'Orange' star Taylor Schilling says diverse characters drive show

Taylor Schilling star as Piper Chapman in Netflix's

Taylor Schilling star as Piper Chapman in Netflix's "Orange is the New Black." (JoJo Whilden/Netflix)

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:12 PM ET

According the standard Hollywood playbook, both men and women will watch stories that are about men, made by men and starring men. But when a piece of entertainment is created by women and populated with female characters, it more often than not gets the dreaded “ladies only” label.

That fundamentally flawed premise doesn’t seem to be holding up anymore. Not in the face of shows like Orange is the New Black, which debuted its second season on Netflix this month. Made by women (including Weeds creator Jenji Kohan) and starring a diverse cast of authentic female characters, Orange has become a massive hit, with fans across all boundaries of gender, age, race and socio-economic status.

And that’s just how it ought to be, says series star Taylor Schilling.

“There’s this pervasive myth that in order for a piece of entertainment to have a crossover audience of men and women it has to be a predominantly male film,” says Schilling, who stars as Orange’s Piper Chapman, a well-off New Yorker sentenced to 15 months in the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary for her part in a smuggling ring a decade earlier.

“I think this is showing people that women driving their own narrative, in a way that is complicated and dynamic and raw and vulnerable and real, is a hot commodity,” says Schilling, who stopped in Toronto this week to talk about the show.

“People are really interested in that. People are really interested in story, and are hungry for an authentic voice.”

It’s a bit tricky to talk about Season Two of Orange is the New Black as a whole, because most viewers don’t experience the show at the same time or the same way. Some binge-watched the entire second season in its first 24 hours of release, some are slowly working their way through an episode or two at a time, and some may not see it for years to come.

The downside to this viewing freedom is the lack of a real-time shared experience. Something like, say, a million Canadians tuning into HBO at the same time to watch the Game of Thrones season finale.

“What I get from Twitter is it seems like people have found their own way to talk about what’s going on and share it,” says Schilling. (She’s got a point – new tweets with the #OITNB hashtag show up every few minutes on social media, even though the season was released more than 10 days ago.)

Where Season One explored a lot of Piper’s backstory, as well as how her incarceration affected the life of her fiance (Jason Biggs), Season 2 has widened to include more stories about other inmates at Litchfield, giving us glimpses into the pre-lockup lives of Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Lorna (Yael Stone) and Poussey (Samira Wiley), among others.

“From my standpoint, it’s felt like an ensemble piece from the beginning,” Schilling says.

“That’s what Orange is to me. We do see the world through Piper’s eyes, but it’s at its heart an ensemble show. At its heart it’s shared by all these incredibly diverse characters.”

Schilling has just started shooting Season 3 – “Piper is continuing from where she left off” is all she’ll reveal – and despite the show’s success and popularity, she admits Hollywood’s attitudes won’t change overnight.

“There’s a lot of fear,” she says. “The entertainment industry does well on a tried and true model, and so we need new tried and true models. Maybe Orange is the model that people will be interested in copying.”


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