It’s no secret that Netflix original series shows are becoming some of the hottest must-see television lately. Whether it’s because we love to binge-watch an entire season at once, or because they’re just taking more risks and bringing more innovative programming than the cable networks, there’s usually at least one Netflix series that you’ve binge-watched over and over again. And, amongst them all, none is as big as Orange Is The New Black.
Orange Is The New Black, a series based on the memoir written by Piper Kerman, basically started a cultural phenomenon. Everyone was obsessed with knowing what happened to the women inside Litchfield from season to season, and it became nearly impossible not to binge-watch the entire season within 24 hours of release. From perky blonde Piper to queen of the kitchen Red, from the prison guards to the adorable Morello, we love following all the inmates episode to episode.
When you’re that interested in a series (or when you’re eagerly awaiting the next season after accidentally binge-watching way too many episodes), you soon start to wonder about the actors and actresses outside of their characters. You start to wonder who came up with Flaca’s crazy makeup, and what the real Litchfield is like.
Well, we’re here to satisfy your curiosity, and maybe provide you with a few facts to share during the next OITNB season release/binge-watch session. Here are 20 things you may not have known about the super popular series.
20. Laura Prepon originally auditioned to play Piper
While actress Laura Prepon has snagged several roles, before OITNB she was best known for playing the red-headed Donna on sitcom That 70s Show. However, after having her grace our screens as Alex Vause, it’s safe to say that her current role is probably the one she’ll be most remembered by. From the dark locks to the glasses to the lower pitched voice, Prepon’s Vause is sexy, mysterious, and a little bit badass, all at once. However, did you know she didn’t even audition for the character of Alex originally – she auditioned for Piper. While we know she has incredible acting chops and probably could have pulled any role off, we’re glad she became Ale.
19. Matt McGorry used to be a bodybuilder
We all known Matt McGorry as CO Bennett, the one who just couldn’t resist inmate Dayanara Diaz, and whose clandestine romance we all followed. Nowadays, McGorry is on two hit shows, OITNB and How To Get Away With Murder, so we can only assume that before he snagged those roles he was just a struggling actor? Wrong! Before he entered the entertainment industry, McGorry was actually a competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer. We don’t get to see CO Bennett shirtless too often, but just google some shots of McGorry from his bodybuilding days and prepare to be impressed. It’s always the quiet ones!
18. The episode title is stated at some point in every episode
Have you ever wondered where the sometimes strange episode titles come from? Sure, sometimes it stands out as a huge plot line in the story, or a particularly memorable quote, but often times they seem totally out of left field. Rest assured – the writers know exactly what they’re doing with the titles. At some point in each episode, the episode title is stated, often within a seemingly banal conversation or off-hand remark. It’s a fun way to unify the titles and present a good variety, rather than stretching to think up a brief word or phrase that could somehow some up an entire crazy episode of Litchfield antics.
17. Yael Stone’s accent is totally fake
Actress Yael Stone’s portrayal of Morello is probably one of our favorites. From her perfectly painted red lips to her absolutely insane back-story to her love of men and romance, she’s equal parts crazy and crazy cute, and has become a definite favorite for viewers. However, one of the best parts of her character is that awesome Jersey accent – and, surprisingly, it’s totally fake! Stone is actually from Australia, and if you’ve ever seen her interviews or press junkets, you’ll be shocked to see the Jersey accent disappear in favor of a proper Australian drawl.
16. The eyes and mouths in the opening credits belong to real inmates
While most of us are guilty of fast forwarding through the theme music and opening credits for many television series, it’s hard to do so for OITNB – a combination of Regina Spektor’s awesome song and the different faces flashing by makes us want to watch, no matter how many times we’ve already seen it. However, if you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to figure out which eyes and mouths belong to which cast members, there’s a reason you haven’t been able to pinpoint them. They mouths and eyes in the title credits actually belong to women who were former inmates, not the actresses themselves.
