Orange is the New Black’s second season introduced us to the matriarchal power structure of Litchfield. Throughout the season tensions grew between the almighty prison mothers — Yvonne “Vee” Parker [Lorraine Toussaint] and Galina “Red” Reznikov [Kate Mulgrew]. What became quickly apparent was that Vee was true evil out to destroy everyone. And in the end it was Vee who needed to be destroyed.
With “We Have Manners. We’re Polite” — the finale of Season Two — Red is in the hospital recovering from Vee’s brutal attack. Vee has Suzanne (“Crazy Eyes”) [Uzo Aduba] convinced that she was the one that hurt Red, and the officers investigating the case are just as clueless and convinced that Suzanne is a primary suspect. Vee’s former minions have become hip to the fact that she’s a manipulative sociopath who must be stopped, and Gloria [Selenis Leyva] has already commenced with some Voodoo against her.
Meanwhile Miss Rosa [Barbara Rosenblat] has just found out her chemotherapy is not working and she only has a couple weeks left to live. After hearing this news from her doctor, she is driven back to Litchfield by Lorna [Yael Stone] and a guard who just can’t get enough of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” playing on the radio. Miss Rosa stares at the window faced with the reality that her final days will be spent incarcerated while listening to a peppy song that tells us that love is possible as long as you have just one thing in common with another person.
When they return from the hospital the prison is on lockdown, as Vee has escaped and is running free in the wilderness. With Miss Rosa and Lorna still stationed in the van outside, Lorna convinces her to drive the hell out of Litchfield. Miss Rosa drives away almost running over a clan of protesting nuns en route to freedom. Once free she sees Vee on the side of the road and makes the noble decision to run her over. “Always being so rude, that one,” she mutters to herself while blasting “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on the radio and visually becoming the younger version of herself.
In anticipation of Season Three, premiering tomorrow on Netflix, I spoke with cast members Laura Prepon, Barbara Rosenblat, Taryn Manning, Yael Stone, Lea DeLaria, Selenis Leyva, and Stephanie Andujar about the death of Vee, why this show makes us nostalgic for our days in prison (even if we’ve never experienced it, per se), and got some insight on the coming season.
Planting The Seed
From the start of Season Two it was clear that Vee had a powerful presence at Litchfield — one that enabled her to control prisoners and leave her nemesis struggling to overcome her. But it was one rude move toward Miss Rosa that led to her ultimate demise. Additionally, Season Two revealed more about Miss Rosa and we learned that she is a woman who just loves smelling cash.
BARBARA ROSENBLAT (Miss Rosa Cisneros): My initial reaction when I figured out how relevant I was going to be in Season Two was to run into the bathroom for five minutes and scream. Because after Season One — which was delicious and I was delighted to be a part of that — I only appeared in five episodes as this truly sad, sick person… my agent called and said, “Oh my God, they’re going to be doing your backstory.” I went, “Really? Oh my God, that’s a good sign.”
SELENIS LEYVA (Gloria Mendoza): I think [the backstories] are a really brilliant way of giving the audience information — having the audience think they know secrets by having the flashbacks. For me, finding out why Gloria truly was in prison was refreshing to me because I didn’t know [in Season One].
ROSENBLAT: I originally auditioned for Red, but I didn’t get that. They called up a few days later and asked if I would be interested in playing Miss Rosa. And I said, “Who’s this?” And they said, “She’s a prisoner.” “Uh-huh, where’s she from?” “We don’t know” “What’s her last name?” “No idea.” “What’s she in for?” “Not a clue. But, she’s got cancer and she’s bald. Would you shave your head?” And I thought, no, what am I supposed to do for the rest of the week? Play Daddy Warbucks in Annie? I walked away initially because that was too hard to contemplate. But they came back to me a couple days later and said, “Okay, we’ll get a special effects makeup artist to give you that look.” And they get this exceptionally talented man, Josh Turi, who was a three-time Emmy Award-winning special effects makeup artist.
