Orange is the New Black is a Netflix original comedy-drama series that is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” (2010). The show centers on the character of Kerman who was sent to a minimum-security federal prison over her involvement in a drug smuggling cartel.
Following its release in July 2013, Orange is the New Black garnered favorable reviews and has gone ahead to become one of Netflix’s most watched shows. Its first season received 12 Emmy Award nominations as the lead character Taylor Schilling also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama. Join us as we take a look at its cast members.
Orange Is The New Black Actors and Actress
Taylor Schilling plays the role of Piper Chapman, the protagonist of the series who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for criminal conspiracy and money laundering. Prior to landing the role, Schilling, who began acting at a very young age before earning her bachelor of arts degree in acting from Fordham University, made her acting debut in the drama, Dark Matter (2007). In 2009, she took the role of an Iraq war veteran and a former military nurse turned doctor in the short-lived NBC medical drama, Mercy. She then went on to star in The Lucky One (2012) before successfully auditioning for Orange is the New Black.
Uzo Aduba plays the Emmy Award-winning role of a mentally unstable inmate named Suzanne Warren “Crazy Eyes”. The Nigerian-American actress began her acting career in theatre, notably earning a Helen Haynes Award nomination for her performance in Translations of Xhosa at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. Aduba soon moved to Broadway before making her on-screen acting debut on the CBS drama series, Blue Bloods in 2012 and then landing her award-winning role in Orange is the New Black.
Michael Harney plays the role of Sam Healy – a correctional officer and supervisor at Litchfield Penitentiary who also served as a prison counselor. Harney began his career in acting as a theatre actor and director after having spent a number of years under the tutelage of legendary acting teachers; William Esper and Phil Gushee.
The New York native went ahead to start a television and film acting career, appearing in NYPD Blue (1993 – 99), Erin Brokovich (2000), and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) before landing his OITNB role.
Michelle Hurst plays the role of a strict and feared inmate named Miss Claudette Pelage. Like many others actors and actresses in this series, Hurst began her acting career in theater before moving to television and film in the 90s. She famously appeared in numerous Law & Order episodes and also starred in films like Smoke (1995), Stepmom (1998), and Choke (2008) among others.
Laura Prepon plays the role of Alex Vause, a former drug smuggler and former sexual partner of Piper Chapman. Prepon studied acting at the Total Theatre Lab in New York City before going on to make her acting debut on the NBC Internet-based soap opera titled They Go On (1997). The young actress then spent some time working as a model before landing the role of Donna Pinciotti on That 70s Show (1998-2006) which earned her two Teen Choice Award nominations.
Prepon’s profile was on the rise in Hollywood all through the 2000s as she starred in films like Southlander (2001) and Karla (2006) before making her directorial debut on the short film Abide with Me (2010) after attending Art Center College of Design.
Natasha Lyonne plays the role of the loud-mouthed, witty, and acerbic former drug addict named Nicky Nichols. The actress, who was unable to graduate from high school, has been involved in show business ever since she was 6. She first worked as a model under the Ford Modeling Agency before making her acting debut on the children’s television show, Pee Wee’s Playhouse. By her mid-20s, Lyonee could already boast of having worked in over 30 television shows and movies that included Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Blade: Trinity (2004), and the American Pie film series.
Danielle Brooks plays the role of Tasha Jefferson aka Taystee, an inmate who spent most of her time in prison in the library. Brooks grew up in South Carolina where she began her acting career at the young age of 6. After attending and graduating from Julliard in 2011, she took up roles in Shakespeare Theatre Company before leaving to join the cast of Orange is the New Black in 2013.
Kate Mulgrew plays the character of Galina Reznikov, popularly called Red, the prison’s de-facto/white inmates leader and master chef. In contrast to most of her co-stars on Orange is the New Black, Mulgrew has the most acting experience having begun her career far back in the early 1970s, performing on television and in movies, although it was her stage acting that earned her the most plaudits and awards.
Two of the most notable shows Mulgrew has appeared in are Ryan’s Hope (1975-1978) and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001).
Actress and singer, Taryn Manning plays the role of Tiffany Doggett popularly known as Pennsatucky, an inmate and former drug addict. Manning, who was raised by her single mother in a trailer park, began her acting career by appearing in small television roles in the 90s. However, it was until she landed roles in Crazy/Beautiful (2001), Crossroads (2002), and Hustle & Flow (2005) that she garnered mainstream attention for her talent.
Manning has explored her singing ability and has gone as far as launching her own record company. Some of her most successful songs include “Send Me Your Love” and “Gltchlfe” which both peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.
Jason Biggs plays the role of Larry Bloom, a journalist and freelance writer who was most importantly the fiancé of the protagonist, Piper Chapman. In addition to his role in Orange is the New Balck, the New Jersey-born actor is also celebrated for his role as Jim Levenstein in the American Pie film series.
Biggs began acting at the young age of 5 and received his Screen Actors Guild card at the age of 10. He appeared in commercials and television shows before making his Broadway debut at the age of 12. Biggs attended Hasbrouck Heights High School and then enrolled at New York University for a year before dropping out to fully focus on his acting career.
Nick Sandow plays the character of Joseph Salvatore Caputo, the head administrative prison official who was portrayed to be conniving and sleazy at first before he was later shown to be misunderstood and ethical.
Before taking up his role on Orange is the New Black, Sandow had built a reputation for himself in the New York acting scene as an actor, writer, producer, and director. He has performed in a number of off-Broadway shows as well as in movies and television shows such as Law & Order, NYPD Blue, and Blue Bloods.
Selenis Leyva is a Cuban-American actress who plays the role of Gloria Mendoza, the leader of Latina inmates and adversary to Kate Mulgrew’s Red character. Leyva began her career in theatre before moving to television, appearing in a number of Law & Order episodes and spin-offs before landing her breakthrough role. She subsequently starred alongside Viola Davis in the courtroom drama, Custody (2016).
Dominican-American actress Dascha Polanco plays the role of Dayanara Diaz, a Puerto Rican inmate who was impregnated by prison guard John Bennett. Polanco, who came to the United States at a very young age, studied psychology at Hunter College and was intending to become a nurse before she summed up the courage to follow up on her dream of becoming an actress.
Polanco first enrolled at an acting class in New York before she was later able to make an appearance in shows like Unforgettable and NYC 22 in 2011 and 2012. Her first full time paying job came in 2013 when she was cast for Orange is the New Black. She has subsequently appeared in the movies Gimme Shelter (2013) and The Cobbler (2014).
Yael Stone plays the role of a racist Italian-American inmate, Lorna Morello. The Australian actress, who is an alumnus of the National Institute of Dramatic Art, began her acting career as a child. She worked primarily in the theatre where she won numerous awards before transitioning to on-screen roles in Me Myself, & I (1999), All Saints (2007-2008), and Spirited (2010-2011).
In late 2011, Stone moved to New York from her home country and co-founded an experimental theatre company. The following year, just a few months after moving across the Pacific, she landed her role in Orange is the New Black.
Elizabeth Rodriguez plays the role of Aleida Diaz, the mother of Dascha Polanco’s character who got incarcerated after helping her boyfriend in his drug dealing business. Following in line with almost all the other actors and actresses on the show, Rodriguez has a strong theatre acting background that has earned her the Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards.
Rodriguez began her career in the 90s, appearing in small roles in shows before moving to theatre and independent film roles in the 2000s. Some of her most popular roles are that of Gina Calabrese in Miami Vice (2006), Cheeky in Tio Papi (2013), and Carmen Morales in All My Children (2008-2009).