Read in the list below 58 fun unknown facts about the popular TV series “Orange Is the New Black”!
1. OITNB creator Jenji Kohan (left) wrote an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1994.
2. Kate Mulgrew (Red) played the mother of Taylor Schilling (Piper) on the TV series Mercy from 2009 to 2010.
3. Laura Prepon originally auditioned for the role of Piper.
4. Uzo Aduba (Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren) originally auditioned for the part of Janae Watson (Vicky Jeudy).
5. Orange Is the New Black Season 2 was released the same day as the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, and the book makes a cameo.
6. Real Piper (Piper Kerman) wasn’t in jail with Wolters, but she did get flown to Chicago to testify and that is the only time she saw her ex-girlfriend.
7. Catherine Wolters, the inspiration for Alex, has claimed that the show gets a lot wrong when it comes to Alex and Piper’s relationship. The two had already been involved in the trafficking business long before they met each other, according to Wolters. She also said that their relationship definitely didn’t carry over to prison, where they only spent around five weeks in the same facility. But, Wolters admitted that making the show about their real relationship would be “so wretched and stinky, it would quite possibly result in a collapsed universe. So I guess it’s a good thing Piper and Jenji stick with the fun little tidbits.”
8. Academy award winner Jodie Foster directed not one, but two episodes of OITNB, the first was the one where we learn the back-story of Sophia (played by Laverne Cox). She later returned to direct the first episode of season two.
9. Samira Wiley (Poussey) doesn’t speak German and spent a lot of time working with a coach and shouting things around her apartment to prepare for her character’s flashback scenes.
10. Aduba also auditioned for a different role before she was offered the part of Crazy Eyes. The former Boston University sprinter (and marathoner) came in and read for Janae, the track star. Frustrated that she hadn’t heard back, she decided to quit acting and go to law school instead. Little did she know that Kohan thought she’d be perfect for a different part: the very same day she “quit” acting, Aduba was offered the part of Crazy Eyes.
11. Franziska, Poussey’s German girlfriend, is played by Nina Rausch, who is actually German and also played Gudrun, the Campbells’ au pair from Mad Men Season 3.
12. The episode title is stated at some point in every episode.
13. Not only is Annie Gordon (Norma) not mute, she was in a band called The Shirts.
14. Barbara Rosenblat (Miss Rosa) guest-starred on an episode of Veep.
15. Kohan knew that Piper (played by Taylor Schilling) would appeal to network execs, but she wanted to go much deeper than that story. “In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse,” said Kohan. “You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it’s a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially.”
16. Lorraine Toussaint (Vee), Danielle Brooks (Taystee), and Samira Wiley are all Juilliard graduates. The latter two were only a year apart and knew each other in school.
17. Former Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy directed four episodes in Season 2.
18. Uzo Aduba and Lea DeLaria (Big Boo) were on Broadway together in 2011 in Prometheus Bound.
19. Matt McGorry (Officer Bennett) is in Shonda Rhimes’ new fall drama How to Get Away With Murder on ABC, which stars Viola Davis.
20. Beth Fowler, who plays Sister Ingalls, didn’t need to do much prep to play a nun. She was in Sister Act and Sister Act 2.
21. Brooks and Aduba are really good friends in real life, and both have amazing voices.
22. In the book on which the series is based, Kerman talks about the demographics in prison and says there was “one tiny Chinese woman in her sixties.”
23. Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) has a picture of Denzel Washington among her possessions.
24. In the first script, Aduba claimed that Crazy Eyes was described as “innocent like a child, except children aren’t scary.” She used that description to develop her character’s distinctive persona and mannerisms. As Aduba put it, “That felt like the key to the door that might open this character because someone who is innocent like a child, to me, meant somebody who operates out of impulse … who acts and then thinks. Children don’t have agendas. They’re not calculating.”
25. Manning went through and watched a number of documentaries about religious groups, including Jesus Camp and The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. She also spent time studying YouTube videos of faith healing and other evangelist rituals.
26. Though they’ve deviated from the stories Kerman recounts in her memoir, Kohan still looks to her for advice. According to the showrunner, “She gives notes, mostly about accuracy. You know, ‘I don’t think that would happen.’ And she comes to set for visits, which must be strange for her. But she’s really kind of trusted us with her baby and we really, completely took off from where she started.”
27. Spektor and Kohan had already collaborated a couple of times. (Spektor did a cover of “Little Boxes” for the opening of an episode of Weeds.) Because of their solid working relationship, Kohan reached out to her and asked if she’d write the theme song for Orange Is the New Black. In order to write it, Spektor was sent a few unfinished episodes in the middle of season one filming. She has said that seeing the characters come to life helped her put together a finished version of the song.
28. Kohan hired non-actresses to pose for the opening credit sequence—all of them formerly incarcerated women. In order to get the right facial expressions, the women were asked to visualize three things: “a peaceful place,” “a person who makes you laugh,” and finally, “something that you want to forget.”