15. Laverne Cox’s real twin brother plays her in the flashback sequences
Laverne Cox has had a tremendous impact on the entertainment industry since she scored the role of Sophia Burset on OITNB. Not only is she fabulous and super fierce on the show, she also makes it a point to engage in LGBTQ activism. She’s been setting the industry on fire, including becoming the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of TIME. What about those flashbacks to her pre-transition days on the show, however? How did they manage to find someone who looks so much like her? Well, turns out they got Cox’s real life twin brother to play the firefighter Marcus in Sophia’s flashback scenes.
14. Samira Wiley aka Poussey doesn’t actually speak German
Poussey has always seemed a little more cultured than many of the inmates, and there were a few hints that she spoke other languages, but the episode where we get a look into Poussey’s past really cleared things up. We learn that she was a military brat whose father was stationed in Germany. So, naturally, she would be able to speak fluent German, right? Simple! The only problem was, Wiley didn’t actually speak German. So, she worked tirelessly with a dialect coach, practicing speaking and even shouting the language so that it would sound authentic in all her scenes.
13. The costumes are real prison attire
If you thought the costume department spent endless hours sewing faux prison uniform after prison uniform, trying to replicate the real thing, think again. Things are pretty authentic on OITNB, and that includes the clothing. Sure, the costume department adds the odd accessory, and they really have fun when it comes to the flashback scenes, but the actual prison uniforms that are worn most often on the show are purchased through real prison suppliers. That’s right – right down to the bras and underwear, the actresses are wearing the same items that real inmates would wear while serving their time
12. Jenji Kohan had to beg the real Piper Kerman for the rights to adapt the memoir
With a hit show like Weeds under her belt, you might think that any writer would be eager to have Kohan transform their text into a hit show, right? Well, things were a little bit more complicated when it came to OITNB. Kerman’s memoir had such a compelling story that many in the industry wanted a piece of the prison pie and were looking to adapt it. Kohan had to call Kerman and basically plead her case, convincing her that she was the right person to tell Kerman’s story on the screen. Kerman apparently really liked Kohan’s dedication and gave her the green light.
11. Uzo Aduba almost quit acting
Suzanne, or Crazy Eyes, is one of the most memorable characters on the show – from her emotionally vulnerable scenes to her crazy, over the top breakdowns, she’s a character that a lesser actress would have a lot of trouble with. Uzo Aduba, however, portrays her masterfully, making her equal parts crazy, childish, and compelling. However, you might be surprised that Aduba almost quit acting entirely. As a former university track star, Aduba originally auditioned for the role of Janae. She didn’t hear back, and threw in the acting towel in favor of going to law school. However, Kohan wasn’t about to let her go – she just saw her as Crazy Eyes rather than Janae.
10. Kohan and the writing staff visited an actual California prison
Jenji Johan and the writing staff her Kerman’s memoir to go by, and they also had Kerman herself consulting on the show periodically, but it’s not always easy to authentically write a world that you’ve never been a part of. How do you remedy that? Well, Kohan and her writing staff visited Chino Prison in California to get a look inside a real penitentiary. Kohan spoke with the warden himself, and got a lesson in how social groups formed in women’s prison, what made them different from men’s prisons, etc. Sure, good writers can concoct incredible backstories, but it’s that constant underlying current of authenticity that really makes us love OITNB.
9. Nicky’s scar is real
On OITNB, Nicky’s past is no secret – the flashbacks constantly show her pre-prison drug using days, and the reckless decisions she was making – and we finally got an answer to where her scar came from when the show presented her in the hospital after an open heart surgery. According to the show, the surgery was necessary because of a bacterial infection Nicky had received as a result of her drug use. Turns out, sometimes fiction isn’t that far from fact – Nicky’s scar is real, and it’s because Natasha Lyonne actually had the same surgery for the same reasons Nicky did.