STEPHANIE ANDUJAR (Young Rosa): Before the role I listened to Barbara’s voice every night — going to sleep, waking up, and even during the day — repeating her voice patterns for the part. I also did my own research and kept speaking the Cuban dialect.
YAEL STONE (Lorna Morelleo): You remember the scene, six episodes prior to [the finale], where Vee and her crew come over and kick water into Miss Rosa’s breakfast to get her to move? That’s where the seed is planted.
ROSENBLAT: Miss Rosa had to really come into her own in a way that you felt that she hadn’t given up on herself. So when she got back from chemo and got back to her cell, she had a wonderful scene with her cell mate, Anita, played by Lin Tucci, telling her how awful the prospect of dying in prison is. She was very open about that. She thought she’d go out in a blaze of glory, old guns firing away, and here she is sick and stuck in this cell. Little did anyone know what was going to happen.
ANDUJAR: I was overwhelmed because at first we had filmed the scenes where I’m in prison and I’m going on my bank robbing heist. After that is when I got a call from my agent saying, “They actually want to use you for the end of the finale.” I was elated, but I was like, okay, this is a big deal.
LEYVA: Just like the audience had that [gasp] moment where you lose your breath — I had that moment when I read the script. But we didn’t know what the true ending was going to be, to be honest. They shot it in different ways and we didn’t know what ultimately was going to be the final decision.
LEA DELARIA (Big Boo): We knew she was only on for one season, but we didn’t know how it was going to happen—was she was going to released? We didn’t realize she was literally going to killed.
TARYN MANNING (Tiffany ‘Pennsatucky’ Doggett): Jenji [Kohan] loves those epic endings. And obviously I read the script before I saw it on the premiere of the show—so even in the script I was like, oh wow. And I was watching that build up from the beginning. Every time we get a script and crack them open we think, what’s going to happen? We get one [script] and our name is all over each page. I’m the worst, too. I’m notorious for leaving things places — lip glosses, sunglasses — but man, if I’m the one that leaves my script and our names are watermarked on each page it’s like, “So and so left her script in the middle of Times Square!” [laughs].
STONE: Lorraine Toussaint [Vee], I think I shot two scenes with her. And it was a wonderful thing to watch her work, I think she’s really incredible. She scared me a lot. For the first few weeks that she was there I was like, okay, this woman is Vee and I am terrified.
LEYVA: That’s so funny that Yael would say that. She’s so cute. She would be scared of Vee. I don’t think I was ever scared of her. I don’t think I was ever scared of anyone. I think I’m in awe of them because I do see the transformation. You see it in all of us. We play these characters so well and they’re so believable — there’s a believability to the approach in the acting with these beautiful women — strong, talented women.
DELARIA: I’m such a punk, I’m a total asshole—I’m a stand-up comic so I come to acting through stand up comedy. So when people do that to me and we’re not on set, I don’t play along. I make fun of them—I totally interfere with their process. So I don’t find Lorraine or Kate intimidating at all as individuals. But having to act with them is intimidating because they’re so good.
ROSENBLAT: I was having all these rather uncomfortable encounters with Vee. I thought to myself, this can’t end well [laughs]… I thought, this is the most fantastic season in any television I’ve done in my life and it was thrilling to be a part of it.
ANDUJAR: Vee was the new inmate there that was causing quite a stir amongst the other inmates. So I knew that, you know what, Miss Rosa’s going to take care of it [laughs]. It’s bittersweet with what happened.
LEYVA: Vee was torturing our lives at Litchfield. She was changing it up, she was making it very menacing. We really, honest to God, didn’t know where it was going to go. I had no idea, there was no indication ever on any of the scripts whether she was going to stay, go, end up in the SHU, die…
STONE: As much as I love Lorraine and wanted her to stay forever, I think it’s great when television shows make these crazy choices to kill off people. You only have to look at half a season of Game of Thrones to know that that is a really powerful tool and that a show can still exist when the dynamics morph and change with different people coming in and out. We’ve certainly had that with Orange from the beginning.
