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INTERVIEW: ‘Orange is the New Black’ star Natasha Lyonne on getting angry about injustice
June 8, 2017
Interview: Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne
Last year Orange is the New Black ended on the cliffhanger to beat all cliffhangers, after a season under an authoritarian bootheel that rolled back privileges and basic human rights, it left a prison on the verge of riot.
We’ve spent years growing fond of the prisoners at Litchfield Correctional Facility, seeing it address inequalities in and out of the prison industrial complex, and this season the inmates run the asylum.
Indie darling and comedy legend, Natasha Lyonne, tells Candid Magazine about Litchfield 2.0., addiction, why Trump hasn’t made America great again and what we should do about it.
Nicky has always walked a tightrope of addiction but could we say as of Season 5 that it’s almost the first time she’s been okay?
Well, mind you season 5 takes place over three days. I haven’t really said it at any point already, in part because I’m also in a way sort of thrilled, but without a full spoiler alert …. I don’t know that the full season is without trouble spots and addiction for Nicky. But even if we did say that, then it would just be that she had three days clean.
Speaking from my own experience of addiction and knowing so many addicts in life…. whether three days, thirty days, three months or three years, it doesn’t ever mean that Nicky would necessarily would be okay. I think that’s going to be a lifetime battle for her regardless. I think that along the way she might understand some things about not being so self-centred really. I think this is a season that has more to do with her realising that she needs to participate in the group. Group survival is primary and more important than self survival. So if anything it’s more about movement from that idea to the next.
How does it feel to be a part of one of the most diverse and representative casts in a long running television series?
It feels great. But maybe the better answer is that it feels very appropriate to the world we live in. Maybe the thing that feels weird is that it remains an anomaly and maybe it’s more about how disturbing the glaring uniqueness of Orange is the New Black is.
I guess there’s so many other prevalent discourses that lead to the erasure of marginalised communities on television. Just like in life… or in America, right now.
It’s just a very surreal time to be alive. In the arts and on this show, to be coexisting in such distinct paradigms simultaneously. One paradigm that seems so clearly correct, wherein all people are created equal, and free will and personal freedom are seen as necessary and that human rights are not anyones for the giving.
For me to choose my own sexuality, let’s say. It’s an absurd concept to think that someone should get to weigh in on that or for me to choose what to do with my body. I heard Sarah Silverman do stand-up recently, and she had a great joke about if men had to think about all their sperm as thousands of mini-abortions every time they came. Really it’s like a neverending litany of the sort of things that seem glaringly obviously.
You’ve always been an LGBT ally, long before Orange is the New Black.
It’s just so crazy, if we were to talk about Pence… But I’m a Cheerleader was in 1997. So it was 20 years ago. We’re now in 2017. That movie was a radical satire, it was a comedy about an absurd concept: gay rehab. Nothing could make less sense. The idea that you have newly elected officials who are actively trying to make it part of the world and who believe in it!
You know whatever kind of repressed situation Pence has got going with his mother – whatever is happening there – the idea that you would actually want to take away human freedoms that are none of your fucking business is heartbreaking. The truth is that people are exactly whatever the hell they are wired and want to be. So you can try and break it but it is a horrifying and devastating idea and it’s our job to always try and stop it.
We’re seeing that rolling back to right wing politics across the world.
There’s certainly an echo to here with Brexit, but I’m sure I’m not the ultimate person to talk about that. But I can speak to what’s going on in my own country and how deeply disturbing and confusing it is. That there’s an attempt to take it back in time to some sort of dark age where only old white men that are mentally ill, registered sex offenders get to make decisions for other groups and tell them that they are not actually created equal and should have less rights…
It’s a very, very strange time. And I’m only half kidding when I say mentally ill or sex offenders. From my own experience as a woman it makes me feel very uncomfortable that someone who speaks that way and has acted that way towards women is allowed to make decisions on their behalf. Leaving aside all the rest, it’s unbelievable that somebody that has no regard for any human being other than himself could be in charge.
This season, Orange is the New Black is like a confluence of movements: Black Lives Matter, The Women’s March, even Occupy Wall Street.
Storytelling has always been an incredibly useful tool for sharing ideas, opening dialogues, conversations and minds. This year we have wildly necessary themes being addressed. How to combat injustice is a huge theme, how to stand up against that, what is resistance, how to resist a felony, how to resist people abusing their authority so glaringly [sic].
You know, how to come together as a society and as the sum of our parts? Kind of outsiders together who might end up overpowering what seems like Godzilla.
Orange Is The New Black Season 5 is on Netflix from June 9th
Words by Cormac O’Brien