'Orange Is the New Black' Cast Talk Impact on LGBT Rights

Actress Lea DeLaria, who plays Boo, said that the Netflix series has helped to "win the hearts and minds of people."
Courtesy of Netflix
'Orange Is the New Black'

The cast of Orange Is the New Black is remaining tight-lipped about its fourth season.

During the Netflix dramedy's panel Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour, the ladies of Litchfield were on hand to field questions from reporters, including Taylor Schilling, Uzo AdubaTaryn ManningSelenis Leyva, Lea DeLaria and Natasha Lyonne

But the press wasn't going to squeeze any plot details out of these actresses. They were even coy about the fact that they were already filming the upcoming season. And Lyonne, whose character's run came to an abrupt end in the current season, refused to address Nikki's fate in future episodes.

The hush-hushiness of the cast came as no surprise, as the Jenji Kohan-created series is known for being shrouded in secrecy. But here are seven key takeaways from what the cast did discuss:

Is it a drama or a comedy?

Orange doesn't exactly to fit squarely into one awards category. It competed as a comedy last year, but had to move into the drama race this year due to the Television Academy's new rules that an hourlong must be considered a drama. "I think it's odd that the Emmys don't have a dramedy category," noted DeLaria, who plays Boo. The switch hasn't seemed to affect the show's ability to be a serious award contender, however, as it's the first series to have scored key nominations in both categories.

Boo's backstory is all too common.

DeLaria wasn't told anything about her character's backstory until she got a hold of the script — and she was shocked by what she read. "I actually had to call [writer] Lauren Morelli and ask if she had read my f—king diary," she said. "Butches have a shared life experience and you saw all of it in Boo's backstory." The writers had her story right, all the way down to her being forced to wear a dress on Easter. The only difference between DeLaria's experience and the Orange script is that her real-life parents did eventually come around to understanding her. DeLaria added: "Unfortunately, Boo’s story is all too common."

Gloria vs. Sophia had it's own backstory.

There was more to Gloria's tiff with Sophia (Laverne Cox) this season than viewers were privy to. "I felt a little weirded out with my character having to get so ugly with Sophia because ... I have a transgender sister myself," Leyva revealed on stage. "I had to say things and go to a place that I fight on a daily basis to make sure that my sister doesn't receive it." But after conversations with Kohan about the scenes, she trusted that the conflict would play out in a way that would educate viewers rather than simply turn Gloria into a villain.

Orange is a force for the LGBT movement.

With its diverse characters and raw storytelling, Orange has been a voice for those who have long been without one. "A large part of what we’ve done [with regards to] the politics of the LGBT community has been about gaining our rights, fighting for our rights and achieving our rights. Recently, it’s turned more toward winning the hearts and minds of people," said DeLauria. "I feel very strongly that Orange Is the New Black has been very important in that part of what has happened to us and our community." Added Leyva of the show's cultural impact: "It’s really trending now to be different."

Boo and Pennsatucky are tight in real life, too.

Season three saw an unlikely pairing in the prison when Boo and Pennsatucky became friends, but actresses DeLaria and Manning didn't find it so odd. "It made sense in that we were both ostracized and misfits in our own ways. We came together with very little in common and then figured out that there’s so much in common," said Manning, who plays the Southern inmate. DeLaria added that the two are close in real life, so their shared scenes were especially fun for her. "I hope [the chemistry] comes across the screen to people.”

It's a bit of a commentary on the U.S. prison system.

The actresses recognize that there are serious issues plaguing the U.S. prison system, and they hope that the show is drawing attention to some of them. "What’s amazing about Jenji’s show and writing — she’s not trying to be a flag-waving activist in a loud way, but is instead trying to braid some of the social issues concerning our penal system into the story that we’re telling," said Aduba. She added that she thinks the show is successful in that way because it humanizes the inmates. "We don’t think of these people as strictly inmates," she said, "we think of them as human beings."

It was time to lighten things up.

By the end of season two, the dramedy leaned more toward the drama end of the spectrum, thanks in large part to Lorraine Toussaint's shady character, Vee. "After season two, it was very dark and menacing, but this season focused on a lot of the emotional aspects of each character, and we really saw them in a different way," said Selenis Leyva, who plays Gloria. It was a welcome change for the cast, who was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about their characters' backstories.

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