Don’t Fear The Reaper
The triumphant moment of Season Two’s finale was Miss Rosa’s escape from prison and knowing that — though she only had a few weeks left to live — at least she could spend them as a free woman. Not only that, she made the excellent decision to run Vee over, leaving her to be killed by her most unlikely enemy.
STONE: [Miss Rosa] has the decision to preserve Vee’s life or not. And she runs her down because she’s been rude to her. I think it’s wonderful.
ROSENBLAT: That whole final scene with me in the van was shot independently of everything else that happened in that episode because we also had to get mini-me, my younger self—young Ms. Rosa, into the van as well. It was four degrees that day, if you can imagine. It was so cold. And I had to be placed in such a way in the van so the director could pull me out of the van and Stephanie Andujar took my place.
ANDUJAR: It was really, really cold, but my main concern was just to be excited to be leaving [prison]. Whatever happens now after she walks out of there, we need to make it exciting. She’s free.
ROSENBLAT: Her hands were in precisely the right place [on the wheel of the van] and they were identical to where I was so they could do that amazing bit of television magic, which was turning her into me and me into her. Oh God, it was an amazing segue. But it was freezing freezing cold. And not only that, I opened the window in the van in that last scene so I could feel the fresh air rolling across my head, but in four degree weather that wasn’t easy for young Stephanie who had to run in and sit where I was. And they blew a huge fan on her [laughs].
ANDUJAR: They had a fan blowing my hair, I was making all these expressions—mind you the car’s not really moving [laughs]. But I had to do this for the character. I have to make her come alive one more time.
ROSENBLAT: I was wearing a lot of those little heat patches on my body. You know those things you rub together to stay warm? I must have worn 70 that day and stuck them everywhere because it was so uncomfortably cold. But, who cares? [laughs]. That’s what we sacrifice for our art.
ANDUJAR: They needed to do it outside. But I think it was just more motivation—let’s just take Miss Rosa out of here [laughs].
STONE: Miss Rosa, who you’re thinking in the first season is just a background character—a bit of color and movement—oh, the lady with chemo. And then she comes to the fore and she’s got this heartbreaking story. She ends up being the hero of Season Two and she’s an older woman with no hair dying of cancer. It’s so great.
DELARIA: Oh, it was badass! Wasn’t it? Absolutely badass. I love Miss Rosa, she was just badass, no two ways about it. My fiancé and I were both sitting on the couch watching it and we both just went, “Ohhh! Yes!” I’m sure people do that all over the place. We were screaming just like the rest of the world when it happened.
STONE: No, [Natasha] does not watch the show. And she’s totally fine with people knowing that. That’s a decision she made early on and she’s never seen it. It’s very smart in terms of not becoming overly self conscious about your work and she just knows what works best for her, and that’s awesome.
LAURA PREPON (Alex Vause): Because the cast is so big there’s a lot of times our story lines don’t intersect so it’s really fun when I get to watch the show. And even though I’ve read all these scripts it’s fun to see how all these actresses play these awesome moments because everyone on the show is so good.
This Could Be You
Whether you’ve been incarcerated or not, there’s something about Orange that makes you feel, “Ah, yes, I remember prison being just like this!” Though a faux-nostalgia for some, the show has an undeniable relatability. And, as a result, that sense of connection has created more compassion and awareness for convicts and the penal system for viewers and Orange actors alike.
LEYVA: People are always somehow amazed that we’re not like our characters. And I’m like, “Uhh, okay, did you really think that they went to a prison and just snatched us up?” But I guess that’s a testament to the work and believability of what we’re doing.
PREPON: Alex is a total badass and I love her so much so. I mean, I’ve never smuggled drugs across country lines but she’s awesome. Sometimes people definitely blur the line of who’s Laura and who’s Alex, but Alex is awesome so it’s fine if that mistake is made a few times.
