Orange is the New Black
's fourth season is here! Before you sit down to binge-watch, get to know Piper, Alex, and Crazy Eyes even better with these facts about what goes on behind the scenes of Litchfield Penitentiary.
1. COMPETITION FOR THE RIGHTS TO PIPER KERMAN'S MEMOIR WAS STIFF.
Jenji Kohan, who was already well-known for creating Weeds, read Piper Kerman's memoir and thought it would be perfect for a TV show adaptation. According to Kohan:
"I'm always looking for those places where you can slam really disparate people up against one another, and they have to deal with each other. There are very few crossroads anymore. We talk about this country as this big melting pot, but it's a mosaic. There's all these pieces, they're next to each other, they're not necessarily mixing. And I'm looking for those spaces where people actually do mix—and prison just happens to be a terrific one."
Kohan wasn’t the only one who wanted to adapt it. She had to call Kerman and “beg” her for the rights. Kerman was particularly impressed with Kohan’s devotion to telling the story properly as “she asked [her] question after question after question.”
2. KOHAN ALWAYS HAD BIG PLANS FOR THE SHOW'S OTHER CHARACTERS.
Kohan knew that Piper (played by Taylor Schilling) would appeal to network execs, but she wanted to go much deeper than that story. "In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse,” said Kohan. “You're not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it's a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially.”
3. THE REAL-LIFE ALEX VAUSE HAS SPOKEN OUT ABOUT WHAT REALLY WENT DOWN.
Catherine Wolters, the inspiration for Alex, has claimed that the show gets a lot wrong when it comes to Alex and Piper's relationship. The two had already been involved in the trafficking business long before they met each other, according to Wolters. She also said that their relationship definitely didn’t carry over to prison, where they only spent around five weeks in the same facility. But, Wolters admitted that making the show about their real relationship would be “so wretched and stinky, it would quite possibly result in a collapsed universe. So I guess it’s a good thing Piper and Jenji stick with the fun little tidbits.”
4. LAURA PREPON ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR PIPER.
Jennifer Euston, the show’s casting director, and Kohan agreed that Prepon was too composed and confident to play neurotic Piper. They didn’t believe that the audience would worry for her in the role. From then on, the two designed Alex around Prepon—including the character’s glasses and black hair.
5. UZO ADUBA WAS OFFERED THE ROLE OF "CRAZY EYES" ON THE SAME DAY SHE DECIDED TO QUIT ACTING.
Uzo Aduba also auditioned for a different role before she was offered the part of Crazy Eyes. The former Boston University sprinter (and marathoner) came in and read for Janae Watson, the track star. Frustrated that she hadn't heard back, she decided to quit acting and go to law school instead. Little did she know that Kohan thought she’d be perfect for a different part: the very same day she "quit" acting, Aduba was offered the part of Crazy Eyes.
6. ADUBA TAPS INTO HER INNER CHILD TO PLAY CRAZY EYES.
In the first script, Aduba claimed that Crazy Eyes was described as “innocent like a child, except children aren’t scary.” She used that description to develop her character’s distinctive persona and mannerisms. As Aduba put it, “That felt like the key to the door that might open this character because someone who is innocent like a child, to me, meant somebody who operates out of impulse … who acts and then thinks. Children don’t have agendas. They’re not calculating.”
7. TARYN MANNING RESEARCHED DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS GROUPS TO PLAY PENNSATUCKY.
Taryn Manning watched a number of documentaries about religious groups, including Jesus Camp and The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. She also spent time studying YouTube videos of faith healing and other evangelist rituals.
8. KERMAN CONTINUES TO GIVE NOTES FOR THE SHOW.
Though they've deviated from the stories Kerman recounts in her memoir, Kohan still looks to her for advice. According to the showrunner, “She gives notes, mostly about accuracy. You know, ‘I don’t think that would happen.’ And she comes to set for visits, which must be strange for her. But she’s really kind of trusted us with her baby and we really, completely took off from where she started.”
9. THE WRITERS VISITED A REAL WOMEN'S PRISON.
Kohan and her writing staff paid a visit to California's Chino Prison. Kohan also spoke with the prison’s warden, who explained how social groups tend to form in both men's and women’s prisons. He told her that, generally speaking, women are more communal and seek out groups, rather than spend time alone.
