It had been years, right?
Years. At the last moment, it turns into this embrace, which was unsettling and unexpected. Scary. You have to understand, from my point of view, particularly at this stage in the game, that’s one of the great joys in life — to be partnered with somebody who’s going to give you every conceivable kind of surprise. We have a lot of young kids on this series, and they’re marvelous and full of life, many of them spectacularly talented, but there’s something to be said for two old broads going at it, wouldn’t you say?
Once you find out their history, the hug, in retrospect, is creepy.
Keep your enemies close, right? Red knows how dangerous she is. That’s the essence of their relationship. She had her girls beat the shit out of me in the kitchen years ago, and then she tries to kill me twice more! It was terrible, wasn’t it?
Very. It’s a serious rivalry. They’re not frenemies.
Jenji Kohan created a tribal warfare, didn’t she? When I watched that, I thought, Oh my God. But of course that’s exactly what would happen in the prison. These women don’t give a damn about anything except their tribes, their clans, their survival.
Red’s new crew, the Golden Girls, were particularly scary.
They’ve been to every rodeo under the sun. That’s why it worked so beautifully. This demographic that is overlooked time and again because it’s so unsexy. That certainly does not imply that it’s uninteresting. They’ve shanked and they’ve murdered, and they’re in my greenhouse planting little pots of oregano [laughs].
Did you like moving to the greenhouse? It’s outdoors, at least.
Well, I constantly missed the kitchen, because the kitchen is a metaphor for food, and food is life. I missed the richness and the complexity of the kitchen and what it represented to me. But the greenhouse in many ways is almost as beautiful. I would say what Red loves, and what’s given to Red to love, are things that are life-inducing and life-affirming: the kitchen and the greenhouse, where things grow. I think it’s in Red’s nature and disposition to nurture and develop. [She slips into Red’s Russian accent] Of course if there happens to be a grate in the floor and there happens to be a tunnel and contraband can come through, then what the hell?
We still don’t know what Red did to land in prison, but her contraband is benign.
Red is very, very strategic, but never evil. It’s never bad. The contraband is benign, it’s loving, it’s food and girl stuff.
Speaking of, I heard you hosted Thanksgiving for the cast. You cooked?
Oh, I can cook anything, I love cooking. I never went to culinary school, but I’ve cooked with passion certainly ever since my children were born. It’s therapeutic to me, it’s creative. There’s no dish I won’t attack. But I’m not a baker, I’m a cook.
Baking is a whole other thing.
It’s a different sensibility. It’s so flour-y. You need rolling pins and all that weird stuff. I don’t want to get in to all that flour. I’m much more interested in the meat and the sauce and the onions!
What was on the menu?
Two or three different stuffings. Turkey and Virginia ham. Some wonderful vegetables. I made my famous creamed spinach. Did I do a bread pudding with bourbon sauce? Hmm, I’m not sure. It was very traditional because everyone wants to sit down and have turkey and dressing and gravy. That’s what Thanksgiving is. When you get into a lot of fancy stuff for Thanksgiving, I always think, I don’t know about that. I think I want some dark meat and a big pot of mashed potatoes. Oh, my potatoes! They were disguised as “potatoes,” but they were actually butter.
What did you think of Lorraine doing nudity? She said you both had a laugh about the non-nudity riders in your contracts.
I was really surprised when I saw that. I didn’t think she was going to do that! I don’t recall our conversation about it, but I do think I said to her, “I don’t think nudity is for me.” She did say to me at the press junket the other day, “There was no way around it if I were to truly be Vee.” In a way I understood her, because if she had the sheet drawn up to her neck or grabbed a robe, it wouldn’t make sense. She’s a psychopath, she just slept with her own son, her own adopted son, and then sent him out to be shot. I think the baring of those breasts, which are no longer young, was her way of saying, “I don’t give a fuck about anything.” And it’s the absolute indifference that is the greatest sociopathic trait. Let it all hang out, baby, I’m gonna pull the trigger on you.
Vee did her own dirty work when it came to Red, though. It got really physical between you two.
I did a series called Voyager where I was the captain of a starship, I’ve worked with the best stuntmen and really learned stunts. I have no fear of them, and I have great physical dexterity. I understand how to fall, how to knife, how to hit and be hit. The scene near the end on the dock in the rain was particularly intense and riveting. These two middle-aged women truly, desperately intending to kill one another, and then ending up laughing. The laughter of what? Was it resignation? I don’t know. I think it’s the laughter of some kind of cosmic relief.
I wanted Red to strangle her.
Red is not a killer; Vee is. [Back in Red’s accent] Denise, I couldn’t do it.
Do you binge-watch the show?
I binged it strategically, as Red would. A couple a day. I need to be able to sit down and really have the time. I don’t want to be answering the phone or looking at a script. I must say I was very pleased. I thought it was every bit as good as the first season.
How did you feel about Vee’s death at the end?
That was surprising! But when I talked to Lorraine, she was super coy about it. She said Vee got “less dead” as they were filming.
No, she’s dead. [Laughs.] When your eyes are wide-open and glazed over like that? I thought what was absolutely so gorgeous about that was Miss Rosa transforming back into the Rose of her youth. Wasn’t that just the most moving thing?
I may have teared up. How did Red’s look come about? Did you have any say in it?
I helped design the original thing, but Jenji also had in her mind what she wanted. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever argued with her, but I had long, thick, nice brown hair when I started. I went home with one inch of it sticking up from my head in a magenta color. My boyfriend just ran in horror. That’s the way it goes, baby!