Photography by Amanda Friedman. Above: from left, the cast of Orange Is the New Black: Lea Delaria, Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Uzo Aduba, and Laverne Cox.
Last summer, the breakout series Orange Is the New Black legitimized Netflix as a formidable source of original programming. But the prison drama, created by Weeds’s Jenji Kohan, also showcased one of television’s most diverse, complex, and three-dimensional female casts in recent history, including a number of LGBTQ standouts. The show quickly revealed itself as more than a clever, absurd peep behind the walls of Litchfield Correctional Facility; it was a gripping, often heartrending examination of class, gender, race, politics, and the struggle to find some remnant of freedom, even on the “inside.”
The first season of OITNB — which recently claimed a 2013 Peabody Award and scored multiple awards nominations for its outstanding writing and acting — left viewers breathless with its bone-chilling cliffhanger finale, in which Piper (Taylor Schilling) finally loses control, attacking her fellow inmate and nemesis in a dark, snow-covered jail yard. Expectations are huge for the second season, which premieres June 6. But before we let the binge-watching commence, we caught up with some of the show’s beloved stars.
After finishing shooting season 2 of Orange Is the New Black as trans inmate Sophia Burset, Cox returned to writing her memoir and traveling the country on a college speaking tour. She’s also coproducing the forthcoming documentary Free CeCe, about the imprisonment of trans activist CeCe McDonald and the culture of violence surrounding trans women of color. “A lot of the social justice work I do keeps me grounded,” Cox says. “It’s now my job to amplify trans issues for those
who can't speak. I need to do this for them.”
Since competing on the first season of VH1’s I Want to Work for Diddy in 2008, Cox has had to get used to discussing transgender issues with the press, for better or for worse. “I am so sick of talking about my transition,” she says. “It’s about so much more than that. It’s about being authentically who we are — which is true for everyone.” — Liz Shannon Miller
Dress by Frock. Mecklace by Nanis. Cuff by Charles Albert. Hair: Ryan Randall/Margaret Maldonado. Makeup: Liz Zaretsky/Exclusive Artists MGT.
During her first months at Litchfield, Schilling’s character, the WASP-y new inmate Piper Chapman, had to chase a chicken, viciously beat down a fellow convict, and impersonate Michael Jackson. “If you’re female, blonde, and 25, there are a lot of girlfriend and wife parts, and I love that,” Schilling says. “But now I feel like I have more of a place at the table. I’ve really been given a part to play.”
For Schilling, Piper’s bisexuality (her onscreen fiancé is played by Jason Biggs, her prison love interest by Laura Prepon) is just one aspect of the role. “The inner logic of it is not that complicated — you fall in love with different people at different times,” says Schilling, who’s currently shooting a “small movie” with actor-director Mark Duplass. Though she’s tight-lipped about the details of the series’ second season, she will say this much: “I feel like the show develops a lot — everyone's voice becomes more solid. I really feel like those girls are my family. We head someplace together.” — Liz Shannon Miller
Dress by Teca Help Rocha. Necklace by Charles Albert. Sandals by Calvin Klein. Hair: Rob Talty/Magnet. Makeup: Rachel Goodwin/The Wall Group.
A “professional lesbian for 30 years” is how DeLaria, beloved by OITNB fans as the crass but wounded Big Boo, describes herself. Punch line: “Before then, I was freelance. I was never in the closet.”
The versatile comedian, actor, and singer has been busy writing a new comedy special, due later this year, as well as recording a covers album of David Bowie songs (working title: House of David: DeLaria + Bowie = Jazz). “In the showbiz world, if you’re like me — short hair, fat, butch, Italian, loud — you're up against a lot of obstacles,” she says. “So it’s a good idea to know how to do a lot of things…because you're going to need all of them to pay your rent.” But perhaps the biggest development in DeLaria’s life since OITNB premiered is the reaction she’s been getting from teenage boys. “They used to stop me on the street to spit at me,” she says. “Now they come up and hug me and say, ‘Big Boo is my favorite character.’ ” She pauses to reflect for a moment before adding, “She’s kind of like a teenage boy. So am I. A teenager in a suit.” — Liz Shannon Miller
Suit by Saint Harridan. Shoes by Dr. Martens. Grooming: Cooper/Exclusive Artists MGT.
Aduba would like to remind you that her OITNB character’s given name is Suzanne. But you probably know her as Crazy Eyes, the erratic, Shakespeare-quoting Litchfield lothario who scornfully urinates in front of Piper’s bunk after her advances are quashed. “I didn't think she was crazy,” Aduba says. “I thought she was misunderstood, someone passionately and deeply in love.” Luckily for her, the challenge of humanizing Crazy Eyes has proven successful: Aduba, who cut her teeth on Broadway (in 2007’s Coram Boy and 2011’s Godspell revival), was upgraded to series regular for the second season. The role has also involved some unorthodox research. “I didn't know what ‘daggering’ was,” Aduba says of one raunchy scene with Lea DeLaria. “I found it on YouTube and my jaw hit the floor.” In 2011, the pair starred together in the ancient Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. Two years later, they were dry-humping and simulating cunnilingus, egged on by a ring of hysterical female inmates. “Anything’s possible in the show,” Aduba says. “You can’t assume to know the order of things, because that’s not how prison works. The rules change every second, every minute, by the day.” — Mike Berlin
Blouse by Blaque Label. Pants by Banana Republic. Necklace by Nicole Meng. Shoes by Jimmy Choo. Hair: Jamika Wilson/Epiphany Agency. Makeup: Jessica Smalls/Epiphany Agency. All styling by Wyman Chang.
“Men never ask me out,” says Prepon. “I have an established career, I work, I support myself. And I find that it scares men, whereas women love it.” Perhaps these men and women are respectively repelled by and drawn to the ball-busting TV tomboys Prepon is best known for playing. Her role as the brash Donna on the hit sitcom That ’70s Show put her on the map, but that character seems cookie-cutter compared to OITNB’s Alex Vause, a seductive, drug-smuggling convict who toys with her ex and fellow inmate, Piper, one smoldering glance at a time. The endless psychosexual struggle between them is one of the series’ raciest, most engrossing story lines — it’s even pushed Prepon’s boundaries at times. “Nothing is taboo for Jenji [Kohan],” she says. “There are definitely some weeks where you read the script and are like, ‘Whoa, we’re going to have sex in a church.’ But it’s amazing. You do it, and afterward you’re really proud.” Prepon is equally proud of her newly minted lesbian sex symbol status, though the attention isn’t without complications. “One of my best friends is the manager of the Abbey, which is the biggest gay bar in L.A.,” she says. “I can’t go there. I used to, but I can't.” — Mike Berlin
Dress by That's Thefft. Sandals by Calvin Klein. Hair: Campbell McCauley/Solo Artists. Makeup: Spencer Barnes/Solo Artists.