29. Costume designer Jenn Rogien has described the job of dressing the inmates as “a creative challenge.” She must use real prison uniforms—either orange or beige—without altering anything too dramatically, unless the alterations are things a prisoner could have done herself. Rogien has to rely on subtle touches that serve to set the characters apart, such as rolled sleeves or hems. Her time to really shine comes during the flashback scenes, set in various decades and places. Rogien sees those as an opportunity to not only define the characters, but to “highlight the contrast between the world inside and the world outside.”
30. Kohan and her writing staff paid a visit to Chino Prison in California. Kohan also spoke with the prison’s warden, who explained how social groups tend to form in women’s prisons and men’s prisons. He told her that women are, generally speaking, more communal and seek out groups, rather than spending their time alone.
31. Toussaint didn’t meet Kohan until her very first day on set, when she decided to pick the showrunner’s brain about the inmate she was about to play. “I had some basic questions I needed answered so I could at least finish out that first day,” Toussaint later recalled. “Somewhere in the conversation was an ‘Oh, by the way, she’s a sociopath.’ I said, ‘Huh? Really? Um …’ and she said, ‘Oh, yes, a bona-fide, complete and absolute sociopath.’ I thought, Oh! I wish I had known that! I might have thought twice about this.”
32. The show is set in Litchfield Penitentiary in upstate New York—however, there’s no women’s prison in the real Litchfield. (In real life, Kerman served her time at FCI Danbury in Danbury, Connecticut.)
33. Cox’s twin brother, musician M. Lamar, stepped in to play a pre-transition Sophia in one episode. The casting director auditioned a ton of actors before she discovered that Cox even had a twin. “She insisted that he should audition for the role,” Cox said. “He auditioned, and he got the part.”
34. Given that both Jason Biggs and Natasha Lyonne were in American Pie, the writers couldn’t resist sneaking in a reference or two. In the pilot, Larry complains to Piper that he tells her everything: “The web-cam horror, the penis shaving incident …”, which are both things that happen to his character Jim in the 1999 comedy. In a later episode, Lyonne’s Nicky tells Red, “I thought I was, like, your Spock.” This is a nod to Mulgrew’s stint playing Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.
35. The actresses in that scene have cited it as one of the most difficult to film. In order for the scene to work, Mulgrew had to be harnessed to a heavy camera so that Toussaint could also be in the shot and get very close to Mulgrew’s face. As Mulgrew explained, “You can easily be hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing, and this was perilously close.”
36. The ladies wear “court-ordered granny panties” under their costumes on set.
37. Kohan doesn’t feel limited by the series’ prison setting in the slightest. As she has explained, “If I could keep cycling people through and bringing in new people, the show could go on forever. We could do something in the ER or Grey’s Anatomy model.”
38. Piper’s Infinity Symbol Tattoo Is Real
39. Orange Is The New Black is nominally based on Piper Kerman’s bestselling memoir of the same name, and it includes a lot of the major characters and themes from the book (the racial make up of the prison is accurate to how Kerman described it). But it also changed a lot of the true life story, beginning with changing Piper’s surname to Chapman. One of the other major changes came as a result of Jason Biggs’ desire to leave the show after the second season, meaning his character had to be written out of the show. In real life, Piper’s fiancée Larry never cheated on her, who disappeared from the picture. In fact, they’re still married. But he is actually a writer and editor. The real-life Larry Smith is the creator of the literary concept of Six-Word Memoirs, and is a great deal more successful than the character Biggs played. He did actually write that New York Times article about being the fiancée of a woman in prison, though, and you can read it – although he didn’t divulge any juicy rumours about her fellow inmates.
40. In season 3, Aleida’s kids are playing “Polite Dinner Party 6” before Cesar pulls a gun on Emiliano (Aleida’s son) during dinner.
41. Nicky is one of the most consistently entertaining and best value-for-money minor characters in Orange Is The New Black. The recovering drug addict’s life before prison has only just been explored in the most recent third season, but before that her husky tones gave over plenty of dry wit and frank exploration of her sexuality. Before the Nicky-centric episode there have been hints at what she was like prior to being jailed – most notably, the huge scar across her chest revealed during that sex scene in the church in season one. Nicky explains that it’s a result of heart surgery she had as a result of complications caused by her drug abuse. And that’s not a neat bit of special effects. Actress Natasha Lyonne actually has that scar on her chest in real life, and for the exact same reason her character has it. Lyonne too suffered from substance abuse problems in real life, which lead to a heart infection, a collapsed lung and hepatitis C whilst on methadone to get off heroin.
