Orange is the New Black is one of Netflix's most successful original shows. Debuting in 2013, the series is on its 6th season and going onto its 7th.
Funny, heartwarming, and emotionally driven, OITNB is a truly unique show that features a diverse cast of women.
Based on the memoir by Piper Kerman, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, the series showcases the issues that challenge woman inside and outside prison.
Jenji Kohan was just finishing up her hit show Weeds when she started to shop for a new series. Kohan was, and is, interested in telling women’s stories and, thankfully, Kerman’s story was a perfect fit. Six years later, the show has earned six Emmys and 19 nominations.
The show has gone on to advocate for women’s rights and prison reform while still being entertaining. Much like Netflix’s other show, House of Cards, OITNB helped revolutionize television for streaming services, lending credibility to the platform.
The show is written, produced, and made by women, and has opened the door for more female lead shows on television.
Although Netflix does not release viewership information, it is obvious that OITNB has gained quite a significant following. The show is a critical hit and cultural phenomena.
However, the stories behind the camera can be just as exciting, if not more interesting.
With that said, here are the 20 Wild Facts Behind The Making Of Orange Is the New Black!
Uzo Aduba is an incredibly talented actor. Her portrayal of the endearing Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren has nabbed her two Emmy’s and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
However, this almost didn't happen.
Before she was picked for the iconic role, Aduba didn't have much luck getting parts. She was turned down often and was starting to lose hope.
Sometime after she auditioned for the show, she assumed that she wasn’t going to get a role and decided that she was done with acting for good.
She quit acting and her dream, and decided to start a different career path and go to law school.
However, an hour later she got a call - her representative had called to say that she got a part in the show.
For any show or movie, there are usually multiple actors who are considered for key roles. Most of the time, the first choice is not the actor who ends up taking the role.
OITNB is no different. Taylor Schilling was not the first choice for Piper.
Instead, it was Katie Holmes. Jenji Kohan had been a huge fan of her wok on Dawson’s Creek and thought she would be a perfect fit for the role.
Holmes was even in talks with Kohan. However, ultimately she was too busy with other projects and couldn’t take the part.
Perhaps this was for the better, as Schilling has taken ownership of the role and has embraced the role in a way that Holmes may not have been able too.
Lauren Morelli, a writer for the show, had perhaps one of the most unique experiences behind the scenes of OITNB.
She began writing for the show shortly after she married to her husband.
During the two years that they were married, Morelli discovered that she was gay.
"Five months after my wedding, I flew to New York to start production on my first episode of Orange, and from that moment on, my life fell into a parallel rhythm with Piper's story in a way that went from interesting to terrifying in a matter of months," Morelli said.
After she divorced her husband, she began dating Samira Wiley who plays Poussey Washington.
The two wed in May of 2017 and Morelli has been enjoying her new life with Wiley ever since.
Although the show is based on the real-life experience of Piper Kerman, it diverges far from the source material.
For example, the real Alex Vause (Catherine Cleary Wolters), was not in the same prison as Piper. Though they were temporarily put in the same prison while they were on trail, they rarely saw each other.
Despite what the show depicts, the two never had any intimate encounters in prison.
Wolters also wanted to make it clear that she did not turn Kerman into a lesbian. “I was not Piper’s first, and I certainly did not [allure] her,” she said.
While the show depicts an innocent Pipper who was brought into a world of crime and passion by accident, according to Wolters, Kerman knew exactly what she was doing.
Piper Kerman had an interesting story to tell the world, and of course, many Hollywood producers were intrigued.
Producers would meet with Kerman, trying to sell what they have done and how they would be the best person to take creative control of her story.
However, Jenji Kohan took a different approach, though this was purely by accident.
Instead of selling herself, Kohan just asked questions, as she wanted to know where the other prisoners were now and how certain things really played out.
“Apparently, because I had all these questions and I was enthusiastic, that’s what made her say yes to me,” Kohan said.
Her genuine interested in the story was what got her the rights and what has made OITNB the success it is today.
Uzo Aduba is not only a fan-favorite - she is also a celebrated and award-winning actress due to her portrayal of the eccentric inmate.
Crazy Eyes is a staple of the show and a definite stand out among the cast of characters.
However, she was not originally meant to be a recurring character.
“When I first got the job, I was only supposed to do two episodes, possibly a third and a chance of there being a fourth,” Aduba stated.
