Prison has been good for Taylor Schilling. Three years ago, she had a few movies (Dark Matter, The Lucky One, Atlas Shrugged) and a short-lived TV show (Mercy) to her credit.
Then she was cast as Piper Chapman, an upper middle class New Yorker convicted of drug trafficking and sent off to prison in Orange is the New Black. When the show began streaming on Netflx in July 2013, the praise and accolades for the series and Schilling flooded in.
“In Alex she’s found someone, that person that sticks in your craw, that love that fundamentally changes you. I think that that’s what separates Alex from any other romantic interest she ever had.”
Over the three seasons, how has prison changed Piper?
She came into prison pretzeling herself a little bit into expectations of what she thought the world needed of her. And those things are being systematically ripped away, and all sorts of new things are emerging all the time. I think that Piper is quite intrepid and there’s a sense of the dramatic shift and the way that she keeps trying and the way that she sort of unabashedly is being herself and not knowing what that is. I think there’s a sense of boldness and I think it’s deeply liberating to play a character that people don’t like.
Do you think she’s gone too far? Is she beyond redemption?
I don’t know, because I don’t even know what redemption means now. What if she’s moving towards a place where she’s finally for the first time in her life saying, ‘I’m going to bring it and I’m going to be who I am.’ She’s been trapped by blonde hair and blue eyes for so much of her life. And so maybe that’s her redemption.
She’s risking more jail time with her little venture selling dirty underwear.
Absolutely. She may only have three more months left so it’s a pretty wild thing that this character is risking, a significantly extended sentence, to play with this panty business. I don’t know how the panty business itself will be important. But I do know that, for her, this woman galvanizing a part of herself that’s powerful was interesting, and also manipulative and really getting what she wanted.
A longer sentence would mean job security for you, though.
I don’t think that way. I want the most interesting and powerful and authentic story for her and everyone else.
She’s had her share of romances. Will it last with Alex (Laura Prepon)?
In Alex she’s found someone, that person that sticks in your craw, that love that fundamentally changes you. I think that that’s what separates Alex from any other romantic interest she ever had. So I’m curious to see how that plays out.
Has this role spoiled you for anything you might do later?
That’s a good question. It’s given me so much confidence and it’s given me such a desire to keep telling stories that move me and I feel so free of any idea of what a woman should be, you know, like a character being a heroine in a particular way.
What kinds of things are you looking for?
I’m always looking for directors and other people to play with and stories. Right now, I’d love to work with Tate Taylor, Danny Boyle, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, Woody Allen. There are a million people I’d like to work with and it’s exciting to think what it would be like.
Photo by Brian Bowen Smith/Netflix