The year 2013 may only be six years behind us, but in pop-culture years, it feels like an eternity ago. Before the July 2013 premiere of Season 1 of Orange Is the New Black, Netflix had only two American original series (House of Cards and Hemlock Grove) plus one international one (Lilyhammer). OITNB creator Jenji Kohan was fresh off the series finale of Showtime's Weeds, the first series of her own creation. But though her next show used the same trope of centering its story on a privileged white woman navigating a world of criminals, everything was different the second time around. While Weeds stayed firmly rooted in the perspective of its suburban soccer mom-turned drug dealer throughout its run, Kohan famously told NPR that OITNB's white, educated Brooklynite protagonist Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) was the "Trojan Horse" through which she hoped to pull in audiences in order to tell countless stories about women of all stripes — be they poor, underprivileged, addicts, black, white, Latinx, Asian, queer, or any combination thereof.
An incredibly diverse, predominantly female-led ensemble cast was, and still is, a bit of an anomaly. But the show broke ground in representing the kinds of women who were rarely seen on screen before, not only giving each of them a face, but also a voice, a flashback episode, and a compelling storyline. Through seven seasons, the show has made stars out of many relative unknowns and revitalized careers while simultaneously drawing much-needed attention to the various injustices of the criminal justice system. It garnered plenty of critical acclaim along the way, too, and enough award statuettes to make its cell mates in the TV landscape jealous.
Though the awards system often requires singling out specific actors or aspects of a project for recognition, seven seasons of following the ladies of Litchfield has made clear that Orange Is the New Black is truly a group effort. To capture the show's impact and communal spirit as the series comes to an end, Bustle asked 20 cast members past and present to reflect on their experience being part of the Orange family.
What I'll Miss Most About Working On Orange Is The New Black...
"What will I miss most? Besides the paycheck? Frankly, there was something very magical happening in that studio. The stars aligned allowing the perfect producers, writers, cast, crew, and directors to come together and create a harmonious, moving, powerful, and unique experience for all involved. Trust, I’m just jaded enough to believe that I’ll never see the like again." — Lea DeLaria (Carrie "Big Boo" Black)
"The thing I will miss the most is being part of something that, for me, was the biggest dream come true: art as activism. When we can tell stories that speak to injustice, when we can shine a light and use it as platform to help make change — that’s the biggest gift I could have ever imagined. In that way — a way I will forever be proud of — we became a part of cultural history." — Alysia Reiner (Natalie Figueroa)
"I’ll miss finding places to stash my seltzer when we’re rolling. I’ll miss the boots that gave us all shin splints. I’ll miss wearing elastic waistbands at work. I’ll miss how, because there were so many of us and not enough dressing rooms downstairs for everyone, we would all congregate in one so that we were all together and no one felt left out or isolated. I’ll even miss my nemesis: the teeth. OK, maybe not." — Emma Myles (Leanne Taylor)
"The impact we had on our audience. I was always moved by the amount of people who would come up to me and talk about how the show changed their lives. Our show not only brought trans representation to light and broke boundaries in terms of popularizing a female-driven story, but also forced us as a society to question the justice system and get people discussing the importance of prison reform and unfair sentencing toward non-violent crimes." — Kimiko Glenn (Brook Soso)
"What I’ll miss most about Orange is working and playing with that brilliant ensemble of women. Women of all ages, from the new kids just out of Julliard to the veterans like myself, each giving it 100. We made each other better. It was an awesome team to be on." — Lori Petty (Lolly Whitehill)
The Scene That Still Sticks With Me...
"The infamous branding scene [when Maria brands Piper]. Taylor [Schilling] absolutely brought her A game and beyond — so much so that I had to re-record my part since I did my side of the scene first. Our writers, directors, and producers were so generous in giving us a closed set. We worked on it for days prior as it involved fight choreography, stunts, and open flames. There are several places where people could get seriously injured. Not only that, but the emotional intensity was set to high, which made it an extremely demanding scene. We had to make sure everything was absolutely right." — Jessica Pimentel (Maria Ruiz)
"Hands down the Season 1 talent show auditions sticks with me the most. That was some of the funniest sh*t ever! I was so nervous about beatboxing because all the other talents that I had named as my talents were already taken by other people. So when I said I could beatbox (totally kind of making that up — I mean, I was decent, but certainly not an expert) and they thought that was a good idea, I was hella nervous about actually beatboxing in front of everyone. But apparently it worked out." — Adrienne C. Moore (Cindy "Black Cindy" Hayes)
"I gotta go with Boo’s dildo sex scene because, you know... it’s a dildo sex scene." — Lea DeLaria
"I’ll never forget the scene after the pig roast in the pilot episode where Piper and Larry are back at their place, and Larry farts in bed. I remember being very concerned with this — it was going to be too broad and silly, I thought — the kind of stuff I did in the American Pie films. It certainly had no place in this scene, as I’m preparing to say goodbye to my fiancée before she leaves for prison. But I was so wrong. It was exactly the kind of moment of levity that a scene like this required, and a perfect example of the kind of brilliant tonal shifts that would come to define the show for its whole run." — Jason Biggs (Larry Bloom)
"Taystee, Taystee, Taystee and her pursuit of justice for Poussey — any of those scenes, any single one." — Yael Stone (Lorna Morello)
"There are two scenes that stick with me. Poussey Washington's death scene and Tasha 'Taystee' Jefferson's sentencing scene. Both were clear moments of injustice that were handled with such delicacy to create space that allowed me to sit with my feelings." — Elizabeth Rodriguez (Aleida Diaz)
"The scene I’ll never forget, the night I’ll never forget, is when we filmed Poussey’s death. I get choked up even now just thinking about it. It happened to be a very long shoot day, 15 to 21 hours, from what I remember, and we were all so emotional about it — about the character dying, about Samira [Wiley], the actor, leaving the show. I think that was the biggest turning point in the entire series." — Abigail Savage (Gina Murphy)
The Moment I Realized The Show Was Changing My Life...
