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Things We Learned At The ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK 2014 PaleyFest!

By AJ Feuerman

It was all about girl power at PaleyFest on Friday night as USA Today’s Andrea Mandell brought ten female members of the Orange is the New Black cast onto the stage along with creator/writer/EP Jenji Kohan.

They were joined by only two of the male cast members, Jason Biggs (Larry) and Michael Harney (Sam Healy).

There were still so many personalities missing making it easy to realize that the cast of this Netflix hit is a true force to be reckoned with.

Throughout the night they covered sexuality, gender roles, comedy, plot twists, family, rehab, mental health and so much more.

Check out the highlights of the panel after the jump.

  • Soon into the event, Lea DeLaria (Big Boo) was identified in the audience by Laverne Cox (Sophia Burset). She ran up to the stage and after a few failed attempts to hoist herself up, she was physically pulled up to the stage by Biggs and a Dolby Theater staffer, given a chair and welcomed to the dais.  

    • In addition to Kohan, Biggs, Harney, DeLaria and Cox, the panel featured Taylor Schilling (Piper), Laura Prepon (Alex), Kate Mulgrew (Red), Natasha Lyonne (Nicky), Yael Stone (Lorna), Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes), Taryn Manning (Pennsatucky), Danielle Brooks (Taystee) and Season Two addition, Lorraine Toussaint. 

    • Their fans are crazy but creative, producing fan art and duct tape flip flops to have autographed at chance encounters. DeLaria added that she’s actually autographed 44 screwdrivers since the show began airing. 

    • Former American Pie mainstay, Biggs, has had a harder time transitioning his fanbase to this more adult role. “They still call me pie-fucker,” he quipped.

      • There was also a lot of love in the room for Netflix who, said Prepon, is trailblazing “the final frontier” (looking knowingly at the former Captain Janeway, Mulgrew). Lyonne agreed adding that they are allowing the show to go as far as they possibly can. 

      • Kohan appreciates the new trend of “binge watching” because as a writer, she doesn’t have to worry about covering everyone in one episode – it never feels like anyone is gone for too long. Cox and Aduba recently did some binge watching themselves. Both confessed their love and binge watching predilections for fellow Netflixer House of Cards.

      • Stone and Mulgrew suggested Netflix and like companies provide warnings or useful reminders halfway through show seasons such as “CHANGE YOUR UNDERPANTS NOW” and “YOU HAVE CHILDREN.” 

      • Diversity came up again and again and everyone, men included, realize how much ground they’re breaking. However Kohan does not write the show with its diversity in mind – she focuses on the individuals and not “tokenism” or the sexuality aspect, insisting that all of these races, sizes, colors and creeds exist in everyday life and she is just being authentic.

        • The cast had a buffet of theories on why the show and characters are so successful. Schilling and Prepon cited trust and commitment, Brooks feels empowered in giving a voice to the voiceless and Cox often mentioned more polarizing political issues propelling the show such as mental health, sociology and LGBT issues.

        • At the conclusion of Season One, Schilling joined real-life Piper for a visit to a women’s prison and was stunned to realize just how accurate their show prison is. In truth, they shoot much of the show at a former psychiatric asylum in Rockland County. Kohan acknowledged she built in so much backstory for the characters partially as a respite because “no one wants to spend the whole time behind bars.”

        • Amazingly, not everyone knows what their characters are serving time for just yet. Mulgrew was especially eager to know and called Kohan out right on stage. “Does it have something to do with the deep freeze?” she asked. “Not specifically,” replied Kohan who also teased we may see more from Lorna, Poussey, the nun, Taystee and Miss Rosa, among others. 

        •  Makeup, or sometime lack thereof, plays a pivotal role in the show. Cox and Prepon pointed out that “on the inside” it is a way to maintain humanity and identity, however not everyone enjoys the luxury. Aduba once previewed her makeup artist’s notes and it said “Make skin look worse.”

        • Lorraine Toussaint’s Vee is one of the most complex and difficult characters she’s ever played. Expect Vee to have a quiet power at Litchfield. She is a street wise drug maven who runs children, unafraid of intimacy and definitely not to be trifled with. With a sly smile, Toussaint explained “She plays and enjoys the game. And is engaging… and has a great deal of fun.”

        • Mulgrew is a fan, calling Toussaint a “brilliant actress.” Brooks said being in her presence “felt like taking an Oprah Master Class.”

        Above all, it was evident this cast enjoys each other’s company as the conversation never paused and laughter was quite present.

        They were a lively group who let the curse words flow freely, often talking over one another and fighting to get a word in. Orange is the New Black has defied odds, categorization, casting trends, even television itself — and shows no signs of slowing down.

        Season Two will be available on Netflix beginning June 6. And though few secrets about it were divulged, we can hardly wait to binge watch it.

        AJ Feuerman blogs over at confessionsofafatgirl.net. You can follow her on Twitter at @AmandaJoy. Thankfully, she’s never been to prison.

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