‘Orange Is the New Black’ Interview: Samira Wiley Talks Taystee-Poussey, Netflix Model and Season 2
‘Orange Is the New Black‘ breakout star Samira Wiley helped solidify the Netflix drama as a major contender and centerpiece of the cultural conversation for its unique depiction of women in the correctional system, as per 'Weeds' creator Jenji Kohan's vision. Fans adored Wiley's recurring character Poussey Washington (accent à droite, b-tch!) and her unique relationship with Taystee (Danielle Brooks), but what does Wiley herself have to say about season 2 and beyond?
Netflix has yet to announce a formal 2014 premiere date for 'Orange Is the New Black' season 2, shooting now under a great deal of secrecy and occasional controversy, after word broke that regular star Laura Prepon would make a surprise exit from the series. We recently had the chance to sit down with Wiley, a Juilliard graduate who had known co-star Danielle Brooks and several of the 'Orange Is the New Black' writers from her training days, to discuss everything from season 2, to "shipping," to the surprising and memorable moments from the prison drama's first season.
You're shooting now, but this must be a very strange process to go through. You wrap an entire season's worth of work, then wait for the audience to catch up at their own binge-watching speed.
The great thing is, it gives viewers a choice in terms of how they want to watch it. You’ve got some people who watch it all in a weekend, but you’ve also got lots of people who are still discovering the show, finding out all the secrets, and they’re only on episode 8, or only on episode 3. It’s funny, because it’s been out for awhile, so sometimes I assume everyone’s seen everything, and I’ll run into them, and they’ll be like, “don’t tell me this, I haven’t watched!”
Where are you in shooting season 2?
We're right in the middle of the season. I don’t remember exactly what episode, but everyone’s hard at work right now. Everyone’s so anxious to get the new scripts, because we’re still figuring out as it goes along, as well. I don’t know exactly what's going to happen, there’s lots of things that are still secret to me. Being able to get the script every episode and read it, it's almost like being able to watch it like the viewers.
Fans are definitely hopeful to see Poussey's flashback story this year, did you have your own ideas about the character in season 1 that changed with the writing in season 2?
You never know whats going to happen in terms of story. I actually went to school with a couple of the writers, and I have such full confidence in them. I know it's going to be way better than anything I could ever come up with. I didn’t really have too many expectations for season 2, I was just anxious to see what they were writing. It wasn’t predictable to me, I don’t think it’s going to be predictable to anyone.
What was most surprising to discover in your research of women in prison?
One thing that was a surprise -- and I don’t know why it was a big surprise, given all the prison movies I’ve seen -- but just how strong racial tensions are in prison. Natasha Lyonne’s character makes a comment in one of the first episodes, saying, “just imagine it's the 1950s, and then it will all make sense.” When you’re in prison, the progress of the outside world doesn’t necessarily translate inside prison walls. You don’t have any rights, it just doesn’t progress along the same timeline. That was really interesting to me, just how deep-seated it is. You walk into prison on your first day, and your skin color already determines who you’re going to hang out with, who you’re going to sleep next to, who you’re going to share the table with at lunchtime.
What were you surprised to find that other people didn't know?
One thing that people were really surprised by was the bluntness, especially in the pilot, where [Piper] has to strip all her clothes off, get down and cough. People were taken aback by how blunt it was, and I was surprised by that [reaction]. It is prison, so I was surprised by people being surprised by that.
You and Danielle Brooks are friends in real life, as well. How does that compare to Poussey and Taystee's friendship?
One thing that’s definitely different is that Taystee and Poussey are friends in a way that's deeper because they're in prison, and they have to be each other’s family in a way that I don’t have to be Danielle's family on the outside. Those ladies in there don’t have connections with their families, so they need to be each other's sisters, so much more than you would have to be on the outside. Me and Danielle are close, and we knew each other from school, but we’re not as close as Taystee and Poussey.
Fans of the first season ended up very invested in your character's friendship with Taystee, so much so that the characters are often "shipped" together. Was there any subtext of a romantic relationship between the pair that might inform the relationship in season 2?
You know, I don’t think that there was to begin with, at all. There was no conversation about that. I think when you’re creating something, it’s the writer’s job and everyone’s to watch what’s going on and have that inform what they’re writing, have things blossom organically, and it's interesting to me how many people say that. I actually didn’t even know what “ship” meant, I had to look it up when everyone said that about our characters. I don’t think there was a conscious decision to have that be a thing.
What are you most excited for season 2 to spotlight?
I'm really excited for people to see more of everyone, Poussey, all the ladies there. Even if we don’t go far into people’s backstories, just their day-to-day prison lives. In season 2, we’re gonna get deeper, we’re gonna know who these ladies are on a deeper level, even if we don’t get to how each got in prison. We'll see so much more of them, who they are, and what their morals are, what their alliances are. I think season 2 is going to be so much better than season 1.
Who were you excited to work with in season 2, that you didn't have much interaction with the first time around?
I really wanted to work with Kate Mulgurew and Natasha Lyonne. I was really hoping for more play time with some of the ladies who are veterans on our show, but I haven’t had much screentime with, partly because prison is so segregated. I've basically gotten scenes with Danielle and Uzo [Adoba]. Whenever I get to see the other ladies on set, they’re always asking, “where have you been? [The freestyle rap scene] was one of the greatest moments of last season. That was the one time where every single character was there, and that never happens. I don’t think It happened before then, and I don’t think it’s happened since.
I saw that about 'House of Cards.' I've never been a part of a TV show on this scale as part of a central cast. I asked how long 'Weeds' ran for, and they told me eight seasons. I’m still giddy and trying to swallow the fact that we’re actually shooting a second season of the show. I'm optimistic and I'm hopeful, but I don’t want to put a number out there.
What have been your favorite reactions from people who've watched the entire series?
I think that people really appreciate the diversity of everything that we’re showing. I think people really like Laverne Cox’s character; it’s really groundbreaking to have a [transgendered] character like that, who’s just a person like anyone else is in the prison system, but for some reason hasn’t had the exposure that she’s had until now. So many different kinds of people are on the show, and there's so many different kinds of people in the world. People look at the characters and say, “oh, that’s just like me,” or, “that really reminds me of my sister.”
I think the accessibility that the show gives to all the people who can see this and relate to something. It's genius the way they’re taking this story of Piper and having that be an “in” for people who would never know about Taystee and Poussey, or Gloria and Daya, or any of those kinds of people in prison. They have an accessible character, and people watch it because of her, and they're being introduced to this whole other cultural world of amazing women
‘Orange Is the New Black’ can be found in its entirety on Netflix Instant, currently ranking as Netflix's most-watched original series to date. Renewed prior to the series premiere, the Jenji Kohan-written drama will return for a second season in 2014, along with new seasons of fellow Netflix originals 'House of Cards' and 'Hemlock Grove.'
In addition to her 'Orange Is the New Black' season 2 role, Samira Wiley can also be seen trading her prison jumpsuit for an FBI badge in 2014's 'Rob the Mob,' co-starring 'Boardwalk Empire''s Michael Pitt, Andy Garcia and Ray Romano. Check out the trailer for 'Orange Is the New Black' season 1 below, and tell us in the comments what you most want to see from season 2 next year!