'The stakes are much higher this season. It’s not going to be a consequence-free thing to blow up a prison and have a guard killed'.
The inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary return for a sixth series of Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black on Friday. After the divisive fifth season – set over a three-day riot – ended in a fog of tear gas and charging officers, the new set of episodes acts as a system-reset, which sees the characters relocated to the maximum security wing where they’re coping with the aftermath of their actions and caught in the crossfire of a decades-long feud between two warring sisters.
In a hotel room in Berlin, Natasha Lyonne – who plays spiky-tongued former addict Nicky Nichols – tells NME how the show highlights injustice, and hits out against Trump (depressingly, when he entered the White House in 2016, Orange really did become the new Black).
As soon as the interview starts rolling, the 39-year-old American Pie star announces, unrelated to anything:
“Yes, yes I did meet Michael Jackson’s ghost in the hotel, thank you for asking.”
What did Michael Jackson’s ghost say to you?
Natasha: “He was like ‘When’s the new season coming out?’. I was like ‘Michael! Michael!’. ‘Cos you know this hotel we’re at is where Michael held baby Blanket off the terrace so his ghost haunts these halls and he’s desperate to find out what’s happening in season six of Orange Is The New Black. He’s freaking out! He was in his loafers, white socks and he was like: ‘They’re in Max, that’s so crazy’. So I love Michael. It’s so incredible to talk to him and hear he’s a fan of the show. It was amazing.”
If you had to tell the deceased King of Pop what’s in the new series of Orange Is The New Black, what would you reveal?
“I would say ‘Michael Jackson, I will give you spoilers because you’re a ghost’. You know, that is one of the things I would say. But I will give you the abbreviated version because I don’t trust that you’re a middleman or a medium frankly – I say that kindly. But the stakes are much higher this season. You know, it’s not going to be a consequence-free thing to blow up a prison and have a guard killed. Nobody’s going to escape that unscathed and I think we’re really going to see a lot about loyalty and paranoia. We’re going to continue to highlight injustice and how broken the system is and I think it’s a really extraordinary season.”
You’ve moved sets. What’s that been like?
“I mean, aesthetically-speaking, it was really exciting to see. They did such a gorgeous job with the new set and it’s really pretty wild in there. Like you can feel how scary and real it is. We really know who the characters are and how to play them, but it’s almost like a breath of fresh air, like I think it really reinvigorated us with kind of having to figure it out. I think for the fans of the show, it will feel similarly reenergised and like nothing is familiar – except for the relationships, really.
You mentioned about the show tackling injustice. Is that something which is important to you?
“That’s the dream, right? To feel like your work has some meaning. I mean, clearly it’s a very surreal existence in the first place but you know, the fact that there’s such deep suffering happening I would say, especially in this moment right now, speaking as an American, unfortunately it’s a very disturbing and heart-wrenching time to be a person and to feel like at work that these injustices are being highlighted and made personal for people so that they don’t feel like anonymous situations, like immigration or racism or LGBT rights or women’s rights – the fact that this is a show that really is deeply humanising in all those ways makes it feel at least slightly more meaningful to be alive.”
If Trump was watching the show, what would you like him to take away from it?
“Um, you know my hope would be he would maybe back out of the room slowly while watching the show and then maybe walk down some stairs and then continue to walk down into the seventh layer of hell as he continued to descend and just disappear forever. So that would be my hopeful reaction. I’m not sure that he would be fully capable of grasping that human beings are real. I would say that probably one of his greatest narcistic sociopathic shortcomings is not really being able to understand that causing such real pain to people is devastating so I think you know, the very thing that the show highlights so beautifully I’m not sure is something he’s capable of comprehending unfortunately.”
How does your character Nicky adapt to life in Maximum Security?
“I mean, I think that Nicky’s sort of sassy mouth and quick wit has always been really an ally for her at Litchfield kind of in establishing relationships and almost you know, navigating the power dynamics through that, through her mind in some way, that was kind of her superpower more than being strong or anything like that, and I think that in max, that may actually prove to be a bit of defect – that it’s exactly the sort of thing that might get her in trouble. So I think she’s going to have to try to re-wire it a bit so that she can become a bit more of a chess player and a little bit less brain-to-mouth.”
Nicky has been such a defining role for you. Do you feel protective of her?
“I definitely do. I feel like Ninny Nichols is right here [points to her heart]. And I think I feel that way actually doubly so about some of the other characters on the show, like [actress] Samira Wiley [as] Poussey Washington. You know, I love Taylor [Schilling, who plays Piper Chapman] so much. I’m really very in love with our cast, with Danielle Brooks [Tasha ‘Taystee’ Jefferson] with Uzo [Aduba, who plays Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren], with Laura [Prepon, aka Alex Vause], Kate Mulgrew [who plays Red]. My little Yael just had a baby – little Lorna made a baby in Australia. I haven’t seen the baby. I’ve seen photos. The baby’s apparently been wearing socks on its hands which makes no sense – you can’t do that.”
Orange Is The New Black has been commissioned for seven seasons. Would you like to see it go on longer or is that a good time to bow out?
“I mean, I’m grateful that it’s not my job to make those kind of decisions. Really I just like playing a crossword puzzle and taking it easy so I feel like I really trust Jenji Kohan and Netflix to sort of see what they feel is the right way to tell the story. But you know, I could go on. I mean, I pretty much just sit at home until someone shows up and takes me somewhere.”
Is there anything you’d still like to see your character do?
“That’s interesting. I mean, I guess sleep with Dayanara [played by Dascha Polanco] is the only thing I could really think of. Now I’m just thinking of it so you lost me. Hey Michael! He’s in here with us so that’s exciting. Yes, I think I will name my baby Blanket.”
Orange Is The New Black Season 6 is on Netflix from Friday July 27th.