'OITNB' Cast on How Losing One of Their Own Drives Season 5

"It’s our responsibility as artists to reflect the time that we’re living in," said Samira Wiley on her character’s fate last season.
Danielle Brooks, Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, Blair Brown, Taryn Manning, Samira Wiley and Taylor Schilling

In the midst of the current political climate, Orange Is the New Black continues to stay relevant when people need it the most.

Several stars from the Netflix prison dramedy — Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Danielle Brooks, Taryn Manning, Blair Brown and Samira Wiley — reunited for a panel at the Television Academy’s Saban Media Center in North Hollywood on Friday night where, following a screening of the season-four finale, the cast discussed the direction of the series following the shocking death of Poussey Washington (Wiley).

“The prisoners have revolted and there’s a rebellion. An uprising happens and there’s a resistance happening in Litchfield,” said Cox, whose character, Sophia, was just released from solitary confinement. She added that “there’s a resistance that is happening in the country right now” that parallels the upcoming season-five storyline.

The new season releases June 9 on Netflix, and while many details remain tightly under wraps, it has been confirmed that the new episodes will take place over three days in order to capture the immediate grief and reaction to losing Poussey, a black inmate who died at the hands of a white corrections officer (Alan Aisenberg).

"It's an incredible responsibility that we have and I found myself honored [for the writers] to have the faith in us to be able to tell this story with the upmost amount of integrity that it can be told in," said Wiley, who is now starring on Hulu's Handmaid's Tale and added that she gets to sit back and watch season five unfold with the rest of the world.

After last season, Wiley told The Hollywood Reporter that she'd known for over a year that the death of her character was coming, but that many of the cast only found out within weeks of shooting the episode. On Friday's panel, the cast praised Wiley as a friend and actress, and explained how so many of their emotions stemmed from the idea of a real loss of someone they work with daily.

"To know that we wouldn't have [Wiley] as a regular experience was tough," said Aduba, who plays Crazy Eyes. "Selfishly, I was sad and upset.... I was feeling very selfish about that loss."

For Brooks, that meant her character Taystee had to lose her best friend after already losing her adoptive mother Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) in season two. “First of all, we were saying goodbye to our friend. Letting go of someone that is such a huge part of the show — and then of course the climate of the country and what was going on [in] July. Philando Castile had just happened and Eric Garner — which this was mirrored after. It was heavy,” said Brooks.

She added that they wanted to make sure they gave respect and showed reverence to those who actually lost their lives at the hands of officers, but knew that she was fortunate to be able to hug Wiley in real life while others don’t have that same opportunity.

Through the storytelling of the Emmy Award-winning Jenji Kohan series, people across the country who may not have known about these issues on a personal level now have a connection and understanding through Poussey. Schilling, who plays leading inmate Piper Chapman, said the show was so honest about the outside world that it turned from personal to universal and inadvertently became a political stance.

“There’s a ripple effect and in our case it allows for the audience to see people who may be outside of their sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, size, gender or many number of things and see how it relates to them," she said. "I think crossing those lines is a political act, but that’s not the genesis of it."

Cox echoed Schilling by calling Orange “more than a show” since the issues they deal with are real. “It has us constantly thinking beyond ourselves because the stakes are so high," she said. "Because people out there in the world are dying.”

With season five taking place in the shorter time span, the show essentially becomes a microscope on the aftermath of the riot that ensued in the previous season’s finale.

“It’s so specific and it’s crazy because [our characters] are so intense and have structure,” said Brooks. “But now...we don’t have structure and we’re going to see what happens when these women do not have structure and take over.”

Not wanting to give much more away about the upcoming season and the potential it has to tackle the political and relevant issues of the world, Cox simply said that another teaser will be released soon, adding with a smirk, "You'll have to wait and see."