‘Orange Is The New Black’ executive producer talks Piper’s journey with The Hollywood Reporter
Orange Is the New Black had a lot to say about freedom, time and the current climate with its supersized finale — aptly titled “Be Free.”
SPOILERS!!!! DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SEASON 6
SPOILERS!!!! DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SEASON 6
Executive producer Tara Herrmann tells The Hollywood Reporter that Piper’s release has long been on the writers’ minds, since Orange Is the New Black is based on the story and memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, who served 13 months of her 15-month sentence in a minimum security prison.
“Of course the thought of releasing Piper has come up in previous seasons because the real Piper’s sentence was 15 months and we want to make sure that we can fully tell the story of what it’s like for Piper on the outside,” Herrmann tells THR of what’s to come. Orange has long been renewed for a seventh season, and will begin production later this summer. “We just want to make sure we didn’t do it too soon in her complete arc as a series, but it seemed like the time was right. It felt like we had sort of seen her full time in accordance to what the real story was for the real Piper.”
Indeed, the real Piper wrote a memoir, inspired a TV show and now serves as an advocate for prison reform; she is also a show consultant on Orange. Herrmann says the prison dramedy plans to follow its Piper on the outside just as much as it did on the inside, and that season seven will track Piper’s post-prison journey. “She’s the grounding force of the show,” Herrmann adds of Schilling’s Piper staying put.
Despite the early release surprise, Piper exhibited mixed feelings about her freedom. Not only does the idea of assimilation on the outside loom, but she’s leaving her new wife Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) behind. To celebrate her release, Alex threw Piper a surprise prison wedding, officiated by fellow inmate Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne). “As we were thinking of Piper on the outside, having them be married creates a lot more stories for us and possible conflict,” says Herrmann about the relationship at the center of the show.
Brian Chamberlayne, who wrote the finale, said the wedding was emotional for the cast to film, since it doubled as both Piper’s goodbye and the end of Schilling’s on-set prison stint. “There was a weird mix of emotion that day for Taylor’s last day shooting in the prison — realizing that she’s really getting out of this place,” Chamberlayne tells THR. “There’s excitement but there’s also a sense of loss, and I think that Piper is feeling that as well. That’s something I was trying to portray: the excitement of getting her freedom, but then also leaving Alex and this place behind that she’s become accustomed to.”
Alex, after all, still has four years left on her sentence. “What’s significant to come out of the wedding is that, in the way that weddings are for most people, it was a statement to each other and to the people around them that they’re going to try their hardest,” says Chamberlayne of Piper and Alex’s future. “It might not be legal, but it was a big deal that they got to do that. Especially given how long it’s going to be before they see each other again, physically, and have physical contact.”
Piper’s mixed feelings were evident as she watched the kickball game between the inmates of C-block and D-block play out, an activity she fought for in her final days inside — only now, she watched from the other side of the fence. When her brother, Cal Chapman (Michael Chernus), asks her what she is going to do next, she offers no answer and the screen fades to orange.
“There’s that moment before Piper’s release where she’s scanning the cell block and kind of just taking everyone in, and it’s a little bit like how you don’t fully get the understanding of a place until it’s about to go away,” he explains. “That’s when you take it all in, and Piper has that moment as well.”
“This is a huge episode for Piper,” Chamberlayne says. “That was really important to me, to Jenji and to the room that we did her a service by portraying her final moments in prison properly. Piper’s story in the finale, especially, and over the course of the season was the one that we honed the most in on to make sure that we were doing justice to her time in prison and showing exactly what she learned and how she’s grown — that she’s not that same person that walked in those prison doors.”
One of the scenes that both shows Piper’s growth as well as how her story parallels to Taystee’s was in the 11th episode, “Well This Took a Dark Turn” (which was directed by Prepon), when Taystee and Piper have a conversation about Piper’s privilege in the prison hair salon ahead of Taystee’s trial.
“That was, as a room, something we leaned into as one of the most important moments of the season,” says Chamberlayne. “Especially for Piper’s arc in prison, to come out of it with this understanding that she got it hard in prison and people didn’t let up on her, but so many of these women have it hard on the outside and that’s part of the reason they went after Piper in prison.”
He adds, “This contrast of her fish-out-of-water story, which is for minorities and people who are underprivileged classes, that’s constant. That’s the world that they inhabit every day. It was important to all of us to make sure that we highlighted that.”
You can read the full interview here at THR