'Orange Is the New Black' Cast Eulogizes One of Their Own

Orange Is the New Black still - H 2016
Courtesy of Netflix

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the entire fourth season of Orange Is the New Black.]

The fans of Orange Is the New Black aren't the only ones grieving over the heartbreaking ending of season four.

In a tragic twist of events, Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) was killed during a prison-wide protest that turned deadly when an untrained guard accidentally suffocated her while pinning her down on the floor with his knee. All of the Litchfield characters were present in the protest, making for a rare day of filming where the entire cast was on set to witness the end for one of their fellow inmates and friends, a fan- and cast-favorite since season one.

"I felt heartbroken," Vicky Jeudy, who plays Poussey's close pal Janae Watson, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I don’t think any of us had to prepare to shoot it. We bonded with this character for a couple of seasons, so there was no pretending.”

When filming Poussey's death epiosde and the finale that came after it, Kimiko Glenn, who plays Poussey's girlfriend Brook Soso, said she cried just thinking about the fact that Wiley was being killed off the show: "It was so fresh at the time and we all were still in such shock that it felt really real to me."

Adrienne C. Moore, who plays Black Cindy, says she was mourning for her character and as a friend. "I cried [when I read the script] and I really cried at the very last episode," she tells THR. "That one moment when she’s by herself.”

While Wiley said she knew the storyline for an entire year, most of the cast didn't find out until they got the script for the penultimate episode.

"You could always tell the day the scripts came out," Blair Brown, who plays newcomer Judy King, tells THR. You can see peoples’ faces and you knew who’d read that script and who hadn’t."

Describing the day of shooting as "torture," Brown continues, "As in the story of Litchfield, there are real deep friendships that had been made, and the idea that Samira was leaving, that alone was really hard on people, and then to have to play out her death was awful. Just awful."

Since the Netflix prison dramedy began, creator Jenji Kohan has used many characters as a vehicle to tell timely stories. Poussey died while fighting for air, calling to mind the tragic real-life events of Eric Garner's death and subsequent "I Can't Breathe" movement, and the finale episode saw the prison covering up her death after leaving her body untouched on the cafeteria floor for an entire day. The grieving characters invoked the Black Lives Matter movement and responded to the injustice with a prison-wide riot.  

"The season focuses on a lot of headline news," says Jeudy. "I’m just hoping it changes people’s perspective about matters I feel deeply passionate about." 

Natasha Lyonne, who plays Nicky Nichols, made her return this season and says the flipside to her happy reunion was finding out the fate of Wiley's Poussey. "The weepfest and crippling behind-the-scenes heartbreak of knowing that we were shooting Samira’s last days, it was like sitting vigil for our favorite person," she tells THR. "Samira’s not just a fan favorite, she’s our favorite."

Still, Lyonne said she and the entire cast knew Kohan needed to sacrifice a beloved character in order for the message to have the greatest impact.

"It seems like every week there’s another horror show of a news story that’s just devastating, so I think we really understood why it was so important for it to be the most beloved character," says Lyonne. "Knowing that this is a completely honest and, if anything, generous reflection of what’s going on in the world at large, just makes for an overcast of darkness. It’s sort of like it’s too much to process. It’s an important thing, what the writers chose to do this season."

Recalling the first time she met Wiley and Danielle Brooks, who plays Poussey's on-screen best friend Taystee, Lyonne says the pair blew her mind. "They were really the indicators to me that we were making such a special show, since I had seen them act before I met them. They had both just gotten out of Juilliard and were so excited to be there, like giggling 20-somethings. It was totally different than them in character and Danielle saying, “Oh, you got them TV titties” to Taylor [Schilling]. They’re both true performers and just wildly talented. I was very close with them right from the start."

The on-screen friendship between Poussey and Taystee is one of the beating hearts of the series, which made the moment when Taystee collapsed to the floor after Poussey's death all the more agonizing to witness. “The crew that were shooting it were crying," says Jessica Pimentel, who plays Maria Ruiz. 

"That was a very surreal kind of day," Laura Prepon, who plays Alex Vause, tells THR. "We try to keep it upbeat but, as you can imagine, we’re all kind of in that headspace and it wasn’t easy. "

Serving as a turning point for the series and signaling the intensity that is to come on season five, the season ended with all of the culture groups banding together in a riot and Daya (Dascha Polanco) pointing a gun at some of the new prison guards.

"That’s kind of a cool place to go," says Prepon about the future of the series, which has been renewed for seven seasons. "It really happens and we’re dealing with that and we’ll see the aftermath. With Jenji, nothing’s taboo for her — she goes there and that’s the story she wanted to tell. We fully believe in her. She doesn’t steer us wrong."

As for how the characters will be impacted by the loss of Poussey, Prepon says Alex will miss a fellow cool chick: "Alex is a straight-shooter and she doesn’t really mince words and I think she appreciated that Poussey was like that."

Referencing the final moment of the season when Poussey looks directly into the camera — something the series has never done — Brown says of Judy King and Poussey's bond, "Judy recognized in Poussey that she was a dreamer, she was dreaming her future." Adding, "The sweet optimistic nature of this girl who had clearly gone through very, very hard stuff but was going to find a way, and the fact that Judy felt she could help her, I think that was one of the few things that happened to Judy in prison where she felt something profound and found some way to be useful. Poussey would have been the person she remembered most and in their way, there was a future. And now that’s gone, the future’s gone. That was terrifying to Judy."

As for Lyonne, the actress says she was hopeful for more scenes with Nicky and Poussey, even pitching that the pair become a couple and possibly, start a drug ring together. 

"There was a friendship that we saw the possibility of that happened in the library that, for me, was always the seed of something where we hoped there would be more," she says. "I also always thought that Nicky and Poussey should have been a couple, which I was vocal about before with the writers, so I’m very disappointed to see that they’re never going to get romantic. But that has something to do with how much I love Samira."

She adds, "I think Nicky and Poussey would have been really great allies. I also think that they could have been good business partners [laughs]. I remember in the first season it was like, maybe they have a drug ring together or something. But I was really excited for what their future scenes would be. I definitely think the impact of her death, in the same way that Sophia [Laverne Cox] played a huge part in Nicky’s relapse, whether we end up seeing it or not, I definitely think it’ll have a real impact on everyone in the prison and for sure, Nicky as well."

Ashley Lee contributed to this report.

Season four of Orange Is the New Black is streaming now on Netflix. Follow THR's complete OITNB coverage, including interviews with the cast, all week here.