“[The show] treats people like they’re not stupid…we’ve had enough of this homogenized, sexist nonsense. It acknowledges that women look and speak and act differently, and that there’s not just three types of women that we all slot into.”
by Viva Bianca
Created by a woman, starring women, and about women, Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black proves to be just as its title implies: a pioneering series that delivers in spades in its pledge to deal with the many facets and dimensions of the female experience. And where better to dramatize such female-ness than in the pungent confines of a women’s prison?
Groundbreaking in its unapologetic portrayal of female homosexuality, bodies, hygiene, rage, and violence, creator Jenji Kohan has flipped the gag-worthy “female hysteria” stigma on its head. We girls at SheRa Mag were determined to feature Orange Is The New Black in our launch issue so I tracked down the actress behind one of my favorite inmates, Yael Stone, to talk about life on the inside. Straight out of a yoga class and slurping a smoothie on the sidewalk of a bustling street in Queens, NY, Stone graciously offered up insights into her character, Lorna Morello, painted the very complex, funny, and often frightening world she operates in, and revealed a twinkle of both hers and Lorna’s dreams…
Viva: Describe a regular day onset in prison?
Yael: I can describe our fictional prison, which is based closely on a real prison, but obviously I don’t claim to be a prison expert. So remembering that people sleep with the lights on, there’s never actually a moment of full darkness in those facilities. My character, she drives a van so she has specific appointments: maybe she’s driving [inmate and cancer patient] Rosa to a medical appointment, maybe she’s moving a prisoner from one section to another… Activities that are available inside of our fictionalized prison are things like yoga, the television room… It’s a fairly restricted day. A count happens four times a day and many times a night. Also, there’s all these wonderful daily hygiene duties that the show constantly deals with. In terms of showering logistics, how to stay feeling like a human being in a place where that’s really challenging.
Viva: That’s a remarkable aspect of the show—it doesn’t shy away from female roar-ness.
Yael: Yeah! And female anatomy. And total cock-ups in the prison system. Actually there’s a new campaign called, “Humanity Is The New Black” (#humanityisthenewblack), which details that the logistical problems that happen in the show have actually happened in real prisons. For example, sewerage falling out of drains.
Viva: Watching the show, particularly in Season 1, it often feels intimidating and terrifying. Does it feel that way for you on the inside?
Yael: It definitely did for one moment, with Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) in the car [Season 1, Episode 6]. That was a fun experience but probably my definition of fun is a little strange! It was genuinely intimidating to be there with Pablo. He’s an incredible actor but I don’t know him very well because we never did a lot of work together. I kind of knew he was this amazing force of crazy quick silver. So actually, that scene was about coming up to his level and making sure I didn’t let the writing fall flat. That was a scene where my character was in every sense in a great deal of physical danger. And potential sexually physical danger. That was an intimidating time, but very much within the walls of professionalism. But you know, it was one of those moments where you don’t have to reach too far for the given circumstances…
Viva: One of the strongest things about the show is the quality of the performances and how authentic everyone feels. I imagine it’s quite elevating.
Yael: Definitely. That elevation is one of the great privileges of being in that show and being in any production, as I’m sure you’ve also experienced, when you’re constantly being asked to rise to the challenge. Be that the writing, the director, or the other actors.
Viva: Well you’ve definitely stepped up to the challenge. Lorna is of my fave characters! In fact, in the pilot episode of Season 1, when Piper meets Lorna, it felt like such a relief; Piper had found an ally! There’s a lightness, a charm and a warmth to Morello, and yet we learn in Season 2 that there’s a well of darkness just below the surface. Were you aware of Morello’s backstory when you began filming Season 1?
Yael: No, I didn’t know anything at all about her. I didn’t know what I was in prison for, didn’t know what I had done. I had a sense that there was an instability there—you know, someone that is that focused on maintaining a really strong façade: hair every day, makeup every day, keeping it together every day. There’s a scene where Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) says, “He hasn’t visited you… ever”, and the façade shatters pretty quickly. There’s clearly a fragility there.
Viva: And it’s that vulnerability that allows us to empathize with her. I love the opening scene in Season 2, Episode 4 where we watch Lorna privately wake up, do her rollers, and lipstick. It’s so beautifully vulnerable.
Yael: I love those private moments, I think they’re very precious. For all the characters. We get a tiny little window. I’m sure you can appreciate that the show emphasizes the fact that there is no privacy, in a world where you are constantly surveilled. In Episode 4, there were a lot of private moments with Lorna and I hadn’t had a chance to meet her in that way before. I really appreciated the opportunity to explore what it was to be alone with her.
Viva: At SheRa, we’re all about inspiring girls to break through and change the statistics. How does it feel working on a show that was created by a woman?
Yael: Delightful. I’ve worked for female directors before and in theatre where a woman is at the helm. But this is different because it’s a whole concept that is very much woman focussed. In addition to Jenji, there’s a whole lot of women who are essential to the heart of the show. A strong united force of women.
Viva: If you had to describe Jenji in three words, what would they be?
Yael: Umm…it’s kind of like this Technicolor, comic, cynicism. She’s deeply funny and deeply cynical at the same time.
Viva: How has Lorna’s time in prison changed her?
Yael: Whether she wanted it or not, the truth has finally come out and she’s had to close that gap between fantasy and reality. While fantasy can be fun, living in it for too long is unhealthy. So I’m pleased for her as a character that she was able to face that truth, and what she does with that now will be very interesting.
Viva: Indeed. Can you give us something to salivate over for the upcoming season (3)?
Yael: I literally have no idea. We’re filming episode 3 and I have no idea.
Viva: Who does Morello fear most in prison?
Yael: There was a time when Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) was a very threatening presence; she almost killed Red [Kate Mulgrew]. That time was really scary when things got very real and potentially violent.
Viva: If Lorna could choose anyone to be her roomie, who would it be?
Yael: My first thought would be Nicky. But that could be trouble because Nicky loses patience with Lorna sometimes. Her roommate is actually Boo. They fight sometimes and then they make up. But that’s the situation right now. She likes Piper but she wouldn’t want to spend much time with her…Probably, I think her and Anita would get on pretty well, so I think Anita.
Viva: If you could switch roles with anyone for a day, who would you wanna play?
Yael: I wouldn’t really want to. I would be so intimated by the good work of my fellow castmates. I could never do any justice to any of them.
Viva: Why do you think that Orange Is The New Black is resonating so profoundly with audiences?
Yael: Because we’re treating people like they’re not stupid. Because we’ve had enough of this homogenized, sexist nonsense. [The show] acknowledges that women look and speak and act differently, and that there’s not just three types of women that we all slot into. There are many, many different women, and people. I think it’s an intelligent show and people like to be thought of as intelligent.
Viva: Now, to really delve deep… What’s Lorna’s dream?
Yael: To survive this horrific experience and find someone that she can really connect with. Someone who celebrates her for who she really is. I think she’s probably quite a creative person, I think she’s pretty crafty. So I think it would be wonderful for her to find someone beyond this experience to foster all of her quirks. I hope that beyond prison, Nicky and Lorna can remain connected as an interesting little odd couple.
Viva: Your dream?
Yael: My dream is to continue to be part of things I believe in. And if I’m lucky enough to do that in the capacity as a performer, then that’s wonderful. But it’s wherever I can be involved with things that are challenging the status quo, that are moving, that are touching, that are authentic; things that are outside any kind of cookie-cutter mold.