It's been over two months since Season 2 of "Orange Is the New Black" hit Netflix, and everyone's still talking about the adventures of Piper and Co. -- especially with the show nominated in six Emmy categories.
In an effort to raise awareness for the Women's Prison Association, an organization she works with closely, "OITNB" star Taylor Schilling chatted with The Huffington Post about the criminal justice system, the SHU, and, of course, the show's chances at the Emmys.
How has your work with the WPA made your work on "Orange Is the New Black" more meaningful?
What I admire so much about the WPA is that it looks at the totality of a woman’s experience in the criminal justice system and takes strides to really address the issue that got her into prison instead of only dealing with the result, which is someone who’s committed a crime. Observing their work, and even just looking at the programs they have really speaks exactly to what we’re doing on the show. These women aren’t the crimes they have committed. If we can peel back the curtain for a second to look at what brought them to this crisis that ended in incarceration, it’s hard not to have empathy and compassion.
It’s opened my eyes tremendously, and the WPA has made my work on “Orange” much more real. It really gives it a sense of purpose and direction, and it makes it feel incredibly relevant. So it's not just creatively satisfying to me as a performer and an actor -- it feels culturally and politically relevant.
Has your work with the WPA helped you think about what the solutions for these women might be?
It definitely piqued my energy and curiosity. Because when you start asking questions and get a little bit of knowledge, you realize how little you know. When you only scratch the surface of what got someone into prison, you’re cutting down to the very core, socially, politically and economically, of what’s not working in our country right now.
It’s very hard to detach what gets a woman involved in a drug-related crime or prostitution, and it's difficult to detach that disparity of wealth from poverty and racism. As I’ve learned more I’ve realized how vast the issue is. And then of course you bring in how much money our country is making off of keeping prison active, and all of these things together make a perfect storm and a complicated issue.
My hope is that as the word continues to spread about how unjust the prison system is right now, people will be excited to make changes. A one-to-one support system is what can pull someone out of generation of difficulty, which is not their fault. That’s what the WPA is -- a one-to-one support system.
Do you like Piper?
She’s a character that we’ve certainly seen before, and hopefully we’re seeing that type of person in a new light. There are stereotypes even about the white woman that are worthy of being explored, and I think the show is doing that in a way where she doesn’t necessarily need to be likable, but I don’t know if likability is what makes the most compelling characters in television, movies or books.
I don’t follow characters based on likability, I follow them more based on complexity and authenticity. It’s certainly been exciting for me to play the extremes of Piper's arc. Her transformation is fascinating to me. My ideas of likable and not likable don’t necessarily match up with the norm in our culture and our society. I don’t really pay attention to that.
That fight you got in with Pennsatucky at the end of Season 1 was pretty intense. Ever been in a fight in real life?
Not like that! Hell no. I would run. I can pretend I’m in a fight, but if you really put me in a fight … no. I mean, never say never. But no.
Well, that's kind of a relief. Are you a binge-watcher? Did the “Orange” cast all get together to watch Season 2 when it came out?
No, everybody did it separately, and at different speeds. I still haven’t watched all of Season 2 in its entirety, but I do like to binge watch things. I don’t even trust a show until I binge-watch it, because somehow in the back of my brain I need to know that I can get more. If I like it it’s like being betrayed by a lover. I don’t want them to go away, I need to know I can see them again.
The Emmys are coming up. Do you think “Orange” will be the show to finally beat out “Modern Family?”
I freaking love our show. I think our show’s amazing. I think the sky’s the limit for “Orange Is the New Black.”
If you could sneak anything into the SHU with roaches, what would it be?
A teeny tiny phone, so I could talk to someone. Or some sort of a photograph.
This interview has been edited and condensed.