'Orange Is the New Black' Creator, Cast Talk Nudity, Diversity and a "Lighter" Season 3

Jenji Kohan and her cast open up about those sex scenes, the new themes to come and the "failure" of the U.S. prison system.
Courtesy of Netflix

Orange Is the New Black‘s June 12 return is just around the corner.

Before the binging of the Netflix dramedy’s third season can commence, creator Jenji Kohan teased what’s in store for the upcoming episodes. It won’t involve as much cutthroat rivalry now that Lorraine Toussaint's character, Vee, is no longer a force within the prison. “It was like Oz came through Litchfield,” joked Kohan onstage at a Television Academy screening and panel for the series Wednesday night.

Kohan was joined by six of the show’s castmembers — Taylor Schilling (Piper), Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes), Danielle Brooks (Taystee), Kate Mulgrew (Red), Laverne Cox (Sophia) and Selenis Leyva (Gloria) — who together opened up about getting naked, onscreen diversity and the “horrific” U.S. prison system.

The Hollywood Reporter has highlighted eight key takeaways from the talk:

About those nude scenes.... 

Fielding a question about the last time she placed a nervous call to Kohan to voice concerns over the edgy subject material, Schilling acknowledged to a rapt audience: “I’ve been scared of the nudity, so I’ve needed some hand holding." In her case, the outgoing calls — and yes, there have been a series of them — are always about getting comfortable with the nudity involved in the show. And it is in those conversations with Kohan, she said, that she's reminded of the truth of the scene, and the fact that there isn’t gratuitous sex or nudity in the Orange scripts. “It’s a physical manifestation of the internal vulnerability. Once that’s very clear, as an actor, I can go anywhere,” she said, adding: “I’ve gained a lot of confidence through that, too.” Kohan says she welcomes that kind of dialogue, and insists that she never writes nude scenes carelessly: “I better have a good reason because I know it’s asking a lot.”

Of course, Kohan's all for more nudity

“If I had my way, I’d have a lot more,” Kohan said of the amount of nudity involved in the racy dramedy, prompting a series of quips about an entirely naked season 4. Speaking about her desire to showcase a variety of shapes, colors and sizes in the flesh, she said, "We still have this prudish, puritanical culture, and we also have so little exposure to diversity in bodies." Schilling echoed her showrunner's point, noting the value of displaying a full range of bodies, as opposed to the size zero ideal being foisted upon us by the fashion industry. That conversation devolved into one about the size 22 model that People magazine put on its current cover. Though Brooks, who said she feels unrepresented by magazines, tipped her hat to the publication, the oft-outspoken Kohan interjected, “I don’t think she’s really a size 22."

Cue a "lighter" season 3 

“It’s a little lighter than season two,” said an otherwise tight-lipped Kohan of what to expect from the next batch of episodes, adding of the at-times Oz-like second season: “We wanted it to get a little gangster in season two.” She revealed that the forthcoming 13 episodes will center on faith and motherhood — “lightly,” she added. Kohan prefers to have a theme for every season, but she doesn’t necessarily strictly adhere to it in every episode. Instead, she likes to have it “humming in the background." Viewers can also expect more backstory reveals as Kohan digs deeper into each of the women's pasts.

Orange is not just a TV show...

Sure, Orange is entertainment first, but Kohan acknowledged that the show is also designed to be a commentary on a deeply broken prison system. “The prison industrial complex is a giant embarrassment and failure in this country. It's horrific that we are caging one in every hundred people,” she said, noting that crime rates are lower than ever while incarceration rates are higher than ever. While she recognizes that she can’t change the system, she said she hopes that by starting a conversation about it through her series, people who do have that power will do something about it.

And with all due respect to the TV Academy, it's not just a drama either

Though the series is being submitted for Emmy recognition as a drama — part of a recent rule change — Kohan spoke candidly and passionately of the series' dramedy roots. “It’s very important to play in both worlds,” she said of the delicate balance that she strikes between serious and funny. “I don’t think anything is all humorous or all serious. I remember watching dramas and thinking when there was no humor and no comic relief that they didn’t reflect any sort of reality.” She believes the story needs a “dramatic spine” to hold it together, but one of the first things the real life Piper Chapman told her about her life in prison is how often she and the other inmates would laugh. “That was their survival mechanism,” Kohan added. “How do you survive watching the show, let alone writing it, without some humor?”

Aduba may not have pee-on-the-floor passion, but...

“How crazy am I? The answer to that question may reveal way more than I want to,” cracked Aduba when asked what from her off-screen life she brought to her "Crazy Eyes" character. Without going into much detail, the Emmy winner said that she truly understands her character, who she affectionately refers to by her real name, Suzanne. “I was able to relate to the depth of her love, separating it from the way she acts it out. I have loved that deeply in my life before, so I can understand her passion for it,” she added, noting to laughs that that doesn't mean she'd ever pee on the floor the way her character did in the first season.

The show has some very proud fans 

Leyva recounted a trip to Mexico as part of the show’s press junket, where she was overwhelmed by the number of Latino fans she met. “They are really proud,” she said, adding to laughs: “And they are really proud that I have the kitchen.” She continued, striking a more serious tone: “It’s that finally we’re players. Latinos in television and in Hollywood have been very limited, and finally there is a show that has several Latino characters.” She praised the show as one of few that gives minorities a voice and a place for their stories to be told. Aduba followed, noting how special it is to have a series that doesn't have a token minority, as so many other programs do.

And a teary, grateful star

Brooks finds it exciting — and a little scary — to have a platform for the first time in her life. “Being a women of curves, I think it’s really important to talk about loving your body the way you are. That’s something I’ve definitely struggled with in my life,” she said, noting how grateful she is to be on a show where she is loved just the way she is. “People love Taystee for who she is, and they’ve come to love me, Danielle, for who I am, and it’s not because I’m a size two or because I’m light skinned with long hair,” she said before breaking down in tears. “That means the world to me because I didn’t see many examples of myself growing up. Now, I’m that girl who I wanted to see.”

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