"The moment I knew the show changed my life was when I saw my face on a billboard in Times Square, and on the subway platform, and on the side of a bus! It was insanely humbling. I still can’t believe this has been my life." — Selenis Leyva (Gloria Mendoza)
"When I was able to drop my laundry off to be done instead of carrying it up and down the 4 flights of my walk-up to the laundromat and doing it myself." — Dale Soules (Frieda Berlin)
"I remember I was staying with my friends in LA, sleeping on their couch, and was sifting though the various trade magazines looking to see if anyone had reviewed Orange yet. Then I started to find the articles on the show, each one more glowing than the last. I remember turning to my friends and saying, 'Guys, that women-in-prison show I just filmed? It’s getting some great press!' That was when I started to realize that this wasn’t going to be just some small show that we the cast were proud of, but that it might have legs, reach — that some people might actually watch it!" — Abigail Savage
"When my Instagram and Facebook accounts started being flooded with new followers. People that I didn’t even know. I had to turn my 'new follower' notification settings off." — Adrienne C. Moore
"When Meryl Streep grabbed my face at our first SAG Awards and said she was 'so proud.' I had to be peeled off of the floor. It was so surreal that I still haven’t processed it fully." — Emma Myles
"I had stopped acting for 15 years to raise my children. Orange was my re-entry back. I was scared — really scared. [I worried acting was] a muscle that had possibly atrophied. Orange helped wake up a part of me that I had forgotten existed… the actor part." — Constance Shulman (Yoga Jones)
"I actually gave up on acting because I was playing gangsters, girlfriends, victims, [or] hookers. Orange Is the New Black opened up a whole new world for me and validated me as an actress." — Jackie Cruz (Marisol "Flaca" Gonzalez)
"I was walking past the Ace Hardware on the corner approximately a half a block from my apartment. One of the employees came running out screaming, 'Big Boo, Big Boo, would you please sign my screwdriver?'" — Lea DeLaria
Something I Learned About Myself As A Performer...
"I learned that I can move quickly. That I can respond and adapt fast. That I can make a good life work in unusual circumstances. And that everything works better when I don’t apologize for my strengths." — Yael Stone
"Being on this show has definitely made me more political. I’m not trying to be silent about my political beliefs to appease anyone anymore. It’s crucial to stand up for what you believe in. This show and the people involved in it have inspired me and my activism." — Beth Dover (Linda Ferguson)
"As a performer I learned to not judge my character, [because] it causes a huge disconnect from expressing the most authentic emotion." — Dascha Polanco (Dayanara "Daya" Diaz)
"I learned that I want to direct, that I want to produce, and that I want to do a lot of other things. This career that I dreamed of my whole life was maybe a little selfish in the beginning because I wanted it for myself. What I learned from being on this show is that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for people like me, and I need to create that ― I want to create that. It’s not about me anymore, it's about bringing up my people and bringing representation to the underrepresented person, mainly women." — Jackie Cruz
"I was always a very emotionally distant person before Tricia. I hadn’t realized that until I had to find some of these very tender, vulnerable moments with her. Tricia made me a better actor and a better human being." — Madeline Brewer (Tricia Miller)
"I think the biggest thing I learned as a performer is to trust that you can be a “villain," a complex unlikeable character, and people will still love that character. It's safe to be unlikeable." — Alysia Reiner
A Behind-The-Scenes Secret About The Show...
"Uzo [Aduba], Samira [Wiley], Danielle [Brooks] and I used to sing harmony together all the time. We would be singing right up until the time the director called action. I mean, after they would say, '3 bells, sound speed, background... and action.' We would be singing full out harmonies right up until that moment. It always made them nervous, hell, probably even annoyed. But we loved it. We were always in sync with each other like that." — Adrienne C. Moore
"This is pretty bad, but I pretty much always had my phone tucked into my sock!" — Kimiko Glenn
"Most of our prison is not a prison at all. Although we have shot scenes in a correctional facility and a psychiatric ward, most of our prison has been built by our amazing set designers, stage dressers, and art department. It is all an illusion. It took us a very long time to figure out which sinks, toilets, and showers were real and which walls not to lean on and which outlets were not connected to anything. Even seven seasons in you'll find someone trying to charge their phone in an outlet on a set wall or wash their hands in a sink that's not connected. We learned the toilet one real quick, though." — Jessica Pimentel
"Badison has a tramp stamp that we never got to see!" — Amanda Fuller (Madison "Badison" Murphy)
"While trying to create the unique look for Blanca Flores, the makeup artist working with me at the time and I played around with ideas. She asked how I'd feel with a unibrow, and I told her I would do it as an homage to Frida Kahlo." — Laura Gómez (Blanca Flores)
"I don’t think most people know that we are such an incredibly dog-loving set, we had doggie Christmas and dog Halloween parties, and our Executive Producer Lisa Vinnecour happens to be a brilliant dog portrait photographer. We even have a spectacular photo book of a bunch of the cast and crew’s four-legged friends photographed on the actual OITNB sets. Yes, my adopted puppy Enzo spent a brief time behind bars after we rescued him, and it's one of the best photos of him that anyone’s ever taken." — Alysia Reiner
"That we all would do absolutely everything possible to avoid eating a thing off that cafeteria tray, from pushing food around, to drinking instead, to holding it on your fork, to hiding it on the roof of your mouth under your tongue or the side of your cheek. I did see Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) take a few bites. A shame, really." — Constance Shulman
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.