Orange Is the New Black’s resident badass is back.
It’s been almost a year since everyone’s favorite women’s prison dramedy dropped on Netflix, but the interim was filled with a great deal of gossip concerning the future of Alex Vause, the bespectacled, tattooed ex-drug smuggler—and love interest of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)—played by the excellent Laura Prepon.
The rumors stated that Prepon, since she wasn’t a series regular on the show, had opted out after Season 1 but, due to fan interest, was pressured into returning for four episodes in Season 2, and as a series regular for Season 3 (more on that later).
Prepon, best known as the striking redhead Donna Pinciotti on the Fox sitcom That ’70s Show, has also recently found herself the victim of bizarre tabloid rumors linking her to Tom Cruise.
In a candid interview with The Daily Beast, Prepon put all the rumors to rest.
There’s a lot of conflicting information that’s been published online about what happened with your contract following Season 1, and your diminished role in Season 2, and now you signing on for Season 3. The rumors were that you’d opted out of your OITNB contract after Season 1. What really happened?
Basically, I wasn’t a series regular and wasn’t under contract, and then had a scheduling conflict that came up during Season 2. But I love the show and I love my character, and I told Jenji from the get-go, “I want to be in as many as I can.” So we did, and I’ll be in four episodes for Season 2. And then if we get a Season 3, I’ll be in every episode. I totally missed the show. It sucks, but there’s only one of me, and there’s only so much time in the day. We did what we could, and if there’s a Season 3, I worked it out so that wouldn’t be an issue anymore.
What was the scheduling conflict with Season 2?
Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about it because it’s not out yet and under wraps. But it was a work thing. I’d gotten another job. Here’s the thing: It’s actually really flattering that everyone was trying to figure out what was going on with my character, but it’s a double-edged sword, because people were making up stories. A lot of our jobs is about timing. Even going into Season 3—if we get a Season 3—some of the actors have already gotten other jobs, so it’s just a part of our industry. When you’re not under a “series regular” contract and other jobs come up, you try to juggle everything. On That ’70s Show we’d have to shoot out Ashton [Kutcher] if he was doing a movie. It’s the same thing here. But I’m glad that I’m returning because I missed the girls and it sucked not being there.
Speaking of crazy rumors… where did these rumors that you’re dating Tom Cruise come from?
Oh god… I knew this would come up! Dude, I have no idea. I really don’t know. I totally respect him and think he’s an amazing actor, but I’m not dating him. I don’t know what else to say. It’s crazy. It just goes to show: Don’t believe everything you read. I have no idea where it came from. I don’t know how we ended up “together.” I’m flattered because I think he’s hot so I’m like, “Oh, that’s nice,” and apparently he’s very gentlemanly with me. Apparently we get along great and he knows that I have a favorite bottle of wine that I didn’t even know I had. So, apparently he’s on cloud nine…. [Laughs]
Did you read the real-life Alex Vause’s Vanity Fair interview?
[Laughs] I did. It was really funny. You can totally tell that she and Piper do not like each other. I thought it was interesting that she said all the love stuff happened after all the drug stuff happened, and while they were doing the drug stuff they weren’t even a thing. But whatever. Everyone has different viewpoints on it. When I was doing Season 1 she was completely MIA, and now she’s coming out with her side of it. The bottom line is that these women do not like each other. I still haven’t spoken to her because I was told she was “off the grid.” Now that she’s resurfaced, I don’t know. We’ll see.
When we last left Alex, she was hooking up with Nichols and got burned by Piper, who said she’s sticking with her husband, Larry. Where do we see her in Season 2?
She’d just gotten her heart ripped out. We’ve always talked about how my character is like the spider and Piper’s is the fly, and what’s cool about the show is that you think Piper is this delicate flower but, as the season progresses, you realize how manipulative, messed up, and codependent she is, and you realize that Alex is a straight-shooter and pretty honest and confrontational about things. But at the end of Season 1, Piper is totally messing with Alex again and leaves her again for Larry, and Alex is thinking, “You know what? I can’t handle your emotional rollercoaster anymore. It’s bullshit.” She knows Piper better than Larry does and sees through all her machinations, so by the end of Season 1, she’s over it. With Season 2, when you have two people that love each other like they do, and it’s so tumultuous, it will always be this awful back-and-forth. Everyone knows a couple like that in their life where they think, “They shouldn’t be together…this is toxic.”
You mentioned That '70s Show earlier. Does the gang still hang out together, and is it wild for you all that Ashton and Mila are a couple now? I believe she’s said he was her first kiss.
Of course the gang hangs out! We’re all like family. I don’t really comment on my friend’s dating lives, but I will say that I’m glad they’re together and they’re a really great couple.
Back to OITNB. How were you initially cast as Alex on the show? I heard that you initially read for Piper.
Yeah. Basically, I read the pilot and I absolutely loved it, and I knew I wasn’t right for Piper but it was such an amazing show that I felt I needed to be a part of it. I wasn’t even thinking about the role of Alex. I went in to read for Piper and Jenji said, “I can’t get you out of my head for Alex,” and then it worked out because Alex is such a badass. I love her.
She’s arguably the show’s biggest badass.
You know what it is about her? She’s this awesome badass but she’s also really vulnerable, and you see these other sides to her with her relationship with Piper. She’s also a survivor and will do whatever it takes to survive, as well as power-hungry. She’s very complex and a straight-shooter, which is rad.
Are you surprised how huge the show’s become? It attracted more viewers than the first season of House of Cards.
It’s amazing. When you’re doing a show like this, you feel like you’re doing something special and you just hope that people will catch on, and they totally did.
Besides your own, do you have a favorite character on the show?
I don’t even know! This isn’t a copout, I swear, but they’re all so awesome and so different that I don’t know how I’d choose a single character. Plus I’m biased because I love all the girls.
What was it like to be directed by Jodie Foster and Andrew McCarthy in the first season?
It was really cool because they’re both great at working with actors, and very good directors. They’re also great actors so it’s fun working with someone who gets it on that level. And Jodie’s attention to detail is excellent. Jodie directed at least one episode in Season 2, and Andrew directed a few as well. But when you’re shooting in prison, some of the episodes bleed together! We shoot at a soundstage in Queens as well as an abandoned children’s psychiatric hospital in Upstate New York, which is… I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s crazy.
Do you have favorite scenes from Season 1 featuring Alex? Was it getting locked in a dryer?
[Laughs] I was locked in a dryer. A lot of the laundry room scenes with Taylor and me I really loved—when we’re talking about our relationship. I also really loved when we shot our European scenes where I was asking her to go to Turkey and do drug runs for me. We got to shoot at this amazing location in Manhattan and it was just us acting with one another all day.
One of the reasons I think the show’s important is that it serves as a great example—to have a show featuring a diverse cast of women. It’s a rarity in TV today. What are some of the things that you enjoy about what the show stands for?
It shines light on the whole penal system, which people don’t really tend to look at, and it shines light on the corruption within the penal system. Also, with these women, everyone has a story. These women may be locked up, but they’re all there for different reasons—whether it’s a mistake they made in the past, they deserve to be there, or they can’t function in the real world. You really learn about these women, and what’s going on with them. And there isn’t another show where you have all these strong, female characters, and to be able to portray a strong female character among this great group of actors is wonderful. And they’re all different shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. It’s so cool that we get to be this rad mosh pit of inmates that really goes against the idea of what a Hollywood actress has to be.
The first season of Orange Is the New Black will be available May 13 on DVD.