42. A lot of Piper’s time in Litchfield Penitentiary is spent phoning people on the outside, often overrunning the time she’s supposed to spend on calls and invoking the ire of the prison’s guards. The bank of phones appear a lot in Orange Is The New Black, despite not being one of the most visually arresting locations. Perhaps to spice up the background of these recurring scenes the show included a character who appears literally every single time anybody’s using the phone: that woman who is always sobbing her eyes out, to the point that you hope she’s well hydrated to have suffered through three seasons of constant crying. Despite appearing in all three seasons so far, there’s still been little revealed about the woman. It’s rumoured that her back story might get explained later (once they’ve run out of flashback opportunities for all the other inmates), but until then? Be distracted by every single scene of Piper on screen because she’s always in the background.
43. The Real Piper Appears In The Opening Credits. Whilst Red is the final pair of eyes that appears in that opening sequence, the rest of the credits feature none of the show’s stars. The montage of extreme close ups are images of actual prisoners – well, former prisoners. Kohan hired them and gave them direction for three different kind of photos that mirrored the theme song’s lyrics. She told them to imagine “a peaceful place,” “a person who makes you laugh,” and finally, “something that you want to forget.” The latter of which was probably the same for all of the former inmates. Included amongst those real-life criminals is none other than the real-life Piper who inspired this whole shebang. Amongst the 52 women featured in that opening credits sequence, Piper Kerman is a real blink-and-you’ll-miss-her. Literally, she’s the woman whose eyes flash on screen briefly and who blinks. Nestling Kerman amongst the more diverse women is a small bit of foreshadowing about how her character helped smuggle a diverse cast onto a hit show.
44. Galina “Red” Reznikov’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery hidden beneath a wonderfully dyed head of hair. Kate Mulgrew’s character vacillates between being one of the most powerful inmates, controlling the flow of illicit goods through her kitchen, and being taken down by Vee. Which all mirrors her mysterious Russian mobster past. Some of her back story has been explained in flashback, but one mystery remains: what’s the deal with her name? The obvious answer is because of her red hair. Like, duh. In fact, it’s a nickname that has multiple layers. Starting with the “Red” being an obvious reference to her dyed hair. Plus she’s a Ruskie, the dreaded communist Red Menace. But it’s also a name she shares with a character in classic prison movie The Shawshank Redemption – an inmate who gets people things. And in Orange Is The New Black, it’s Mulgrew’s character that routinely smuggles in items for her fellow prisoners. So, it’s a combination of her rad hair and being similar to a Morgan Freeman character!
45. If you’ve ever wondered why Yoga Jones sounds so familiar, this is because she was the voice for Patti Mayonnaise on Doug.
46. The bartender that Larry drowns his sorrows to in season one, episode seven, was on the Nickelodeon show on Caitlin’s Way which ran from 2000-2002. Another familiar face includes an actor from the Disney spinoff, Girl Meets World, in season one, episode nine, you might recognize Sabrina Carpenter in one of Alex Vause’s flashbacks.
47. Pablo Schreiber, who plays the prison guard known as Pornstache, is half-brothers with Liev Schreiber in real life.
48. Orange Is the New Black is based on the memoir of the same name, written by Piper Kerman. Kerman wrote about her time spent in prison after she was locked up for laundering drug money, and the show borrows heavily from her experiences. The writers veer off in their own narrative directions, of course, but knowing that the fiction of Litchfield Prison draws on fact just makes the show all that more compelling.
49. In the 15 seasons of Law and Order, the following OITNB characters have all had a role in an episode: Red, Gloria, Watson, Heeley, Pornstache, Big Boo, Nicky, Pennsatucky, Vee & Yoga Jones.
50. Before Orange Is the New Black, Jacke Cruz, who plays Flaca (the one with the eyeliner) spent her time making appearances on Courtney And Chloe Take Miami.
51. You might recognize Taryn Manning, who plays Pennsatucky, from the 2002 movie Crossroads with Britney Spears.
52. Actress Kate Mulgrew, who portrays Red, might be better known as Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek.
53. Yael Stone (Morello) is originally from Australia & her Jersey accent isn’t real.
54. Pornstache’s mustache is fake.
55. Taylor Schilling has a super strong resemblance to Piper Kerman, upon whom her character is based. They seriously look like they could be related.
56. Sophia, a former firefighter who committed credit card fraud to pay for a sex change, is easily one of the most memorable characters on the show. She’s even more compelling thanks to Laverne Cox, the transgender actress who portrays her. Cox got her start on a couple of reality TV shows, and she has continually used her fame to speak out about transgender rights.
57. Remember the infamous maxi pad shoes Piper wears in the first episode? How about Sophia’s fabulous duct tape shoes? Both sartorial marvels were actually crafted up by the costume designers to add authenticity to the scenes. The maxi pad shoes took about 15 tries to get just right, while the duct tape creation only took 4 or 5. Totally worth it.
58. Before she threw pies and peed on floors as Crazy Eyes, Uzo Adubo studied classical voice at Boston University and wowed audiences in several Broadway musicals, including the recent revival of “Godspell.” This shouldn’t be too surprising, since Adubo seems right at home with those Shakespearean monologues she randomly busts out on OITNB.