TAY­LOR SCHILLING

TAY­LOR SCHILLING ON SEX­U­AL­ITY, SIS­TER­HOOD, AND WHY OR­ANGE IS THE NEW BLACK IS STILL WOW­ING AU­DI­ENCES FIVE SEA­SONS IN

Diva (UK) - - Contents - WORDS CAR­RIE LYELL

“The cast of Or­ange are my sis­ters”

I thought I was over Or­ange Is The New Black. Five sea­sons in, I strug­gled to see how this once-rad­i­cal show could main­tain its un­ortho­dox edge, and there were a few episodes in the mid­dle of the sea­son it al­most lost me. But as I sit al­most breath­less, the edge of my seat a dis­tant mem­ory, for the fi­nale of the lat­est sea­son, I re­alise Jenji Ko­han’s bril­liant claws are still firmly em­bed­ded in me – and in many of you, too, judg­ing by the huge au­di­ence num­bers it con­tin­ues to pull in. Or­ange is Net­flix’s most-watched orig­i­nal se­ries with al­most seven mil­lion view­ers in the US alone, and was streamed more than any other show world­wide in 2016.

,, At this point, af­ter five sea­sons,, Piper sa ,, part of me

It might not feel as rev­o­lu­tion­ary as it once did, when it first show­er­sexed its way onto our screens in 2013. But it’s al­ways been bold and brave, and re­mains so. Take sex­u­al­ity, for ex­am­ple. From the be­gin­ning, Ko­han, and the show’s writ­ers, made sure that Or­ange po­si­tioned its queer cre­den­tials front and cen­tre at a time when LGBT rep­re­sen­ta­tion was far less vis­i­ble than it is to­day, invit­ing other shows to do the same and ex­plore sex­u­al­ity in a more nu­anced way. It has changed TV, and in turn, changed the world a lit­tle too.

One per­son who knows more about the show’s game- chang­ing cre­den­tials than any­one is Tay­lor Schilling, who plays the dram­edy’s cen­tral char­ac­ter Piper Chap­man. She has been there since the get- go, has seen – and lived – its evo­lu­tion, and firmly be­lieves the show has changed the con­ver­sa­tion around is­sues like sex­u­al­ity, telling the Evening Stan­dard re­cently that the world has “become a lit­tle more Or­ange”. “In the first sea­son, all peo­ple wanted to talk about was what it was like to kiss a girl,” the 32- year- old says. “Now, if some­one asks me that, there’s a com­plete un­der­stand­ing if I say, ‘ I’m not go­ing to an­swer that ques­tion’.”

An­other thing that’s changed in the last five years is the in­ter­est in Schilling’s per­sonal life, but her re­luc­tance to talk about it has not. She’s never con­firmed or de­nied a ru­moured re­la­tion­ship with Sleater- Kin­ney gui­tarist and Port­landia star Car­rie Brown­stein, and it’s al­most as if she’s talk­ing in rid­dles when the sub­ject of her sex­u­al­ity has come up, shirk­ing la­bels and de­scrib­ing her­self as “a very ex­pan­sive hu­man”. Ques­tions about her ro­man­tic life are, in her words, “pretty in­va­sive”, but for the first time she ap­pears to have ac­knowl­edged that she’s not straight, telling ES: “I’ve had won­der­ful re­la­tion­ships. I’ve had a lot of love, and I don’t have any qualms about where it comes from.”

Schilling’s role in the show has also changed – and sig­nif­i­cantly so. Based on Piper Ker­man’s me­moir of the same name, the Bos­ton- na­tive was the golden girl in sea­son one of Or­ange but is now on the pe­riph­ery, and she’s very much aware that the show is no longer about her. “It’s in­ter­est­ing to see the cast in re­la­tion to Piper,” she told Re­fin­ery29. “I think of her, in some ways, as neg­a­tive space some­times. You ac­tu­ally need — to be able to make sense of the com­po­si­tion of what’s hap­pen­ing on the inside — to have space in be­tween, and breath. Her pur­pose was to lead ev­ery­one into this story, and now she can tie things to­gether. It’s an en­sem­ble show and it has been from the get- go. [ Piper] is not the story we need to fo­cus on right now, cul­tur­ally. There are larger sto­ries to tell. There’s more cul­tural [and] so­cial sig­nif­i­cance.”

It doesn’t take a ge­nius to work out the cul­tural and so­cial sig­nif­i­cance Schilling is talk­ing about, and Jenji Ko­han has al­ways been very open about Piper’s role as her “tro­jan

horse”. “You’re not go­ing to go into a net­work and sell a show on re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and crim­i­nals,” she once said. “But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water and you fol­low her in, you can ex­pand the world and tell all of those other sto­ries.” Those “other sto­ries” need to be told, and Schilling knows it, telling the In­de­pen­dent: “If a show rep­re­sent­ing the prison sys­tem in the States – which is, I think, over 80% women of colour – was told only through the eyes of an up­per- class woman, that would be the epit­ome of racism and it would rep­re­sent the sta­tus quo. This show has been any­thing but the sta­tus quo.”

