How much can happen in three days? A lot, according to Taylor Schilling, Danielle Brooks, Natasha Lyonne and more of the ensemble cast.
Welcome to Litchfield 2.0.
Orange Is the New Black has long relied on shipping viewers into the unknown. Beginning with Piper's (Taylor Schilling) first days in prison to the revolving door of inmates who get sent down to max, creator Jenji Kohan has a knack for shaking things up as soon as they get comfortable. Enter: season five of the Netflix prison dramedy.
As the pre-released first minute of the premiere indicates, with one gunshot the inmates are off and running as they take over Litchfield after an all-out prison riot, incited by the death of beloved inmate Poussey (Samira Wiley) at the hands of an untrained guard. With the prisoners in charge, some use their newfound power to negotiate needed prison reform, others stay on the sidelines and many wreak havoc without consideration of the consequences. The 13 episodes unfold in a condensed time period of three days, honing in on the grief, anger, rage, denial and collective upheaval left in Poussey's wake.
While bingeing the new season, refer to The Hollywood Reporter's spoiler-free chats with a handful of the actresses behind the inmates below. Taylor Schilling (Piper), Danielle Brooks (Taystee), Natasha Lyonne (Nicky), Adrienne C. Moore (Cindy), Laverne Cox (Sophia), Jackie Cruz (Flaca) and Diane Guerrero (Maritza) help shed some light on the journey as they set out to find justice for one of their own.
When all hell breaks loose, Piper struggles to stay on the sidelines — somewhere Alex (Laura Prepon) is very comfortable to be. After last season's tension, Piper's "not being in the fight is trying to do what Alex wants, to try to appease her and grow," says Taylor Schilling. "Piper’s question in prison is always: Where do I belong? And: I don’t belong. There’s more of an internal struggle for Piper of: How do I fit?" In an effort to help Taystee's charge to fight for change on behalf of Poussey, Piper eventually finds meaning. "She doesn’t quite fit with that crowd, but she’s trying to find a place for herself that’s meaningful and that has been the struggle from the beginning because I think that leads her in various directions."
Taystee's story has reminded viewers that Litchfield truly is her home. With Poussey gone, she didn't just lose a friend, she lost a member of her family. And the loss, coupled with Vee's (Lorraine Toussaint) season-two death, becomes nearly too much to bear. "It’s a question of: How far will you dare to go when you have nothing to lose? And they don’t have anything to lose, especially Taystee," says Danielle Brooks. "Basically, everyone that she has been so close to is gone. She does still have Black Cindy and Suzanne, but she’s not thinking straight. Part of her heart is gone so she’s not holding anything back. Taystee set off the grenade and tossed it off to Daya [Dascha Polanco]. But they’re definitely stirring some shit up — for justice."
When the season opens, "we just found out that the guard who was responsible for Poussey’s death just got let go and is not being charged. So we’re not thinking rationally," explains Adrienne C. Moore. "We’re not thinking longterm. We’re just thinking justice. And Humphreys has definitely been a bane of all of our existence." What ensues from there is a constant shift in power, something that could be considered a theme of the season. "There’s a dynamic shift between the girls as the season continues and this whole idea of unity definitely comes into question," says Moore. "It’s continuously changing, there’s so much packed into this season," adds Brooks. When speaking on how Possey's death mirrors the real life deaths of Eric Garner and others who died at the hands of police brutality, Brooks says: "We don’t want them to be forgotten. Taystee's purpose in season season five is for Poussey’s life not to be forgotten."
Even with the high stakes of the season, the dramedy doesn't lose its funny bone. As Cox puts it, not every prisoner is poised to join the resistance. "Some people are more comfortable with the status quo even if it’s not really serving them," she says. Two in particular: Flaritza. Maritza, who Humps forced to eat a mouse last season, technically initiates the riot by kicking the gun to Daya. "It was degrading," says Diane Guerrero. Jackie Cruz adds that the premiere riot moment is "sort of revenge for everyone." But eventually, the pair find their own path and focus on the attention brought upon the prison. "Obviously our characters are comic relief and we see it as an opportunity to be famous for the cameras," says Guerrero. Cruz adds, "At some point, you’re sort of desensitized. When everything is chaotic, you kind of create your own world. What we did as our characters, we created our own world amongst the chaos."
As evidenced by the writers killing Poussey, the characters of Litchfield that viewers have grown to love are no longer invincible. "Across the board, we’re always sort of weirdly ready," says Natasha Lyonne. "I’m sure it’s probably true of the Game of Thrones cast, where you secretly do some sort of internal thing where you brace yourself that that could happen at any moment — on some strange level." As history has shown with real-life riots such as the famous Attica prison riot of 1971, prison uprisings don't end well for the inmates — something foreshadowed throughout the season. Could more inmates be in jeopardy, even Piper? Schilling says, "I really think so. And I think that’s what keeps it interesting. There’s nothing really off limits or formulaic to what we’re doing."
"For these women who no longer have this system to put them in check — this is war," says Brooks plainly of decisions caused by power shifts and role reversals, along with their looming consequences. After last season's gut-punch of an ending, it's hard to imagine how this season will finish its run. especially with Orange already renewed through a season seven. But "this one is a killer. This one is wild," says Lyonne, adding that it was emotional to shoot. Schilling agrees, "It’s a big one," even calling it comparable in its impact to last season. "Maybe last season you could predict something was going to happen — you can’t grasp the full extent of it, but you can see where it’s going," says Guerrero. "With this season, you just don’t know anything."