With its seventh and final season, the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black takes one last ride with the ladies of Litchfield. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is struggling with life on the outside, as she comes to terms with the fact that prison has changed her and the way people view her forever, while the love of her life, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), is dealing with the corruption of life in the always unjust Max prison, as they figure out how to navigate a relationship where one of them is on the inside while one is on the outside.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Laura Prepon talked about Alex’s journey in Season 7, what her last day on set was like, how spending 8 years on That ‘70s Show helped prepare her for saying goodbye this time around, how incredible the fans of the series have been, her experience directing episodes of the show (she directed an episode each, in Season 5, 6 and 7), and what she got to take home from the set. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: Obviously, there’s been a real evolution for all of the characters, from season to season, on this show. How did it feel to go into Season 7, playing Alex at this point in her life, and how does it feel to know that this is where you’ll be leaving her, with it also being the last season?
LAURA PREPON: I really liked how they started this whole new storyline with Max in Season 6. So, where we pick up with Alex, this season, is pretty closely after last season ended. It was just a natural progression. And honestly, where we end the season, I think that fans will be really happy about it. I was really happy, when I heard about how this season was gonna end. As a fan of the show, I was really happy to see how it ended, in terms of the Alex and Piper relationship. I hope they like it. It’s always hard, when you’re on a long-running show. You can’t please everybody, obviously. But I feel like with this relationship, with so much time invested in it, that fans will be happy with it.
And there are so many characters on this show that it seems like it would be impossible to satisfy everybody.
PREPON: And you won’t. You just won’t. It’s always tough to wrap up a long-running show like this, with so many incredible characters. But I feel like we did a really good job. I think the fans will be happy, and as a fan of the show, when it comes to the writers, and all the actors and crew, I’m very proud of what we did.
What was the last scene and the last day like, for you?
PREPON: The last day for me was great because Taylor [Schilling] was working. It was really special that Taylor and I both had our last day of filming, on the same day. We didn’t have a scene together on the last day, but we were both working on the last day, so we were there together, which was really special. That ‘70s Show went for eight years, and I grew up on that show. I started that show when I was 18. So, I was prepared, and I knew what to expect. I knew about the grief, and for lack of a better word, the postpartum experience that happens, after a long-running show ends, so I was very prepared for what was to come. When I found out it was the last season, I was like, “Okay, that makes sense.” And then, when we were approaching the last episode, I was very thankful that I had gone through this before, so I knew what to expect, but there was still a lot of tears. When I wrapped, there were a lot of our old school, from the beginning, Netflix executives there, and Jenji [Kohan] and our entire writing staff, who came in from Los Angeles, was there. It was really wonderful. I cried and got to hug everybody, and it was lovely. It really was.
Do you do anything specific to say goodbye to a character, or do you just try to embrace it, when you have to say goodbye?
PREPON: I embrace it. I will always have this experience with me. Doing Orange was a true gift, playing Alex was a true gift, and representing this kind of woman and relationship was a true gift. I wrote a cookbook that came out in 2016, that became a New York Times best seller, and talking about food and wellness is a huge part of my career, as well, so I post these YouTube videos, and I got invited to this thing, called VidCon, which is all about the YouTube community. So, I went to VidCon and I did this meet and greet with the fans, and this young woman, who must have been about 21 or 22, came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for portraying Alex. Watching you gave me the courage to come out to my family.” Those kinds of experiences, when it comes to women feeling represented, especially by a character that I portray, is huge. It’s everything to me. It’s why I do what I do. Piper and Alex represented a relationship that they could relate to. Women can watch Alex and feel like they’re understood, and feel like they’re being represented. That means so much to me. That is something that I’ll take with me, always. And the show broke so many barriers. We really blazed a trail. There will be many other wonderful shows to come, of course, but at the time that Orange came out, with the subject matter that we had, and the wonderful women, and men, that were represented on this show, was huge. You can’t take that away from any of us, and that’s wonderful. That’s something that’s going to be with me, always.
It must be cool to hear that, when Netflix users were asked about their favorite shows to stream, Stranger Things was #2, and Orange Is the New Black was #1.
PREPON: Yeah, it’s amazing because Netflix also blossomed, just as Orange did. We all blazed this path together, and it was the perfect relationship. It was the perfect symbiotic relationship for the creative freedom that our show needed, and this wonderful platform that Netflix gave us. At the end of the day, we wouldn’t be here without the fans, so the fact that we’re the #1 show the fans want to see is incredible.
You’ve also directed three episodes of the series, on each in Seasons 5, 6 and 7. What were the biggest challenges and fears that you had, directing the first episode that you did, back in Season 5?
PREPON: I’ve been directing for awhile, but this was the biggest thing that I’ve directed. Directing has been a passion of mine, for close to 15 years. I had been asking Jenji, since Season 1, to let me direct because I’ve always wanted to direct this show. But what’s funny is, when they gave me my first opportunity to direct in Season 5, that particular storyline with my character was when we were all taken hostage in a janitor’s closet and tortured by this guard. Taylor and I were wrapped in a shower curtain, our hands were literally bound and we were gagged, and we had to be lowered to the floor by stunt guys, for each take, with duct tape over our mouths, and that was my first episode directing. And then, I also found out that I was pregnant. So, I was pregnant, bound and gagged, and having to direct while being tortured in the closet. It was a very interesting situation, but the episode turned out great. I’ve always been really good at switching hats, and acting and directing, at the same time. I prefer to not act in something that I’m directing, but when you’ve gotta do it, it’s not super hard for me. I can switch those roles quickly. But directing in Seasons 6 and 7 was better because I didn’t have to be taken hostage in a jail and tortured. My daughter came the first day of Season 6, and after I became a mother and learned what the real stress is, of trying to keep this child safe, and just being terrified, and not knowing what to do, I went back to set as a director and was like, “Oh, this is not stressful, whatsoever.” Everything gets so put into perspective, when you have children. Other stresses could potentially rise at work, and you’re like, “Oh, this ain’t nothing! This is nothing, compared to the stress of keeping my child alive.” That kind of perspective shift opened up my eyes, in a way that I never had anticipated, and it speaks directly to my acting and my directing. I’m so thankful for that new awareness now, as a mother. It’s incredible.