In­deed, while ex­tremely con­tentious, the tragic death of fan­favourite Poussey Wash­ing­ton – played by Samira Wi­ley – at the hands of an in­ex­pe­ri­enced guard in sea­son four, was def­i­nitely not sta­tus quo, and has al­lowed the show to move into im­por­tant ter­ri­tory this sea­son, ex­plor­ing the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and get­ting to the heart of the is­sues a af­fect­ing women of colour in the prison sys­tem, who in the US are in­car­cer­ated at four times the rate of white wome women. “It re­flects the stretc stretch and reach of the se­ries,” Schilling says. “The rel­e­vance in the writ­ing to the real world, away from Litch­field prison, es­pe­cially with Poussey’s death, that has more im­pact cul­tur­ally and so­ci­etally be­cause of the cur­rent cli­mate we’re liv­ing in. And that is very grat­i­fy­ing yet acutely daunt­ing on so many lev­els. It makes it feel like what we do as ac­tors in one sense is so in­conse- quen­tial to the big­ger pic­ture. But on the flip­side, there’s a duty to echo and por­tray for a wider au­di­ence what’s hap­pen­ing on the out­side.” While im­por­tant, it cer­tainly wasn’t easy, and Poussey’s death has clearly stayed with Schilling. “We only found out a week, 10 days be­fore,” she tells us. “And that was re­ally hard. The night we shot it, when we knew it was com­ing, it was aw­ful. We were shoot­ing ’til the mid­dle of the night and by the end, there was this over­whelm­ing numb­ness. We are a fam­ily. We have a col­lec­tive tem­per­a­ment, a col­lec­tive mood. There is so much laugh­ter and hu­mour and song – a lot of song. There’s this amaz­ing con­nec­tion and the chem­istry, I’ve cer­tainly, ab­so­lutely never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing sim­i­lar to it be­fore. We can com­mu­ni­cate without words. So to do this without her was re­ally sad. I think Samira, her death scene, has had the most im­pact on all of us, not only be­cause we’ve lost a piece of our fam­ily, but what it rep­re­sents in re­al­ity and how the hor­ror of these ac­tions have ended lives and dev­as­tated fam­i­lies. That sto­ry­line, above and by far, has left a mark on me more than any other sto­ry­line.” That con­nec­tion and chem­istry be­tween cast and crew, says Schilling, is very rare, and has a lot to do with Ko­han’s “no ass­holes” pol­icy. “I have no idea what her vet­ting process is, but what­ever it is, it works re­ally well. I love ev­ery sin­gle per­son who works in my job, and I don’t know if I have been able to say that. To have a cast that for all in­tents and pur­poses is a mot­ley crew

of ex­treme bril­liance. I feel like each and ev­ery one of these amaz­ing ac­tors and writ­ers and peo­ple work­ing on the show were meant to be a part of my life. They are my soul­mates. I was meant, at 28, to dis­cover some of the clos­est peo­ple I will ever be with. They’re my sis­ters.”

There are more changes on the hori­zon for Schilling. With lots of film projects – in­clud­ing in­die com­edy Fam- i- ly – in the pipe­line, the fu­ture is bright – but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily Or­ange. The show has been signed on by Net­flix for at least two more sea­sons, and while some might strug­gle to imag­ine the show without her, Schilling isn’t sure if there’s mileage left in her char­ac­ter. “In Jenji’s world, any­thing can and will hap­pen. No one’s safe, I’m not safe. Even though there’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be two more sea­sons, that doesn’t mean I’m go­ing to be a part of it.” Is that un­cer­tainty scary? She shakes her head. “That means you can re­ally, truly sali­vate and en­joy ev­ery day in char­ac­ter. You wring it out and soak up as much as pos­si­ble be­cause it could be your last day. It’s a pos­i­tively in­ten­tional, very pur­pose­ful way of work­ing. I like it. I like the un­known. I like the un­known in life. It keeps it sig­nif­i­cant. Every­thing you do, the most mun­dane, has pin­point sig­nif­i­cance.”

So will the newly en­gaged Piper and Alex get their hap­pily- ever-af­ter in a post- riot Litch­field? With film­ing only just un­der­way for sea­son six, it’s go­ing to be a long wait un­til we find out. But take com­fort that, like us, Schilling has no idea what’s next. And that’s what’s so great about Or­ange. “I feel like Piper at this point to me, she’s a part of me. We’ve been to­gether for five sea­sons but at cer­tain points, whether it be in the flash­backs or the present, there were paths and choices she made that I never could have pre­dicted. Ever. But that’s the beauty right there, watch­ing Piper, still try­ing to find her feet. Af­ter all this time, still un­fold­ing.”

Or­ange Is The New Black sea­sons 1-5 are stream­ing now on Net­flix

,, , Poussey s sto­ry­line, above and by far, has left a mark on me more than ,,any other

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