Sara Hess on “Orange is the New Black” and writing Thirteen’s sex scenes on “House”

 
 

An openly gay writer on the staff of the very queer Orange is the New Black, Sara Hess penned the episodes “Blood Donut” and “Fool Me Once” for the first season, now on Netflix. Sara is also a co-executive producer on the Jenji Kohan-created show (based on a memoir by Piper Kerman) and she knows her shit. In fact, you’ve likely seen her work before. Sara wrote the episode of House in which Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) had sex with a woman, as well as several other episodes of the Fox series that featured the bisexual doctor.

Sara took some time out of her schedule working on Season 2 of Orange to answer our questions, although she can’t tell us one darn thing about Piper and friends episode 14 and beyond. (We tried!)

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photo via Sara’s Twitter

AfterEllen.com: Congrats on the success of the show! Orange has so many queer elements to it—was that a draw to you as a writer? What appealed to you about the show in general before joining the writing staff?

Sara Hess: Thanks! We’re stoked/astonished/nervous/grateful about how it’s been received.

I think more than anything else the thing that excites me about this show is the enormous diversity of women it features, both in front of and behind the camera. There are the women who make the show happen: from our overlords at Netflix and Lionsgate, to Jenji (obviously), the writers and producers, the AD staff and department heads, all preponderantly women. I came up on very male-oriented, male-dominated shows, and that was delightful and satisfying and I learned a ton, but this is amazing. It is honest-to-God groundbreaking.

Beyond that, there’s never been a cast like this on television before: every size, shape, color, and age, women who look like women you know. Every variation on sexuality. Actors fresh out of school who’ve never had a real job before, Broadway hoofers who’ve been working the boards for 40 years.  The combined breadth of life experience all in one place—it’s staggering.  You guys, Uzo Aduba, who plays Crazy Eyes?  She was like, NUMBER FIFTY on our call sheet.  The bench is so deep.

AE: Because you’re the only out woman on staff, do you think it gave you any kind of helpful knowledge when it came to writing about women who weren’t straight? 

SH: Actually, my joke is that I might be the least gay woman in the room. I mean straight girls these days, right?

We do have an extremely gay-friendly staff.  And maybe I made some small anecdotal contributions (like talking about my friends who refuse to date straight women, etc.) but in general I think the show’s approach is that everyone is the same at heart, that every relationship is both remarkable and unremarkable in very similar ways, and that ultimately gayness or straightness don’t particularly matter, and aren’t even that interesting in and of themselves. We’re just writing about people, in all their complexity and about how complicated it is to love other people.

Lately—because there really is a “gay-for-the-stay” phenomenon in prison which is a real thing that Piper writes about in her book, and because of the tendency of writers (including me) to want to make everyone fall in love as a way of creating story—I’ve actually found myself defending the straight characters more.  It turns out sometimes straight people really are just straight!

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Photo via Orange Writers Twitter

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