After the producers saw how amazing she was on screen, though, they decided to promote her to a series regular and asked her back to film more episodes.
“I sincerely thought they meant I was gonna get to do the third episode… No idea that we were going to continue on then for the rest of the season,” Aduba said.
Kate Mulgrew portrays Red, the group's prison mother and cook. She is fierce, loving, and distinctive - from her red hair to her thick Russian accent.
However, she wasn’t originally supposed to have such a heavy accent.
When Mulgrew first auditioned for the part, there was a small description of Galina “Red” Reznikov.
“It was a tiny page and it said at the top, ‘Just a hint of a Russian accent. She’s been in America since she was 2,’” Mulgrew said.
“That’s not at all what came into my mind. A real peasant came into my mind,” she stated.
She made a creative choice for the character and has been sporting the Russian accent ever since.
Although it has been claimed that the two episodes of OITNB that Laura Prepon directed were her directorial debut, this is false. She also directed a TV movie called Neighbors in 2011.
However, the episodes she directed for OITNB were a more meaningful experience for her. It was a challenge to direct scenes while also acting in them.
Describing what it was like, Prepon stated, "I’m wrapped on the floor with my legs and arms bound and with duct tape over my mouth, and I’m having to be Alex, but I’m watching Brad give Piscatella’s monologue and I’m also directing him."
She continued: "While I’m sitting on the floor bound and gagged, I’m also in my head thinking, 'In the next take I want him to do this.'"
Prepon probably learned a lot from the experience.
In April of 2017, a hacker group known as Thedarkoverlord released 10 episodes of OITNB after a they failed to extort Netflix for money.
Post-production company Larson Studios had been hacked in late 2016 and the hackers claimed that they had unaired shows from Netflix, ABC, Fox, National Geographic, and IFC.
Netflix received a threat that stated that the hackers would release 10 episodes of the series two months earlier if they didn’t pay.
However, Netflix chose to ignore the thread, allowing the group to release the episodes. Unfortunately for the hackers, they gained nothing from this and soon turned to other stations.
There have been a few arrests in connection to the group, but otherwise little progress has been made to stop them.
Alysia Reiner plays the morally dubious Natalie "Fig" Figueroa. Throughout the show, Fig is quick to dehumanize the inmates and always supports the prison system.
However, nothing could be further from the truth in real life.
Off screen, Reiner is an activist for prison reform and spends a lot of time working with the Women’s Prison Association.
Reiner believes that her activism and participation in the show are connected, as the show tries to expose all of the issues that women in prison face daily.
Reiner has also encouraged other cast members to volunteer with the WPA.
The opening credits for OITNB has become iconic. In it, Regina Spektor's “You’ve Got Time” plays as the faces of real former inmates are shown.
The opening was designed by Thomas Cobb Group, who also created Homeland's opening sequence.
Jenji Kohan wanted the credits to convey that the show was about many stories - not just Piper’s.
“Thomas directed each woman to visualize in their mind three emotive thoughts: think of a peaceful place, think of a person who makes you laugh, and think of something that you want to forget. He apologized ahead of time for the last question but found it was incredibly effective in evoking a wide range of unfortunate memories,” Gary Bryman, executive producer at TCG, stated.
Featured within the montage is the real Piper Kerman.
Laundering money for a powerful substance dealer is what got both the real and fictional Piper Kerman into prison.
In the show, Kubra Balik is the kingpin who Alex Vause works for. In real life, this person is Nigerian Senator, Buruji Kashamu.
However, he has claimed that it is his brother, who he bears a resemblance with, that they should be searching for.
When asked about Piper Kerman and the show, he stated: "I do not have time to see films or movies. There are more pressing and productive things for me to spend my time on. I do not know Piper Kerman and do not have any opinion of him."
Kashamu has lawyers who are currently fighting to prove his innocence in Chicago.
Even though the show has strayed far from her book, the real Piper Kerman remains involved in the creative process.
“She gives notes, mostly about accuracy,” Jenji Kohan said of Kerman’s involvement.
Although the show is more dramatic than the actual real-life events, Kohan still wants the show to be grounded.
OITNB is more than just Kerman’s story, however. Instead, it is a way for Kohan to tell stories about other women.
“We wanted to write stories about all sorts of women and their experiences…. it’s very hard to sell a show about women of different colors and different ages and different socioeconomic backgrounds,” Kohan said.