8. Daya and her mother are nearly the same age in real life
One of the most memorable moments from the first season of OITNB is when Daya comes in as a new inmate and gets slapped across the face by a current inmate, who turns out to be her mother, Aleida. Well, while the two are mother and daughter on the show, in real life, the actress who plays Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is only a year older than Dascha Polanco, the actress who plays Daya. It just goes to show how crazy Hollywood can be!
7. Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley knew each other in college
Taystee and Poussey are close friends on OITNB, often hanging out in the Litchfield library together and embarking on schemes as a team. However, it turns out the actresses who play the two characters, Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley, knew each other before ever stepping onto the set of OITNB. Both talented ladies went to Julliard, and were only a year apart, so they knew each other from around campus and in classes. It must have been nice to have a familiar face on set amongst the large cast! It just goes to show that even within the entertainment industry, it’s often a small world.
6. Regina Spektor wrote the theme song specifically for the show
For many television programs, the theme song is merely an altered or shortened version of a song that a musician has already recorded and released. They merely give the show permission to use it. However, when it comes to OITNB, things were a lot more custom. The singer-songwriter behind the song, Regina Spektor, had worked with Jenji Kohan before – the duo had collaborated on Kohan’s former hit show Weeds. So, when it came time to figure out a theme song for her new show, Kohan reached out to Spektor and asked if she would write the theme song. Spektor agreed and was sent a few unfinished episodes to watch and get a feel for the characters before she wrote the song specifically for the show.
5. Annie Golden was a singer and Broadway star
Norma is known first only as Red’s right-hand woman, and later as the center of a strange type of cult within Litchfield wherein some of the other inmates worship her and believe she has magical powers. Through it all, however, apart from one startling song in a Christmas pageant, Norma is totally mute. However, Annie Golden, the actress who plays Norma, is about as far from mute as you can get. In reality, she was the lead singer for the pop band The Shirts in the 70s, and starred in several Broadway musicals. We imagine when the show creators found that out, they had to sneak a musical number in for Norma.
4. The show has had several celebrity directors
While there are a few faces amongst the inmates at Litchfield that had several acting roles before scoring their gig on OITNB, many amongst the cast were relative newbies who had little to no experience before earning their Litchfield roles. However, there are some A-List names on set – they just generally stick behind the camera! Actress Jodi Foster and 80s heartthrob Andrew McCarthy have both directed episodes of the show.
3. The real Larry really did write about his relationship with Piper
OITNB is so thrilling that sometimes it’s easy to forget some of the characters are based on real people. However, they are – and one of the most interesting amongst them is Larry Smith, Piper’s on-screen and real-life husband. While certain things were changed for the show, the part where Larry writes about his relationship with Piper in prison is true. The real Larry is a talented writer who has worked with countless publications, and while Kerman was in prison, he wrote several pieces for various publications detailing the experience from his perspective and giving his opinion on the whole situation. While we obviously recommend reading Kerman’s memoir if you’re a fan of the show, you should check out Larry’s pieces as well.
2. Prop hooch was a strange concoction
Poussey is known for the awesome hooch she brews on the show, but did you ever wonder what the stuff in her plastic bags actually was? Well, according to Wiley, it was just water with some food colouring, fruit cocktail, and something to make it sweet. Wiley, who is a diabetic, had to ask the prop creators to take out the sweetener they put in the hooch to make it more palatable, as it actually made it impossible for her to drink it. So, when Poussey is chugging hooch on the show, it’s actually just colored water.
1. Michael Harney had been in prison before
Michael Harney, the actor who plays counsellor Sam Healy, had been in a real prison before entering the world of Litchfield – not, however, as an inmate. When he was in college, Harney did some volunteer work at Ossining State Penitentiary. He visited a particular inmate and helped him with his case as a volunteer. Harney has become one of the more outspoken cast members when it comes to prison reform, and has made reference to several of the organizations that the real Piper Kerman works with in her daily life.