NEW YORK — An upper-middle class blonde from Brooklyn goes to jail for a drug-related screw-up years before.
The women's federal prison of "Orange Is the New Black" is a different world than Piper Chapman had known, populated with a wildly varied group of characters played (alongside series star Taylor Schilling) by TV's most diverse cast of actors.
As this Netflix series shot its second season last fall on its Queens, New York, soundstage, a visit to the all-too-gritty-looking prison set found several of these actresses delighted to be serving time on this groundbreaking drama (whose 13 new episodes are available for streaming Friday on the Netflix website):
— TV veteran Kate Mulgrew ("Star Trek: Voyager," ''Warehouse 13") plays "Red" Reznikov, a tough-as-nails inmate who was once part of New York's Russian mob and now runs the prison kitchen.
"The hardest part of the show was finding my character before they said 'Action!' the first day," she says. "You have to be able to show her toughness and, through her toughness, her heart — and you had to show it from the first shot."
She did. Ever since, it's been a blast for Mulgrew.
"This is not a vanity role," she acknowledges. "But I'm of an age now (59) where none of that is as important as it once was. To find a role this rich, nuanced and specific is absolutely joyful for me. It's liberating."
— "Taystee" Jefferson is Danielle Brooks' first big role after graduating from the Juilliard School. Hers is not a vanity role, either.
"There are times when I'm like, 'Can we please do my eyebrows? Can I get a little more foundation?'" says Brooks with a laugh. "But I truly enjoy the freedom of coming to work, not having to wear Spanx or extensions, to just be me. You can't hide behind anything here. It's really freeing."