'OITNB's Real Larry on That Heartbreaking Pilot & Larry Bloom's Cringeworthy "Journalism"
For many people, watching Orange is the New Black is like looking into a mirror; the characters on the show are so real, so relatable, that stars of the series often talk about meeting fans who tell them "you're just like me" or thank them for bringing "someone like me" to life. It's a whole different ballgame, though, when it is you on-screen — or at least a version of you, created by the combination of your life rights and the imagination of the show's writers room.
"That first episode was very close to real life," says Larry Smith, the "real" Larry and a writer/editor known for the " Six-Word Memoir" series. "Dropping Piper off and that gate — yeah, that really was close to home. It was intense to watch and pretty upsetting."
Over the last two years, though, Smith's gotten used to seeing "his" face on-screen, as well as the um, passionate fan reactions that've come with it. In an interview with Bustle, he spoke about dealing with Twitter trolls who rejoice in telling him him, "fuck you, Larry" and having to defend himself from furious fans who don't seem to understand the meaning of the phrase "it's just a TV show." Recently, he wrote two pieces for Medium, one describing his life with Piper Kerman before, during, and after her prison stay, and another featuring a conversation he had with Biggs, his on-screen portrayer, in order to ease some of the confusion.
"One of the reasons Piper wrote Orange is the New Black is because everyone had so many questions for her," Smith tells Bustle now. "They were really interested... and that was, to some extent, why I decided to write the Medium piece and the interview with Jason Biggs. People were very curious both about what was it like when she was in prison, and also what’s it like to have this show be this great hit but have this hated Larry Bloom character."
In the articles, Smith writes about the strangeness of seeing his life (or at least bits of it) translated to TV, and the even more unsettling element of having strangers everywhere suddenly form opinions — typically negative ones — about "Larry." While the criticism is certainly frustrating, though, most of it doesn't hit too hard, perhaps because of his background as a non-fiction writer.
"I write about my life all the time," Smith says. "I don’t mind the scrutiny... I have a thick skin for reaction, for comments, whether it's on Twitter or a piece I write or a letter to the editor. But the truth is, in the end, it’s not really me. It’s a fictionalized character, so whatever happens — if you forget that, then yes, even the most thick skinned person, it could get to them, but I never forget that it’s not me. People who know me well know that. And also? The guy’s not all bad. He’s flawed. Larry Bloom is flawed like all of us."
Still, Smith does hope that the series eases up on Larry's failures as a journalist; as a prominent writer/editor who wrote for The New York Times and Salon before launching SMITH Magazine in 2006, it pains him to watch Orange's Larry flounder in his beloved field.
"I think I’m a little better journalist than Larry Bloom," Smith says. "I would hope so.... my friends are just like, 'dude, you’re a totally good writer, that must be killing you,' and I’m like 'yeah, you know, they need to make him more of a desperate writer for a plot point.' They need a plot point. I understand that."
Most of the time, though, watching Orange is relatively painless for both Smith and his wife, the "real" Piper, because of how different the characters on-screen are from their actual selves.
"Piper and I can watch this show and see other people, not us. We really can," Smith says. "We see it as other people and we enjoy the show just like fans."
Well — almost.
"Do I hope that Piper and Larry get back together and Piper and Alex don’t stay together? Yeah," says Smith, before quickly adding, "even though these are other people."
Images: Netflix (3)