We're in a hotel room in central London, waiting to interview the cast of Orange Is the New Black and ask them your questions. After 10 minutes, a pile of croissants arrives.
We're confused. We did not ask for croissants. Nobody did. The hotel assistant doesn't care. They just need a signature for the damn croissants. So our art director, Tim, signs for them and we abandon them in the corner.
Then Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, and Danielle Brooks enter the room. (Natasha Lyonne and Taylor Schilling were interviewed separately later.) It now smells like a pleasant French bakery. And Laverne goes straight for the croissants – turns out they're hers. She ordered them especially to our room because she knew she was heading there. And she's now tucking into them, hiding them when we ask her your questions. And here those questions are...
If you could talk to your character and give them advice, what advice would you give? –Sam, via email.
Laverne Cox (Sophia): What advice would I give my character? Well, I would start with, I think it was Season 3 when she got into it with Gloria, I was like, "Do not fight with Gloria [Selenis Leyva]. Do not alienate the Latinas because it will screw you, girl." Because that was the beginning of all of the downward spiral that lead Sophia into getting assaulted, and basically not having anybody by her side.
Danielle Brooks (Taystee): I think I would say to Taystee... She got out of prison in Season 1, so in Season 1, I would say: "You have all the tools you need." And that's what I would tell her. I would let her know: "You know more than you think you do."
And I would just encourage her to stay out of prison... but I'm glad she's in prison, don't get me wrong. It keeps me having a job. [laughs]
Uzo Aduba (Suzanne): If I had to tell Suzanne one thing I would probably tell her to continue to be yourself, and that you are enough.
Natasha Lyonne (Nicky): Keep your nose clean, kid! What about you? [looking at Taylor]. You're like, "Don't be a fucking white supremacist, that's my advice." [laughs].
Taylor Schilling (Piper): I think my advice would be to listen. Really listen.
How many boxes of tissues will I need to watch the next season? –KatByrdie
TS: Three? Four?
NL: That's quite a good amount.
The flashbacks in some episodes give us an insight into your character's background. Does that help you? –David, via email.
NL: I learnt so much from Nicky's backstory, particularly her situation with her mother, the kind of drug addict she is. She wasn't great at it. I think that especially with drug addiction there is this sort of rock 'n'roll illusion around the idea that people are really "happening" with it or something, when in fact it is just kind of... There is a loser element to true addiction that I think is reflected well in the story and that helps me to understand to not play her as somebody who is, like, a tough guy.
In many ways that is actually more Laura Prepon's role [Alex]. That is not who Nicky is – she is even a failure in her addiction, and that person searching for a purpose. She's stuck in an existential loop essentially.
TS: It is a really interesting thing to create a character, and oftentimes when you have a script that's a play or a film, you have a beginning, a middle, and an end, so you really create something and I think we did that when we got these scripts. And then you learn new pieces of information that may contradict what you created. It keeps popping me, that illusion. Nothing can be very solid and it's very exciting as they keep throwing these explosives into the work, which keeps everyone on their toes.
NL: It's fun, and tricky. Because you're like, oh, because everything that I just did was sort of wrong except now I have got to... find a new way to make it make sense.
TS: I remember there was something about Piper's father having an affair and I never factored that in in any capacity, but it was really interesting to learn that new piece of information and braid it into something that had already been created.
DB: There's a lot of times I actually wish I would have known that before, you know! But the writers know what they are doing and you have just got to trust them in what they have written, but for me I kind of wish I had that information ahead of time... It feels like Christmas when you get a script and you're like "I did not know that!"
LC: Absolutely. It's fun for me, seeing your backstory. I remember watching Suzanne's backstory and being “oh my” – cos we didn't know, girl. We didn't know how you ended up in prison, so as a viewer I'm such a fan of the show and a fan of your work. I just love getting in and finding out more, but absolutely it's helpful.
I think the not knowing, you have to leave it to imagination and the not knowing can be kind of fun too. Because all of a sudden, you are just like, then it doesn't have to be right. I'm really in a space now as an artist where I really don't want to ever any more be in a space of let's get it right. Let's just be in a space where we can play and make choices that are at least truthful in the moment. When you don't know, there's something fun about that too.
My backstory came very early in the series too. Sophia's backstory was literally the third episode of this series, so I got a lot of intel about who Sophia was very early on. And that's been very useful.
A lot of the flashbacks feature you as children. Have you ever been surprised how close they look to you? –KP, via email
UA: Yes! I've had two children because I had 5-year-old Suzanne and then 12-year-old Suzanne. I loved it so much, to see the freeness of that young girl of 5 playing Suzanne in that spirit and way, and frankly I took pieces of that energy and what she was able to transmit and found that useful in my own performance.
But when I saw 12-year-old Suzanne it was so interesting to watch someone examine, study your work, and she was incredible. She was really unbelievable.
DB: I remember watching her audition tape.
UA: Yes! She was in it. She was in it and she knew what she wanted to make cook.
DB: We had a little Taystee and to just see her blossom... It also feels so gratifying and inspiring too, to feel like you're influencing the next generation of actors – these babies that have dreams just as much as you did when you were little, and you see them come to fruition. It's really cool to feel your influence in that way, through you as a person in which you're giving out into the world but you as an artist, your work being reflected in somebody being 8 and 12 or 10. That's pretty awesome.
