Alysia Reiner photo by Josh Merwin.
Award-winning actress and NYWIFT Member Alysia Reiner is not a bitch, but she does play one on the new Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. Set in a women’s prison, Reiner portrays Natalie “Fig” Figueroa, the tough-as-nails assistant warden.
Based on the memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, by former female inmate Piper Kerman, the original television series, Orange is the New Black, is created and run by women.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it is to be on a female-driven show. We have such an incredible show runner [Jenji Kohan, creator of Weeds], talented actresses, insanely funny and brilliant female writers, and female producers,” says Reiner. “Jodie Foster directed one episode. She had no ego, zip. So cool and down to earth. I try not to be too much in awe of the team of women surrounding me.”
So how does Reiner relate to Fig? And what about being called the B-word?
“This role is about embracing my inner darkness and strength, okay I’ll say it, my inner bitch. Not being so afraid of it, and not being so damn afraid that people might not like me,” Reiner explains.
A practitioner of meditation, environmentalist, community service volunteer, and mom of a four-year-old daughter, Reiner’s line into the character had to come to her through her physicality; the dirty-fighting Fig came out of kickboxing says Reiner, “When I have gloves on and I am beating and kicking a bag, I can unleash a ton of anger and frustration.”
Playing the heavy did create a feeling of division from the actresses portraying inmates. “It was like the Stanford Prison Experiment. It’s weird walking into lunch sometimes, I want to say ‘Really I’m not such a bitch! I just helped my daughter’s school to start composting! Really I care about people and the planet!’“ explains Reiner.
But is Reiner hoping she gets hate mail? “Sure!”
On whether Orange might have found a home on network or cable television, Reiner believes creator Jenji Kohan’s impressive track record would have opened those doors, “But it’s a very exciting time for Netflix. Netflix and their team and Lionsgate Television have been incredibly supportive and very hands-off creatively,” shares Reiner. This allows Orange to explore the material in ways that might not have been possible elsewhere. Reiner adds, “The awesome thing about Netflix is the artistic freedom everyone seems to feel.”
Orange Is the New Black premieres tomorrow, Thursday, July 11, on Netflix with all 13 episodes immediately available for viewing.
— ANNIE LABARBA (@annelabarba)