Indelible and Taylor-Made -- Like Her Breakout TV Character
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL SCHWARTZ WORDS BY ELIZABETH WALLACE
This interview is condensed from the Story + Rain Podcast, launching in 2019. For our first interview, founder Tamara Rappa was joined by her childhood friend, performance artist Sarah Jones, to speak to actor Taylor Schilling from Orange is the New Black. The two share a deep friendship and we sat down to discuss magic in the mix, and create some anew.
Tamara Rappa: At Story + Rain, we’re all about this idea of magic in the mix. We know that when creative individuals collide, it results in happy accidents, the best art, and the best conversations. It’s in that spirit that we conceive our content across all platforms, including this podcast. So what does magic in the mix mean to you?
Taylor Schilling: It’s so extraordinary that with Story + Rain, you’re creating a space for that to happen. I find that I can want the magic to be there, but it’s not until I create a container for it that it reveals itself. Maybe being a blank slate today is magical. Maybe it’s drinking a cup of tea. Maybe it’s a person. Sarah is one of the most inspirational, mind-blowingly talented figures in my orbit.
Sarah Jones: What you said about being a container, sometimes the container is a sieve. Sometimes the container is an open field. Like, “This isn’t containing anything!” It’s can be an exercise in letting go and allowing everything to be floating instead of pinned down. Magic is … show up, be authentic.
TS: What I know directly impedes all creativity for me is expectation. Often times it does feel like something’s not coming through, this feels wonky, this feels wiggly—and then allowing even that to be creative, to be magic. Yes, truth—that’s really powerful stuff. If that’s my truth in this moment, and I’m telling it, then that becomes universal and valuable. The rub is when you start to lie.
SJ: Right. Which we are all encouraged to do, right? We work in an industry where we are navigating a lot of different spaces, not just entertainment, but it’s certainly part of the mix and the magic, right?
TS: It’s scary to not lie. I identified telling the truth as a part of what I value a while ago, and it still feels like jumping off a cliff. Authenticity—what does that even mean? It’s like trying to describe the moon. But it requires a lot of faith and determination to tow the line of truth. It’s terrifying and exciting, not knowing, not pretending to know, not trying to curate an image of myself on any platforms.
TR: And yet there’s a big expectation for you to do just that, to curate your persona, right?
TS: Yeah, huge.
SJ: And with this iconic character in particular from this juggernaut show. OITNB is its own world, right? It has its own laws of physics and Piper has to exist within those laws. I’ve been watching you navigate this over seven seasons, and I remember the beginning.
"Authenticity—what does that even mean?"
TS: Yes! And I remember early on in the show, we ran into each other in the neighborhood, and I was feeling a little vulnerable. I had to keep a baseball cap on, because the cast couldn't walk down the street in the same way anymore... I remember you saying, “Just put that hat on. Walk down the street. You’re okay. Just put that hat on.” And I was like, “Yeah. It’s all still okay. It’s just the laws are changing a little bit.” It’s just one character, one slice of the pie, but it’s its own martial arts game to take all that energy that comes out of people thinking they may know me or know who I am, and not take it on.
SJ: In a way, there is an expectation of what we know about Piper, the actual woman who we know and love …
TS: Yes! It was such a magical moment to get to know Piper and then bring her on a granular level into this different space. It’s progressively shifted, but there was some weird lightning in a bottle that first season where we were creating her memoir, embodying her soul—talk about magic in the mix.
TR: Has she given you any feedback?
TS: She’s like, I’m really proud of you.
TR: That’s incredible.
"It was such a magical moment to get to know Piper."
TS: And about truth… Sometimes truth means holding boundaries, not overexposing…
SJ: Well, in this industry there’s been so much hiding and secrecy, and power dynamics that create conditions where women end up on casting couches and in situations where they have felt historically unable to own their truth. I go into meetings sometimes and the feeling is like, "Well, we fixed that problem. We’ve overcome. We are all good now. Look at all these women.” I’m like, “I’m sorry, but we’re still talking minuscule numbers of women in real positions of power, at the executive levels, behind the camera, how people are paid.” This is the barest beginning of really looking at our truth as women in the industry, and the bedrock of this industry is sexism. Unpacking that and really digging out all of this stuff from the roots is uncomfortable, and messy, and necessary, if the industry is going to change and survive. One of the things about Orange is, whether it’s Laverne, you, Uzo, there are so many powerful images of women. It's almost like the show rose and helped usher in this wave of visible diverse women.
TS: Visibility is necessary to move forward. It can be happening under the rug and it doesn’t make it any less valuable, but until it’s visible, it does not have the same power. And the show really did make more elbow room, a little bit more space to move around. Every time your truth is denied, which is what has happened to a lot of women in our industry, it becomes harder and harder to trust yourself. I think it’s a real service to mirror people’s truths back to them and to say, "I hear you. I see you. Not only do I see you and hear you, I’m going to amplify your voice."
