Orange Is The New Black

(left) Lorraine Toussaint and Samira Wiley

The wait is finally over for fans of the Netflix hit series Orange is the New Black, as locked-up ladies of Litchfield have burst back on the scene with a new season of drama. The Netflix breakout hit returned on June 6th, and fans have either bingewatched the entire season or began slowly savoring their way through the 13 new episodes.

Central to the show’s success are the nuanced portrayals of incarcerated Black women and a cast that is equally able to pull on viewers' heartstrings and make them cry with laughter. We caught up with the sisters of Orange, to get the scoop on Season 2, which will find certain friendships put to the test.

Lorraine Toussaint - Yvonne “Vee” Parker

New to the cast for Season 2, veteran character actress Lorraine Toussant joins Orange is the New Black to shake things up.  “Actually, I didn’t know as much about this role when I accepted it and actually thought she was going to be a very different kind of character.  But even initially, she seemed complex and Jenji’s writing left enough room for infusion of complexities.  And that’s always what I’m after.  To then have a sense of the shape of the premise of the show which is very much like an onion and you keep peeling away, peeling away, revealing something else, and it’s very much like life.  That’s one of things that attracted me to it was the possibility of complexity,” Toussaint said between takes at the abandoned children’s psychiatric hospital where the show tapes many of the prison scenes.  Fans of the show first saw Vee in promotional images staring down Litchfield’s Queen Mama Bee, Red, so fans knew that she was coming to stir up some trouble.

Toussaint says she doesn’t worry about falling into any racial tropes playing a Black woman in prison because, “My character could be any color and I really like that about her.  She’s an interesting archetypal character, with very classic ways in which she is wired and that has nothing to do with her being black, it just has to do with a particular kind of psychological makeup.”

 

Danielle Brooks - Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson

Fan favorite, Danielle Brooks' Taystee went through a lot in Season and may be one of the show's most polarizing characters.

Brooks’ character is seen by many as the comedic heart of the show, but some critics say she's mired in stereotypes.  In her trailer between takes and Beyonceé listening sessions, Brooks told me that she works diligently to find that middle space to maintain the characters humanity.  “It’s really tricky because that's the first thing I was nervous about when I received the role, is being a caricature.  Taystee isn’t malicious or mean, she has a light spirit to her so I knew that with the language and the intent, evident in the script, that she wasn’t something anyone had seen on screen before.”

She says, “It’s my job to have a secret that keeps Taystee interesting so it’s not a stereotype.  It would make my job harder if I didn’t have such great writing.  Taystee is in prison but she’s so intelligent; She loves the library; She’s really smart and talented but at the same time she’s come from this world that is the total opposite that we see on television often.”

And off camera the Brooks and the rest of the cast have become very active with Piper Kerman, the creative force and inspiration behind for the show, “I think this show has changed people’s opinions about women in prison.  We’ve been getting involved with the Women’s Prison Association...and we’re really starting to see how the prison industrial complex works.”

 

Samira Wiley - Poussey Washington

Season 2 will test the friendship of Taystee and Poussey Washington, a character whose backstory fans can look forward to learning about in Season 2.  Poussey has some of the show’s most memorable lines and was heralded as BuzzFeed’s most underrated character.

Many of the show’s most memorable moments were unscripted. For instance, in the first Season, Poussey quipped at a young girl in a wheelchair visiting with the Scared Straight program, who had started her own gang, “How many of y’all is it? Y’all just roll up on people?”  Washington says that line wasn’t in the script but that it just was her reacting in the moment. Hopefully, over the course of Season 2, as we explore Poussey’s backstory, fans will be treated to more of the Juilliard-trained actress’s range.

Washington who has a formidable presence on screen despite having a very quiet brilliance when we spoke between takes says about Orange’s layered characters, “All of us, just as human beings are nuanced people and being blessed with the writers that we are blessed with on the show, they are thinking ahead and aim to make characters that people can connect with and see themselves in.  People can look at a character and say that’s my mom, or that’s my sister, or that’s my cousin..This show in particular is about not sugarcoating.”

She says the evolution of her character has allowed her to see Poussey in a different light: “In the beginning, I saw more of myself in the character but now that we are in Season 2, and now that the character is getting rounded down to learn out exactly who she is and where her loyalties lie, you then see less of yourself in your character.”

 

Vicky Jeudy - Janae Watson

Vicky Jeudy says she knows that she could be any of the characters imprisoned at Litchfield prison but for different choices, and a little bit of luck.  “But for the grace of God go I," she says. "We all makes mistakes and the characters on the show weren’t lucky enough to get a second chance.”  Janae’s backstory, explored in Season 1, shows that anyone can end up in prison.  “Janae just made some bad choices,” says Jeudy.  The character lands herself in the federal penitentiary after getting mixed up with a bad crowd during college after getting into school on a full track and field scholarship.

 

Adrienne Moore - Black Cindy

Adrienne Moore  says that the show has opened many eyes to the problem of mass incarceration, particularly in communities of color.  “In the beginning, all of that was sort of this distant idea and thing you heard about and things that you would watch on television. But having the show and having a different bird’s eye view has made it more intimate and more visceral and it’s made me more sensitive to the whole process.”

Moore says that figuring out what made her character tick comes from her love of people watching.  “I was always a people watcher.  I think that you have to look at it in terms of people who I grew up around.  They all have this depth.  It’s a microcosm of the larger part of the world.  These people are just like you and me.”

The women in Litchfield are just like the rest of us says Moore, “We have our emotions and our feelings and our dreams and in the pursuit of wanting that thing we did something that landed us in prison.  And through that process we are learning even more things through the people on the show that we interact with.”

Black Cindy is often compared to Taystee but she has her own things going on.  Moore says, “Black Cindy is like a big sister to Taystee.  As we progress through Season 2, you’ll see the friendships between the black women on the show do have a big impact on the outcome of the entire season because it impacts all of the communities in the prison.”