The Austin Television Festival opened their third season last Friday with a screening of Orange is the New Black, which also premiered the night before on Netflix. Following the screening, I spoke to Uzo Aduba (who plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren), Lea DeLaria (Carrie “Big Boo” Black), and Danielle Brooks (Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson) at a small roundtable interview session. Here’s what I learned from these three amazingly close and friendly ladies:
[After I introduced myself as being from Pajiba]
Lea DeLaria: Pajiba? I’m not going to say it.
[On what the audience can expect from season two of Orange is the New Black]
Uzo Aduba: Deeper. The show itself certainly goes deeper into the walls of Litchfield. I think we do, literally, go deeper. We were reminded why we’re there, why we’ve been brought into the world of the prison. The story itself gets deeper in touch with the whole background layers of all the characters on the show and really invite us to understand the makeup of some of these women, what it is that brought them to this place, some of the times, long before they ended up in prison.
DeLaria: Also I would say darker. It’s a little darker.
Danielle Brooks: But it’s still a comedy.
DeLaria: Absolutely. Dramedy, we’re in a dramedy. That goes without saying. You see that the first episode of this season has a darkness to it. It’s still funny but it has a darkness to it. That carries through the whole season.
Aduba: There’s that balance that [creator] Jenji [Kohan] is always able to strike, keeping that we are in a prison, we understand that piece, but the levity that she brings in, as she says so well, the color by stepping outside of the prison to keep that comedy and that joy, that light of having characters, like Taystee, continue to bring that light into the prison as well. And Big Boo as well.
DeLaria: She seems to always know when to drop the funny line. When it reaches a point where the tension is there. For me, the screwdriver episode, perfect. The tension’s there, the music’s there, you see Boo looking at it, and you think, “Someone’s going to die,” and instead…
Brooks: I should be in tears right now, but you’re starting to laugh. When you see Taylor [Schilling] in episode one, she’s sitting besides Lori Petty and she’s crying and you start to feel for her. Then you’re like, “Wait, this is kinda funny.” Am I supposed to laugh?
DeLaria: How they try to remain human in this really dehumanizing situation, which I find really interesting. As you’re enjoying the show, [Piper] has to pee in front of this guard. How? What? That’s dehumanizing. That’s weird. While it’s being funny and it’s doing all of that, it’s also making those points about what happens to people in a cage.
[On what drew them to their characters]
DeLaria: I’ve been around a lot longer than these girls. I’m drawn to a steady paycheck, honey.
Brooks: When I auditioned, Jennifer Euston, the casting director, said to me before I started, “Your character’s light. She’s not malicious in any way,” because the language used [in that scene] is the opposite of that. “You in my shower, get out,” that first scene with Piper in season one, “You got these nice titties.” It’s intimidating. She reminded me she’s light. That’s exactly how I was going to play it already, so I was like, I’m in the same world. It’s sometimes very hard as an actor when you’re auditioning to figure out which world that they are trying to create, because half the time, they don’t even know. When she said that, I was like, I align with this, I know this girl.
Aduba: I auditioned for another role initially, but when I heard I was playing this part and I read the script, it felt like the right fit for me. What attracted me to it, when I was going to work, was, one: When I read it, it just felt like a love story to me. OK, she does all these sort of superficial things that are happening on top that might play crazy, I’m crazy. We could do that, but it felt underneath like this woman, her only objective in this is love, is to get love. She is not trying to do anything. There’s nothing comical in her mind about what she’s doing. She’s serious when she writes this poem, I don’t know what sun looking like a yellow grape means but I know that means something very real to her.
When I first started, the script had this description of her that said, “She’s innocent like a child, except children aren’t scary.” I thought that has so much information inside of it and was interesting to try and figure out how can someone be childlike and terrifying? Because children aren’t entirely pure and trying to find and negotiate that balance, those two worlds.
[On developing the other characters this season and whether it’s because of the fans or not]
DeLaria: Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s because of fans. I want to be blunt: Jenji, no fucks given. Jenji does what Jenji wants to do and Jenji is not shy about saying that. Jenji and all the writers feel that this is a huge ensemble cast and that’s where they want this show to be. I think that’s been more the decision rather than the fans. There are plenty things that fans have said they wanted to see that they’re not doing. Honestly, for me, I had to trust that Jenji knows her shit. She’s show business royalty. She’s been doing this a long time, and she doesn’t make flops. It’s that simple. When I was reading a scene, when it was in a different direction, I just had to let go of the old showbiz bullshit, which it sits in your head for so long. I’d let go of it and go and trust. Trust in Jenji. Trust in Jenji and she’s right.
Brooks: I think it’s a combination of everything, from Netflix giving the creative freedom to Jenji and her writers, to that trickling down to the actors having our freedom to play and then the audience just taking it, you know? And finding and relating it to themselves if they’re finding relatable moments with every one of our characters.
Aduba: The show itself has a sort of Charles Dickens-like quality in bringing in so many different characters that can be supported. I think the brilliance of our writers is that they’re able to have so many balls in the air and they successfully are able to manage them and keep them all in play in a really beautiful way. Jenji said, “Because of the structure of Netflix, how we view the television series in itself, a character who you are introduced to in episode one and went that way, you can bring them back very quickly four episodes later. Because the way in which we consume the show you can bring those people back in.” The way that they’ve been able to do that easily, and without much effort. Hat tip to both Netflix and Jenji.
Nadia Chaudhury got a New York City high-five from Lea DeLaria, who lives in Brooklyn.