Taylor Schilling on Alex as Piper’s “fundamental love” and playing an unlikable character

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In Seasons 2 and 3 of Orange is the New Black, Piper Chapman took an interesting turn as what has been referred to as “the worst” or “irritating” by some critics and fans, or “an anti-heroine” for those who put it nicely. But Taylor Schilling doesn’t care what you call her character; she loves it all.

2015 Summer TCA Tour - Day 1

“I think Piper is quite intrepid and there’s a sense of a dramatic shift in the way that she keeps trying, in the way that she is unabashedly being herself and not knowing what that is,” Taylor said. “I think that there’s a sense of boldness and I think it’s deeply liberating to play a character that people don’t like.”

Part of what stirred more opinions than ever this past season, which debuted on Netflix in June, was Piper’s new prison profession as the head of a used-panty selling business. Being in a new and powerful position over some of her peers, who became de facto employees, gave Piper purpose, but also made her somewhat tyrannical.

“I think that it really had less to do with the business and more to do with her claiming a part of herself that was like, ‘What is it like for me to try on being in charge?’ And she does it in a way that’s a little bumbling and a little messy, but I think that’s actually the thing that’s most interesting about that,” Taylor said. “And I don’t know how the panty business itself will be important, but I do for her, this woman kind of galvanizing a part of herself that’s powerful is interesting and also manipulative in really getting what she wants.”

The person who disliked the change most was Alex (Laura Prepon), and their end-of-season tension is only made worse by the introduction of Stella (Ruby Rose). But Taylor doesn’t think Alex and Piper are done, because it’s impossible for them to shake each other.

“I think that she found in Alex someone—you find that person that sticks in your craw, that you find that person that sort of fundamentally—that love that fundamentally changes you. And once you’ve experienced that, you never really—it’s what separates Alex from every other romantic interest she ever has,” Taylor said. “So I’m curious to see how that plays out.”

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On stage at TCA, Taylor’s castmates praised her performance on the show.

“I remember watching the entire first season and texting her and emailing her and telling her how brilliant she is,” Selenis Leyva said. “Because she takes us through such an amazing journey on a daily basis.  And I’m always in awe of your work, my dear. I mean, everyone is amazing, but I just remember you really  first season, I was like, ‘Wow, this woman is ridiculous.'”

“Me too,” Taryn Manning said. “I think Taylor’s one of the most unlazy actors. She’s just alive in every scene, whether she’s in the background or in your face, and there’s just so many colors.  And she just she never zags. It’s like she’s always vibrating in the picture somewhere, and I just always notice that.”

2015 Summer TCA Tour - Day 1

Taylor graciously accepted her castmates accolades, and says that the role of Piper has given her a new confidence that makes her “almost want to cry.”

“It’s given me such a desire to continue to tell stories that move me,” Taylor said. “I feel so free of any idea of what a woman should be, like a character being a heroine in a particular way.”

During the panel, Taylor answered how how she finds herself different from her character.

“I think that Piper is constantly peeling away parts that she came into prison pretzeling herself, I think, a little bit into expectations of what she thought the world needed of her,” she said. “And she’s kind of, those things are being, sort of, systematically ripped away, and all sorts of new things are emerging all the time. Like just boiling up or, the other image of her, sort of, like, drilling down, like through the topsoil and through all the strata of being like, what is real. And I think that that is sort of the thing. Like how much is there to peel away… what is the real experience? If you’re not trying to be something for someone else, what’s left?”

Taylor and castmates are currently shooting Season 4 of Orange, and while Piper technically has only three months left at Litchfield, she said she doesn’t necessarily look at it as job security for her character to get into the kind of trouble that would keep her in lock-up.

“I don’t think that way,” she said. “I want the most interesting and powerful and authentic story for her, and everyone else.”