SJ: Just saying, You’re real, your story matters, you’re not a sidekick, or a flavoring to be sprinkled in. You are a main essential human story that needs to be told…
TS: It’s revolutionary, because who knows what’s possible when everyone's available to themselves.
SJ: Taylor, do you feel like when you create a character, there is some making an amend? Like, it’s holding up a loving mirror to yourself?
TS: Absolutely. The pieces that I feel most proud of and excited by are when there are previously unacceptable bits of my own self that I can gently crawl back into and then express in some capacity—it’s so freeing. And making that visible, I think, in our reptilian brains we can feel that in each other. A kinetic connection happens when we see a fellow human touching that place and being present to it. We, and the audience, feel, like, “Oh my God, I can breathe.” I love going to art museums—I receive energy by walking around in those spaces.
TR: My energy can really change based on my surroundings. Taylor, switching gears … you’re closing the chapter on Piper and on Orange Is The New Black. How are you going to say goodbye to this character?
TS: This is a huge part of my life. I was young. I was 27, just so little! What I hope for Piper is that she lives on in perpetuity. That she finds some freedom, some self-acceptance. It’s been really interesting playing a character that has not found any internal resting point. With a lot of gratitude, is how I’d like to say goodbye. And this is a huge new chapter. I have a few projects coming out this spring—Orion Pictures’ thriller The Prodigy, and the Film Arcade comedy Family. And then I think I’m going to just be very quiet for a minute and see what enters, as opposed to chasing it.
"Hashtag good grief."
SJ: I just closed a show here in LA, Sell By Date, that I’m taking around the country next. There’s a mini grieving process, I find, closing a show. I’ve been learning more about this idea of micro grief: That when we’re little, if you lose your binky, or if your goldfish dies, or whatever moment of separation, of grief, that often in our culture, definitely as girls and women, we’re just taught to move on, to not feel into every little loss. Micro grief is the idea that every experience is filled with a moment that you have to grieve before you can move on to a new beginning. Taylor knows I make up words, but the idea of "grilief" came to me in meditation: Grief mixed with relief. I’m moving on, because my life is asking me to pick up new characters, or make a new chapter, or whatever it may be. I can’t control what’s happening, and there will be grief. But it’s… good grief. I got that in there!
TS: Hashtag good grief.
S+R: Hashtag good grief!
TS: I have so many ideas about really getting to the core of what success or lovability is. So much of it has to do with achieving things. It really is beautiful, this notion of slowing down enough to experience the full range of being a human, living and breathing, which includes a lot of loss and a lot of grief.
SJ: It’s funny how much the treadmill—the grind of life—becomes a comfort zone for me, a discomfort zone, but a comfort zone.
TS: Yes. There’s a psycho spiritual aspect of sitting in the middle of yourself that becomes transcendent, and different, and undefinable.
TR: Obviously, there are things that we want, things that we need to control in life, or that we try to, but I am working on being okay with what comes in, like you said, Taylor.
SJ: I love that. There are pithy Instagram things floating in my head right now, but the idea of allowing yourself to do less. I tell myself, “Do less.” Then that strikes panic in me. I say, “What do you mean?! Then I won’t be proving myself!” But what if there’s nothing to prove?
TS: Anything I try to push, any expectation I try to enforce on myself about who I should be, it’s just, brr. I end up on the outside of the … not even the country, like the planet.
SJ: Like, skin inside out! Organs on the outside of your body!
"There's an aspect of sitting in the middle of yourself that becomes transcendent."
TS: Choose any slice of the life pie. Social, creative, emotional, spiritual—what I’ve come to is acceptance. The only way I get anywhere is fully accepting where I am, no matter how much I don’t like it. Having this seven-year chunk of time doing Orange, it’s like this built-in New Year’s Eve or something. I’m looking back like, “What’s changed over seven years? How have I gotten better? I’ve grown up. I should have my shit together.” The level of self-acceptance that’s necessary to move forward is huge, because it’s always, this hasn’t changed as much as I want. This is still blah blah blah. This is not blah blah blah. But often, what I want and need are two separate things. It helps to name that, and know that the want is often times coming from a false self—the idea that I need to be more, to achieve more, to be lovable, when all I need is to remember who I am. To remember my infinite truth and worth and love, and then I feel connected again to my fellow humans. That’s as true for me as it is for all of us—every person listening and every human on this planet. And yeah, feeling connected? That is magical.
Mutual Admiration Society: Performance Artist Sarah Jones, above, is a "mind-blowingly talented" figure in Taylor Schilling's life.
DECEMBER 2018 COVER
NORTH 7 MEDIA
ASSISTANTS PHOTO: ERIC BOUTHILLER, JULIUS FRAZER, DAN ATTEO.