Here's the irony of Netflix's TV shows: While viewers get an entire series placed before them at once, it's still made one episode at a time — meaning that a show's actors often have to wait weeks, or even months, to find our what's next for their characters. For some actors, the suspense can be excruciating. But for others, like Orange is the New Black 's Alysia Reiner, it's the ingredient that keeps things interesting.
"It was like unwrapping the best Christmas present ever," says Reiner, who plays the now ex-warden Fig on Orange, of unveiling her character's increasingly chaotic storyline. "To get writing like that.... I felt like the luckiest girl in the world."
Last season saw the cruel, unflinching prison head transform into one of the most pitiful characters on the show, thanks to an imploding corruption scandal and a cheating, gay husband. By season's end, Fig was literally at her lowest, begging the forgiveness of Caputo and, in one of the finale's most memorable moments, offering him a blow job in exchange for her career. It was a scene played for laughs, but it also highlighted how pathetic Fig had become, a person willing to do whatever it took to win back the power she lost.
"I actually can't watch that scene," Reiner tells Bustle. "It’s a little too heartbreaking for me. There are people who wrote me, like, 'oh, it’s so funny!' But I couldn’t really consider the humor of it at all. It was pure heartbreak."
"Part of me, of course, knew there was comedy in there," she continues, "but I had to put that aside and consider the moment that it was, which for her, was quite the opposite of funny."
The scene was the conclusion of an intense year for the warden, who transformed from the somewhat one-note villain of season 1 to a nuanced, sympathetic character whose fall from grace during that final episode was both celebrated and pitied.
"I love that you saw this vulnerable side of this character that a lot of people felt was so hated and so unredeemable," says Reiner. "To some, at least, she was very, very redeemed."
And while audiences had little compassion for the warden prior to her storyline this past season, Reiner's always felt differently.
"She doesn’t even know she’s an awful human being," she says. "She really thinks she’s doing the best that she can. She really thinks she’s doing a great job."
When the season ended, it was obvious that Caputo was stepping into the warden's job, but the process of how he'd achieved that wasn't quite as clear. Reiner believes that Fig chose to resign her post, rather than allow herself to experience the embarrassment of getting fired so publicly.
"I think she knew she was going to be fired, and she did [resign], because she is a genius at manipulation," Reiner says.
"And," she adds, laughing, proving that despite the deepening storyline, Fig didn't change too much last season: "I think she is quite proud of that fact."
Images: Netflix (2)