Orange is the New Black has been going from strength to strength since it first premiered on Netflix in 2013. It started out focusing on the loosely autobiographical story of Piper Chapman’s time in a women’s prison, but since then it’s grown into a funny, poignant and sometimes controversial ensemble piece about the nature of life behind bars.
The show has such a huge cast that it’s sometimes hard to keep up with all the stories, and that’s before you take into account everything that goes on behind the scenes. Here are a few things you may not have known about the landmark series.
1. Kate Mulgrew (Red) and Taylor Schilling (Piper) already had history before working together on the show. Mulgrew played Schilling’s mother in the medical drama series Mercy.
2. Laura Prepon, who plays Alex Vause, originally auditioned for the Piper role. The casting director just didn’t believe that Prepon would have an issue surviving in prison, so she was handed the role of the much hardier Alex instead.
3. Uzo Aduba first went in to audition for the Janae Watson part, but wound up playing Crazy Eyes instead. The Watson role may have been more fitting in one sense – Aduba is a former track and field star, which is a key part of Watson’s backstory.
4. On the same day that Aduba was offered the role, she had decided to turn her back on acting. She had been expecting a call back about her audition, but hadn’t heard anything yet, and had subsequently decided to enrol for law school instead. Imagine what would have happened if they’d waited another day to contact her!
5. Regina Spektor wrote the opening song especially for the show. She was even sent some of the footage while season one was still shooting. She’s since said that seeing the characters helped inspire her to write the song.
6. Annie Golden might play Norma as a mute, but in reality she has a voice, and a rather powerful one at that. Gordon was the lead singer of a band called The Shirts from 1975 to 1981. The band actually reformed in 1994, but Golden decided not to join them.
7. Beyond playing Sister Inglis, Beth Fowler actually has further experience playing a nun. She played a choir nun in Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. She’s also had roles in numerous broadway productions and has been nominated for two Tony Awards.
8. Pablo Schrieber, otherwise known as Pornstache, is also recognisable for his roles in The Wire and more recently American Gods, but he’s also Liev Schrieber’s half brother.
9. Taryn Manning researched her role as Pennsatucky by researching faith healing and evangelism. She also watching the documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. She has said that the White family, who are central to the documentary, loosely inspired her approach to the character.
10. The show has had a few different guest directors, but the most prominent of all might be Jodie Foster. Foster directed ‘Lesbian Request Denied’, the third episode of the second season. Foster’s fondness for the book is what attracted her to the show.
11. The titles of the episodes can sometimes be a little strange, but there’s a good reason for that. At some point in each episode, the title will be spoken (or at least paraphrased) in the dialogue. Keep an ear out for it next time you watch.
12. Just as Piper Chapman is based on the book’s author, Piper Kerman, Alex Vause has a real life counterpart. Her name is Catherine Cleary, and although the pair were both involved in the same drug running operation, they were never imprisoned together.
13. Samira Wiley can be heard speaking German as Poussey during several scenes. Wiley doesn’t speak German in real life, so she had to spend time with a language coach and practised by getting angry at random objects in her apartment.
14. Wiley also attended Juilliard at the same time as Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee. In the show the two characters are best friends, so it probably helped that the two have known each other and been friends themselves since 2007.
15. Before working on OITNB, showrunner Jenji Kohan worked as a writer on several other landmark TV shows. Most notably, she wrote one episode of Gilmore Girls and one episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
16. It would be easy to think that the faces you see in extreme close-up during the opening credits are members of the cast. In fact, they’re all formerly incarcerated women. While being filmed, they were asked to think about somewhere peaceful, someone who makes them laugh and something they would rather forget.
17. Before appearing in the show, Uzo Aduba and Lea DeLaria (Boo) worked together on stage. They both appeared in the musical 2011 broadway production of the Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound. Aduba played Io and DeLaria played Zeus’s enforce, Force.
18. Several actors who worked on Jenji Kohan’s first show, Weeds, also appear in OITNB, most notably Natasha Lyonne (Nicky) and Michael Harney (Healey). Also, in one scene, Piper’s then-fiancee Larry can be seen watching the show on TV.
19. In one episode, Taystee uses a battery and a foil gum wrapper to produce a makeshift cigarette lighter. While it’s unclear how often this trick has been used in actual prisons, there can be no doubt that it actually does work. Something to bear in mind if you ever get locked up.
20. Despite her character being a massive fan of Harry Potter, Danielle Brooks most certainly isn’t. In fact, she’s never read any of the books, and it was only after Taystee’s dedication to them was written into the show that she watched any of the films.
21. Lea DeLaria is a lesbian in real life, and her sexuality plays a key role in her stand up performances. She performs under the name ‘That F***ing Dyke’, just so audiences aren’t under any illusions about what kind of show they’re going to.
22. Lauren Morelli, one of the lead writers on the show, is now married to Samira Wiley. She had been married to a man when the show started but working on the show (and spending time with Wiley) made her realise that she was a lesbian.
23. The writers have snuck in more than a few references to the cast’s previous work. In the pilot, Larry (Jason Biggs) refers to “The webcam horror, the penis shaving incident…”, both of which recalls things his character did in American Pie. In a later episode, Nicky refers to herself as Red’s “Spock”, a reference to Kate Mulgrew’s starring role in Star Trek: Voyager.
24. The second season of the show was released on the same day as the film version of The Fault in Our Stars. Moreover, the book actually makes an appearance in the second season – Vee offers to lend her copy to Rosa in the ninth episode.
25. Laverne Cox, who plays transgender inmate Sophia Burset, is the twin sister of ‘neogothic’ musician and performer M Lamar. Lamar himself actually had a one time part in the show – he played Burset before she got her sex change.
26. Piper Kerman wasn’t the only person to write about the events which inspired the show. Kerman’s husband, Larry Smith, wrote about his experiences in the New York Times. The couple may have split on the show, but in real life they’re still together.
27. The real prison on which Litchfield is based is actually in Danbury, Connecticut. Litchfield is a real place in upstate New York, and it’s actually named after a town of same name in Connecticut. There’s no women’s prison in either town.
28. However, there is an old prison building in Litchfield, Connecticut, the oldest building in the entire town, in fact. From 1993-2010, it was rebranded as a rehabilitation centre for women. The building was bought by a property developer in 2014, and it’s currently being developed for retail space.
29. Casting director Jennifer Euston maintains that Piper was the hardest role to cast. Taylor Schilling won the role partly because of her vulnerability, but also because she was ready for anything, nudity, sex and violence included.
30. The show shares production space with Sesame Street, and visitors to the set are often warned to ‘watch out for Big Bird’. Sesame Street also did their own parody of the show, entitled “Orange is the New Snack”.