Taylor Schilling, 34, plays the lead role of Piper Chapman on Orange Is the New Black, the wildly popular Netflix series about a privileged woman sent to prison years after unwittingly committing a crime. The sixth season was released on her birthday, July 27. Born in Boston, she was raised in West Roxbury and Wayland and graduated from Wayland High before attending Fordham University and beginning her graduate studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has appeared in the Academy Award-winning Argo, the Classic Stage Company’s production of A Month in the Country and opposite Zac Efron in The Lucky One. She recently completed filming horror flick The Prodigy, and her comedic drama Family debuted earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival. She lives in New York.
Jonathan Soroff: Orange Is the New Black was one of the first Netflix series to really blow up. What do you attribute that to?
Taylor Schilling: I think that it was an intersection of factors. The way people were watching TV was changing, and our show provided stories that we were culturally very hungry for. Those two things colliding, I think, created something that really exploded.
Show you binge-watch? OK, that’s a tough question, because for the past two years, I haven’t been able to watch anything without falling asleep. I’ve been so tired for two years. But actually, there are two shows. The Fall, with Gillian Anderson, and then I just watched the documentary series about the religious group in Oregon that clashed with the locals, Wild Wild Country. I was really into that.
Person you’d most like to see join the cast of OITNB? Maybe Cynthia Nixon, after she wins the election to the governorship. I don’t know. I love our cast. And I have to say that Jennifer Euston, the woman who casts the show, has won multiple Emmy awards, and it’s such a brilliantly cast show, so I don’t know how much I have to add to that.
Do you ever wear the color orange? No. Absolutely not. Now, that’s kinda like verboten. Nothing in my wardrobe is orange.
Taylor Schilling on the cover of the Fall Fashion issue. Wardrobe: Altuzarra coat and belt
Biggest shift transitioning from TV to film? Y’know, there’s something about television that’s very much a marathon, and you have to balance your personal life and working, because for our show at least, it’s stretched out over six months. But oftentimes, when I’m getting ready to make a movie, it’s kind of diving into a little bubble that I don’t escape from for a month or eight weeks or three months. It’s a little bit more concentrated.
So many people on the show have a strong Boston connection: You, Uzo Aduba, Lea DeLaria, Diane Guerrero—is that a coincidence, or is it something else? Well, Boston cranks out hard workers, don’t you think? Kinda East Coast, hearty stock?
Biggest audition horror story? I want to say I did not last long doing it, because apparently, I was terrible at it. But once, when I was still in college, I was auditioning for a TV commercial. The weirdest thing I ever had to do: I walked into this room, and there was a park bench and a mannequin at one end. They asked me to hop up on the park bench, then jump down, take the mannequin’s head in my hands and kiss it. Like full lip-to-lip contact. I don’t know what they were trying to sell. I have no idea what the point of it was. I have no recollection, other than that they wanted me to kiss this plastic doll.
Favorite film festival? In the past few years, I’ve really enjoyed SXSW. They’ve featured some really great filmmakers. Cannes is always so spectacular. Sundance always has really interesting work, and so does the Toronto International Film Festival. I love that one.
Wardrobe: Tibi Jumpsuit
Most illegal thing you ever did? Are you kidding me? I can’t tell you that.
Have you ever been arrested? I’m also pleading the Fifth.
Ever been in a women’s prison? I have visited women’s prisons. I’ve never been incarcerated inside one.
Would you ever name a child Piper? [Laughs.] No! Never! No way.
Tell me your weirdest fan encounter? I know this isn’t a very exciting answer to that question, but people are very enthusiastic. They’re not weird. They’re just excited. And I really appreciate that they don’t get super weird. I appreciate that very much.
Is Peter Dinklage a total blast to work with? Yes. He is a genius, and a very, very funny man. He’s really something special.
Actor you’re dying to work with? That list is so long I don’t even want to try. So many.
Who’s your fantasy love scene partner? Umm, a young Marlon Brando.
Ever felt that you were underappreciated in a role? I’m just so grateful for everything I’ve been able to play, so no.
Most underappreciated actor you’ve ever worked with? Again, I don’t even know what appreciation means. I work with so many actors who may not have the external cash and prizes or awards and all that, but they are so brilliant, and they’re equally as talented as any very shiny person I’ve ever worked with. So I can’t really answer that.
Kate Mulgrew—best Star Trek captain ever? Absolutely. Of course!
Tell me a secret about Zac Efron? [Laughs.] Oh, God. Anything I could tell you would be so old and outdated that I’m not going to go there.
Was making Argo the most thrilling film experience you ever had? Yes, it was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had with a film, partly because I was so young when I did it. It was all so new and exciting. I remember each step along the way of making that, and it felt so extraordinary.
Any desire to appear on Broadway? Sure. Yes. Of course! I’d love to.
Do you feel any pressure to move to Los Angeles? No. I can continue my career from anywhere. That’s one of the joys of my job: that I’m very mobile. I can travel anywhere to work and create many things. And I’m always at my best when I’m happy and feel planted where I want to live.
Weirdest thing you’ve ever read about yourself either online or in a tabloid? I wish I had a better story for that, but I stay so far away from most entertainment media, that I wouldn’t even know what they wrote about me. I guess I’ll have to keep my eye out. It would be funny.
Biggest extravagance? Taking Lyfts everywhere and so much therapy. [Laughs.]
Wardrobe: Altuzarra Sweater, Toteme Pants
What do you consider your best feature? My best feature is twofold: My resiliency and my curiosity.
You worked as a nanny in New York. Biggest lesson learned? Well, without a doubt, that I set the tone. With most of the kids that I worked with, if they were having a hard time, and I stayed kind of even-keeled, surfing right down the middle, they were able to kinda come back down to earth much more quickly. My own Zen master nannying work—keeping it cool.
If you were on death row, what would your last meal be? French toast and bacon with maple syrup. What’s better than breakfast for dinner?
Ever secretly rehearsed an Oscar acceptance speech? Oh, of course. I’ve wanted to do this since I was 6.
Do you think any actor who says they haven’t is a liar? [Laughs.] Probably. At least at some moment in their lives, they’ve done that.
You recently worked on two films. Give me a thumbnail sketch of each. Family is the story of a woman and her niece. It’s a story of redemption and a real love story between this woman and a little girl who opens her up and teaches her how to trust a little bit. And it’s hilarious. Kate McKinnon is amazing in it. It’s a really joyful film. And then the other film, which is called The Prodigy, is terrifying. It’s a genre piece, a horror film, which I’ve never done before. It deals with the idea of reincarnation in a small child, and it’s very, very scary. I don’t even know if I can watch it without covering my eyes. It’s very frightening.
Thing you miss most about Boston? All the L.L. Bean fleece and Polartec. [Laughs.] Seriously? I’ve always felt that my Boston, where I grew up around West Roxbury, it’s always been a very grounded, earthy place that I love and miss. ◆
Photographer: Dennis Golonka; Photo Assistant: Jesse Dreyfus; Digital Technician: Shane Lavancher; Makeup Artist: Tina Turnbow / Crosby Carter Mgmt.; Hair Stylist: Jillian Halouska / Starworks Artists; Wardrobe Stylist: Emma Morrison / The Wall Group; Prop Stylist: Teri Cortuzzola; Location: Hudson Studios NYC