MANNING: If you know the person—there’s always going to be a little piece of everyone in the character…Everyone is playing out of the ordinary because we’re in prison. I don’t think any of us have done a run in prison…One way I prepare is I make a list of all the ingredients that street methamphetamine has and it’s just appalling what goes into that. [Pennsatucky] definitely chose meth over dental hygiene at one time.
STONE: I think when we make good art, whatever medium that comes in—television, a web series, a film, a play, opera, a symphony—we’re looking to connect to humanity. And we do that in various ways. As an audience member the kind of work that works for me is when I feel that moment of recognition—where I’m like, how could you possibly know that? How could you possibly know that about me? How could you write a script like that or create a moment like that that touches me in a way that I feel is so private? And I think that’s the skill of good writing.
PREPON: The thing that’s so relatable about the show is that it’s an amazing mosh pit of women. Different colors, sizes, everything. And we’re all together under this one roof and everyone is so different. I feel like there’s something for everyone to relate to.
ROSENBLAT: It connects with so many people and especially so many demographics—white, black, gay, straight, rich, poor—all those demographics have something to glom onto when they start to take an interest in the varied lives of these astonishing women.
DELARIA: People don’t normally get to see themselves on television. And Orange is a vastly different group of women than what you normally see on television. And what I find about it so refreshing for me, and what I relate to, is there are so many women involved in the production of this show. And that’s such a unique thing. Basically I would say our set’s a dyke bar [laughs]. All we need is a pool table and a DJ playing ‘We Are Family.’
STONE: It’s kind of scary how easy it is to get caught up in crazy stuff if we’re not hyper vigilant. It definitely has had me think like, wow, this can happen, this can really happen. We should all consider the reality of this stuff because the way that the sentencing works is you don’t have to. You don’t have three strikes and then you’re out. There’s the managing and then the sentencing and non-violent crimes and the implications are huge.
MANNING: We all are one poor choice away from being there, or we’re in a situation where someone else makes the bad choice and we’re at the wrong place at the wrong time. Life is fragile and anything can happen and your whole life can turn upside down.
ANDUJAR: Even in prison you can still build relationships no matter what. It’s just a different environment, that’s all it is. But the women become stronger out of it. Just because they’re in prison doesn’t mean that they’re bad women. Doesn’t mean that at all.
LEYVA: Jenji and the writers are not sugarcoating anything. They really aren’t. They’re giving you life. And yeah, sometimes there are really comedic moments and maybe a little zany, but they’re not actually. That whole thing where they’re talking about the two holes and a character is educating the rest of the inmates on their vaginas—women, when you’re comfortable with each other, you talk about anything with your girlfriends. And I think that’s the beauty with Orange is the New Black—people feel like they really truly know us…you don’t have to be someone who has been to prison to relate to these stories somehow.
ROSENBLAT: The mind of Jenji Kohan is so rich and gifted she’s not just showing you their lives and how they cope in prison, she’s gone deeper into the lives of so many of the individuals so that people, that you might walk away from in horror in the street, you’re actually fascinated and interested and sympathetic to their plight—it explains how they behave now. It explains sometimes what motivates them and the certain actions that they take that moves the series along. So it’s a wonderfully complex and rich experience unlike anything else that’s involved in prison on television before.
PREPON: Jenji didn’t set out to write this exposé on corruption in the penal system at all, but as a side bar if it raises awareness to all these different issues it’s incredible. Anything that raises awareness to something that people normally turn a blind eye to is a good thing.
STONE: I’ve become involved with some different programs that link very directly with the prison population here in New York City. So I’m working with a group called Liberation Prison Yoga that works to bring yoga into prison and I’m a big supporter of the WPA—the Women’s Prison Association.
