Orange is The New Black stars talk sixth series of Netflix hit
Orange Is The New Black has made waves thanks to its powerful themes, diverse cast and break-out stars. Georgia Humphreys finds out from some of the cast why series six might be the darkest yet, plus what they've learnt from their roles in the prison drama.
SINCE launching as one of Netflix's first original shows back in 2013, Orange Is The New Black has remained a trailblazer in the world of TV.
Based on Piper Kerman's book about her real-life experiences, it follows a group of women living in a prison in Connecticut, and the backstories behind their sentences.
Creator Jenji Kohan has been applauded for how unapologetically forward-thinking the comedy-drama is.
"I know for a fact Orange was talking about #MeToo before #MeToo was even being talked about, dealing with the injustice and the guards taking advantage of the inmates," remarks Danielle Brooks (28) who plays Tasha 'Taystee' Jefferson.
"What I like about this show is they're not afraid to go there."
Here, Brooks and co-stars Natasha Lyonne and Jackie Cruz tell us what fans can expect from series six.
Season five, which played out over three days during a riot, ended on a cliffhanger.
We saw officers break into a bunker, where 10 of Litchfield's finest, including protagonist Piper Chapman and former heroin addict Nicky Nichols (Lyonne), had been hiding out.
"We go to maximum security prison, which is going to be a whole new world for Nicky," says New Yorker Lyonne (39) – also known for films such as American Pie – of the new episodes.
"She's really used her smart mouth and her wit to maintain a version of power or good relations, and in max, that game isn't going to be quite as cute anymore."
There are some seriously dark scenes in series six: the women, sent to different prisons and separated from their friends, are tortured by guards, and have possible life sentences hanging over them.
Taystee is particularly struggling to stay above water, after almost taking her life at the end of the last series.
"There were some tough days," Brooks (28), recalls of filming. "She's depressed and just wanting to give up and that was hard, to stay in that state for little less than eight months.
"I can't come out and make a joke with somebody ... I'm very much focused, because it's too important to me to waste such good writing and storytelling."
Georgia-born Brooks had only just finished studying at Juilliard in New York when she got the role of Taystee, and identified with her from the beginning.
"Taystee having this opportunity to get out of prison but coming back because she felt that people wouldn't take her seriously – I definitely felt that way at the beginning of my career. Feeling like I'm this young 21/22-year-old, coming into this big show, and, 'Will people take me seriously? Will they think I'm a fake, a fluke?'"
Notably, all cast members have had a part in moulding the women they play over the last few series.
"They take a little bit of your life and add it to the character, and that's what I feel makes the show so authentic," explains actress and singer Jackie Cruz (31), who plays music-mad Marisol 'Flaca' Gonzales.
When it comes to her preparation for the role each series, Lyonne says it's an actor's job to stay open to what's happening in real life, noting the "new, more fascist world that we accidentally found ourselves in while shooting the sixth season".
"The underlying theme of Orange is always going to be about losing free will, and understanding really, in a profound sense, what freedom means," she suggests.
"There were themes that, quite clearly, we are experiencing in real time."
The show boasts a diverse cast, and Cruz, who was born in the Dominican Republic, thinks her character is really important for representing first generation Latinas like her.
"To be honest with you, Orange Is The New Black is the first time I saw 'myself' on TV," she confides.
"I never grew up watching TV being like, 'I wanna be like her', because there was no-one like me."
Meanwhile, Brooks, who has used her fame from the show as a platform to talk about sizeism and beauty positivity, loves how Orange Is The New Black shows all different types of women on screen.
"What I pray is that we don't just make it a trend," she follows, "but that it's something that we stick with in this Hollywood entertainment business for a while, and I think it will, because women are not playing around right now!"
Does Lyonne see the show continuing for a long time yet?
"I do. There are so many stories to be told.
"That's part of the profundity of what Orange Is The New Black is saying – behind the statistically, radically over-criminalised prison industrial complex, each one of those people is a very real person, with a very real story, that we like to think of as just numbers, and how dangerous that is."
Meanwhile, being part of the show has cemented in Lyonne's mind that people can keep going even when feeling hopeless – which, she reflects, is something she did as a young person battling with drug addiction.
"We are wired to survive and fight for what we believe in, and I think it's what's so beautiful about Orange Is The New Black – we really see that on a macro and a micro scale," she says.
"So, it's been powerful, personally, as a lesson and in a more global sense, to see what we can learn from that."
:: Orange Is The New Black season six launches on Netflix on Friday July 27