With the help of Kerman’s real-life perspective, Kohan is able to tell these stories effectively.
Laverne Cox has become a star due to her infamous role as a transgender woman in prison. She has become a voice of the transgender community.
OITNB producers were struggling to find an actor to portray Cox before she transitioned when they discovered that she had a twin brother.
“Our casting director found out that I have a twin brother, and she insisted that he should audition for the role,” Cox said.
Originally, Cox wanted to play herself before the transition but was ultimately turned down by the episode director, Jodie Foster.
Cox knew that if she was going to play the part of a man, she would have to “butch it up,” but she wasn’t able to convince Foster to let her have the role.
“Jodie Foster didn’t think I looked masculine enough to play a guy,” she stated.
For the most part, OITNB does not generally have villains in the traditional sense. However, there are a handful of characters in the show who are incredibly heinous and always put their own needs above anyone else's.
Yvonne “Vee” Parker is, perhaps, one of the most cold-blooded villains on the show.
However, actress Lorraine Toussaint did not know about this when she got the part.
Toussaint only found out about this after speaking with Jenji Kohan 20 minutes before they were going to shot her first scene.
“’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,'” she stated.
Toussaint wasn’t ready to play such an evil character, but she stuck to it and gave an incredible performance.
A TV show based in prison can come with many challenges. In fact, one of the hardest is costumes.
Since almost all of the characters have to where the same thing, costume designer Jennifer Rogien found this a challenge when she started working on the show.
Rogien had to contemplate the lack of diverse clothing before she came up with some solutions.
“In some cases, we followed the rules and regulations within prison, no alterations to the uniforms, which are real prison uniforms from prison suppliers. In other cases, we folded and rolled cuffs. Sometimes, there were a few actual alterations to the uniform that characters could have executed on their own,” Rogein said.
This is how they were able to make subtle changes that would differentiate the characters from one another and help their personalities shine despite the fact that the characters all had to wear the same outfit.
One of Red’s most loyal “family members” is her right-hand woman and best friend, Norma.
As the former wife of a cult leader and a life-long mute, Norma’s only time speaking is when she sang “I Saw the Light” at a disastrous Christmas party.
However, in real life, the actress who portrays Norma, Annie Goldon, is anything but quiet.
In 1975, she joined a new wave punk band called The Shirts as the lead singer. Her band played at the iconic CBGB for a time.
The band released several albums and eventually split in the '80s.
Golden went on to have a solo career and pursue acting in theatre and television. Years later, the band got back together and released another album in the early 2000s.
OITNB isn't known for being subtle. Though its intimate scenes are integrated into the show in a way that makes most of the cast comfortable, OITNB does require its cast to remove their clothes from time to time.
In one intimate scene between Taylor Schilling and Laura Pepron, Schilling actually injured herself.
"I hurt myself," Schilling said. "I got very excited, I took my shirt off and I scratched myself with my little name tag… There was a gash on my face — there was blood.”
They had to shut the set down for an hour to make sure that Schilling wasn’t seriously hurt and that they could cover up the cut to maintain the continuity.
Schilling was understandably embarrassed by the situation, but she also saw the humor in it.
OINTB deals with a lot of mature content, which makes it all the more surprising to discover that they film in the same studio as Sesame Street, the most wholesome show on television.
Danielle Brooks, who portrays "Taystee," has tried to sneak on set to know avail. "It's good energy down there! I haven't seen any puppets yet — just their images on the walls," she said.
It is also the same studio that filmed Nurse Jackie and housed The Cosby Show. If walls could talk, we're certain that this studio would have some crazy stories.
To make the connection even stronger, Sesame Street was able to pull of an OITNB parody that taught kids about oranges and finished with “Piper Snackman” ending up in the SHU, which was just a giant shoe.
In order to make a compelling and authentic show, actors and crew members must be able to strongly relate to the project.
To capture the feel of prison, all of the inmates on the show wear real prison undergarments, even if we never see them take their clothes off.
Taryn Manning, who portrays Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett, spoke about what it was like wearing “court ordered granny panties” on the show.
“They’re authentic, yeah. And then, they’re almost like sports bras," Manning said.
She continued: “But it’s fine, it gets you more into character, you’re just, like, getting this big old underwear on, and all. That’s funny.”
Do you know any other secrets behind the making of Orange is the New Black? Sound off in the comments!