LC: I want a baby Sophia now. [the others laugh]
UA: But we've all had somebody reflect us or have another person play us.
LC: True. My brother played my character pre-transition.
DB: That's so rare.
DB: I remember when I was told that. I was like, what, and it wasn't even planned! They didn't even know you had a twin!
LC: To speak of the power of manifestation though, Jenji [Kohan, the creator of OITNB]... it was a running joke in the writers room for Sophia we need to hire a trans woman who can act, who has an identical twin brother who can also act. That was the running joke.
I even auditioned before they cast me, so when they cast me they didn't know I had a twin brother. I got the job and then lo and behold. That is the power. If you put it into the universe, if you speak it into existence, girl.
TS: It was so sweet, the girl who they cast as me was so sweet. She was so much more gentle than I was as a child. She was a gentle, gentle soul. Who did they cast for you?
NL: Shirley Temple!... I think because of the CGI holograms, what have you, and her estate was involved. I was so thrilled to have her, such a gift. Such a talented, talented young actress and it's incredible what they can do. They reworked all the mouth stuff, and they had to colourise her.
TS: Oh, interesting.
NL: And you know that Nicky's backstory was that she was a great song and dance man, when she was a child.
TS: “The Good Ship Lollipop.”
NL: There was a lot of “Good Ship Lollipop” stuff they did. I haven't seen the episode but apparently Jenji told me that it was one of the great episodes of the show.
Is there any character you wish your character shared more scenes with? –Tom, via email.
DB: There's so many!
LC: There are over 100 recurring characters on our show, so there's a lot of people that we're never going to have scenes with. I would be giving a spoiler alert away that Suzanne and I are together in a scene in an upcoming season. We have been in a room together!
UA: This season? Five? Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!
LC: We have been in a room together but we have never had a scene together and I was like, oh my god!
DB: Obviously there are so many people that would be amazing to collaborate with, but it is cool to reflect on the people we have been able to work with and for me working with Nick Sandow, who plays Caputo, was so dreamy to get to be under him and learn what he has been doing for such a long time. He even directed an episode this season.
How do you see the Trump presidency affecting the inmates at Litchfield? –cjaycregg
UA: What Jenji does seamlessly and beautifully is she holds the mirror up: the time we're living in, the cultural circumstances and obstacles we are trying to tackle...
I think that to take an opportunity in the times such as this, where we have so many things that are problematic with how our country is currently moving and how we are treating people and deeming or classifying them as "other", I think it would be impossible for Jenji to then, in times that are precious like this, to possibly ignore that.
I'm not the writer of the show, but I know that she is capable. I know that she is interested in using her voice and it would be the hope that that would be something we would see play out, because there is no disconnect between our executive branch of our government system and our prison system. The two are intertwined.
LC: There was a lot of criminal justice reform that happened during the last administration, right? Getting rid of mandatory minimums and trying to move away from privatising our prisons and we see the current administration trying to roll those policies back, right? ... It will be interesting to see how those real-world events that really directly affect prisons may or not influence our writers and Jenji.
DB: What I also appreciate about the show is that I feel like, especially Season 5, it shows that even if you don't have the resources, even if it feels like you don't know what you are doing – as these women are in the position of not really knowing what they are doing in this riot – you can do it. You can find your ways to be involved and be a part.
To me, that's really cool about being part of a show that's showing people, these women, who are trying to scrape the resources who don't even know how to use iPads or social media or whatever like that, but their voice matters and they're putting it out there and they are doing something about it. And I just hope that the world picks on that, from young people especially, or old whoever, who feels like they don't know how to get involved. And to me I appreciate a show that is active in saying something and doing something with a voice and platform like this.
Do you find it easy to watch the show back, and if you do watch it back do you watch it in one go? –Hannah Baillie, via Facebook
TS: You're talking to the wrong girls. Both of us. We both have a similar philosophy. There are a lot of people on our show who really watch the show well. I know that you [Natasha] had a conversation with Jenji and you started watching the show again.
But I feel, both of us – base-level, instinctual natural habitat is to not watch the work, for me. I don't really like to watch me work very much, but that's changing. But we've done it for six years now, so I'm trying to change that a little. Not trying to, purposefully, but it's interesting to go back and watch things. I watch things very selectively. It doesn't really serve me very much. I don't learn a tremendous amount.
NL: It's particularly tricky to watch. There's just so many hours of watching yourself. If it wasn't weird enough to see a movie that you're in – the thing about a movie, at least it is spilt milk on some levels.
It's a bit of a weird rollercoaster. It's such a magnified experience to see yourself on a giant screen, so there are moments of great possibility followed by horror, you know. So anyway but then yes, that's out in the world, there's nothing I can do about it: I will walk out into this party and say hello, thank you so much, what a great movie you guys made.
On a TV show, the fact that us two didn't start watching it, at this point we would have to sit down for a three-month marathon session of just staring us at ourselves.
TS: How many episodes? There's been five seasons. We would have to sit down for 60 hours of TV, you know.
Three words to sum up the next season. –laurent4828f30ba
LC: For me it has been "hash tag resistance".
DB: "Fight the power."
LC: "Fight the power." That's good for me.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Laverne Cox took all of her croissants with her at the end of the interview.