10. REGINA SPEKTOR WROTE THE THEME SONG SPECIFICALLY FOR THE SHOW.
Regina Spektor and Kohan had already collaborated a couple of times. (Spektor did a cover of “Little Boxes” for the opening of an episode of Weeds.) Because of their solid working relationship, Kohan reached out to her and asked if she’d write the theme song for Orange Is the New Black. In order to write it, Spektor was sent a few unfinished episodes in the middle of filming season one. She has said that seeing the characters come to life helped her put together a finished version of the song.
11. THOSE ARE REAL FORMER PRISONERS IN THE OPENING CREDITS.
Kohan hired non-actresses to pose for the opening credit sequence—all of them formerly incarcerated women. In order to get the right facial expressions, the women were asked to visualize three things: “a peaceful place,” “a person who makes you laugh,” and finally, “something that you want to forget.”
12. THE COSTUME DESIGNER HAS TO GET CREATIVE.
Costume designer Jennifer Rogien has described the job of dressing the inmates as “a creative challenge.” She must use real prison uniforms—either orange or beige—without altering anything too dramatically, unless the alterations are things a prisoner could have done herself. Rogien has to rely on subtle touches that serve to set the characters apart, such as rolled sleeves or hems. Her time to really shine comes during the flashback scenes, set in various decades and places. Rogien sees those as an opportunity to not only define the characters, but to “highlight the contrast between the world inside and the world outside.”
13. THERE'S AN AMERICAN PIE REFERENCE IN THE PILOT.
Given that both Jason Biggs and Natasha Lyonne were in American Pie, the writers couldn’t resist sneaking in a reference or two. In the pilot, Biggs's Larry complains to Piper that he tells her everything: "The webcam horror, the penis shaving incident ...," which are both things that happened to his character, Jim, in the 1999 comedy. In a later episode, Lyonne’s Nicky tells Red, “I thought I was, like, your Spock.” This is a nod to Kate Mulgrew's stint playing Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.
14. LAVERNE COX'S BROTHER PLAYS SOPHIA PRE-TRANSITION.
Cox's twin brother, musician M. Lamar, stepped in to play a pre-transition Sophia in one episode. The casting director auditioned a ton of actors before she discovered that Cox even had a twin. "She insisted that he should audition for the role," Cox said. "He auditioned, and he got the part."
15. JODIE FOSTER HAS DIRECTED TWO EPISODES.
It was Jodie Foster who pursued the gig. After reading the book, she asked her agent if she could somehow get involved. The Oscar winner ended up directing the third episode in season one and the season two pilot.
16. THE CAST AND CREW LIKE WORKING ON A SHOW THEY KNOW PEOPLE WILL EVENTUALLY BINGE-WATCH.
The people behind Orange Is the New Black are well aware that you’re going to binge-watch their show, and they've even adapted their production process accordingly. For instance, Kohan doesn't worry as much about writing each character into every single episode because she knows that the audience doesn’t have to wait a full week for the next installment featuring their favorites.
From a professional standpoint, Schilling enjoys knowing that the audience is binge-watching her. "As an actor doing regular TV, if there's a really special scene you did, in like episode five or eight, this way the people are more likely to see it, rather than drop out after a month and miss it," she said. "It's more like theater in terms of immediacy and rapid response, and gratification for the actors."
17. LITCHFIELD IS A REAL PLACE—BUT ITS WOMEN'S PRISON IS NOT.
The show is set in Litchfield Penitentiary in upstate New York—however, there's no women's prison in the real Litchfield. (In real life, Kerman served her time at FCI Danbury in Danbury, Connecticut.)
18. LORRAINE TOUSSAINT HAD NO IDEA VEE WAS GOING TO BE SO EVIL.
Lorraine Toussaint didn’t meet Kohan until her very first day on set, when she decided to pick the showrunner's brain about Vee, inmate she was about to play. “I had some basic questions I needed answered so I could at least finish out that first day,” Toussaint later recalled. “Somewhere in the conversation was an ‘Oh, by the way, she’s a sociopath.’ I said, ‘Huh? Really? Um …’ and she said, ‘Oh, yes, a bona-fide, complete and absolute sociopath.’ I thought, Oh! I wish I had known that! I might have thought twice about this.”
19. FILMING VEE'S ATTACK ON RED WAS CHALLENGING.
The actresses in that scene have cited it as one of the most difficult to film. In order for the scene to work, Kate Mulgrew had to be harnessed to a heavy camera so that Toussaint could also be in the shot and get very close to her face. As Mulgrew explained, “You can easily be hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing, and this was perilously close.”
All images courtesy of Netflix.