LEYVA: Years ago I did some work with an outreach program, a theatre program, where we went to juvenile detention and we also visited prison. So I got to work with inmates—both adult inmates and teens…The people that I interacted with— there were a lot of people behind bars that were so smart, and yet were just dealt very crappy cards. Life, from the beginning, was not very fair to them.
DELARIA: I did stand-up in a women’s prison in Framingham, Massachusetts in the late ’80s, ’88 or ’89 and that was an interesting experience. I’ve never been cat called like that before in my life [laughs]. They were whistling and calling me daddy, it was hilarious.
PREPON: I visited a couple prisons—that actually happened once I started shooting because I got the job with 14 hours notice [laughs]. I got the job then literally 14 hours later moved to New York to start shooting the next day. I wanted to meet Cleary Wolters [the character Alex is based after] but she was kind of MIA when we first started shooting. Now she has a book [Out of Orange] and she sent me the book. She wrote me a really nice letter and was really happy with how I’m portraying Alex Vause, even though it’s loosely based on her.
ROSENBLAT: [Cleary Wolters] has just written her memoir called Out of Orange. And I just recorded [the audio book]. So it was a nice, interesting alignment of the stars that Out of Orange was recorded by Miss Rosa. Now she’s following me on Twitter, which is interesting [laughs]. I haven’t [met her]. I think if I met her I would say, “Hi, nice to meet you…what were you thinking?!”
STONE: I have a few personal friendships—one woman in particular who was previously incarcerated and who I think is an amazing, incredible woman. It’s a growing understanding of the system, the people who are caught up in it. I’ve had experiences of talking to the children of mothers who’ve been incarcerated. Being involved in the show has allowed me to learn so much more about that world and I feel really connected with these stories. They’re very powerful and there’s a lot to learn and a lot to be done. It’s been quite life changing.
The Future Of Litchfield’s Inmates
While not giving away major details on Season Three (and really, we wouldn’t want them to because things are so much better when approached blind) the cast was able to share some thoughts on the next’s season’s mood and overall themes.
PREPON: The way that I come back into prison, Jenji was like, “Listen, Alex is broken, Alex is a wounded bird at the beginning of Season Three. And we’re going to see her very raw and vulnerable.” And there were a lot of times that were uncomfortable for me, which were amazing because that’s when I grow as an actress. So I loved it. I love Season Three so much. I’d be leaving at night with Taylor [Schilling], we’d be driving home together in the van and I’d have leftover eye bruising around my eyes and I felt so amazing. I’m like, “Ah, what a good day.” It’s so fulfilling and satisfying being on the show.
ROSENBLAT: There will be new prisoners to create new chemical equations at Litchfield. So it’s a wonderful production team at Orange and they’re all wonderfully committed to the work they’re in. We’re all very good at keeping our cards very close to our chest.
STONE: Season Two had these almost classic nemesis set up of the two matriarchs facing off. Season Three has a different focus where we’re going back into a place where we’re looking at people’s personal journeys. And rather than putting their faith in these two matriarchs, where are they going to put their faith now?
PREPON: Jenji wanted the throughline of Season Three to be faith and motherhood. If you don’t have hope or faith when you’re in prison, it has the potential to become a bleak place. And on the show everyone has different ways that they make living in prison doable. They find comedy in things and they find ways of having family in there, they find a way of having love in there and levity. Season Three encompasses all of that.
LEYVA: We’re not only dealing with faith, we’re also dealing with the idea of motherhood, we’re touching on that. What does that mean? There are a bunch of mothers who are in prison—not only in real life but in Litchfield. We’re focusing on the relationships that they’re having with their children on the outside and how they’re dealing with it. It’s a really great season as far as the depth of the stories. I’m really pleased with where they took Gloria this season and what I can tell you is Laverne Cox’s character and Gloria Mendoza are going to have quite an interesting showdown. I can tell you that much [laughs].
MANNING: I want you guys to be surprised so much—it’s amazing writing, the writing has not stopped being incredible. People keep getting better, evolving, changing—all sorts of things happen.