‘Orange Is the New Black’ Spotlight: Julie Lake Dishes On Playing an Addict as ‘Angie Rice’
On Thursday, June 11, our favorite prison ladies were back to plotting each other’s downfalls, keeping paternity secrets, and busting terminally ill inmates out of jail (or at least that’s where they left us at the end of season two). Since its premiere in 2013, the dark comedy-drama series Orange Is the New Black has told the true-life story of Piper Kerman (Taylor Schilling), put away for felony money-laundering charges more than a decade after she committed the crime. Although the Emmy award-winning series focuses on Piper’s story, episode-by-episode, we learn why each inmate has arrived at Litchfield Penitentiary.
Distributed by Netflix, there’s a larger capacity for risqué storytelling than typical network television allows (aka nudity and truly impressive combinations of curse words). But beyond upping the ante with graphic encounters, the show also offers surprising sentimentality and compassion for the convicts. Prisoners are usually portrayed on TV as hardened criminals that belong in jail. OITNB challenges that black and white theory by showing there’s more to life behind the bars — and that not everyone deserves to be in Litchfield.
The show’s scrutiny to go beyond the status quo has also been applied to its real-life hiring choices, no doubt influenced by creator and writer Jenji Kohan. OITNB has been praised for its diverse casting through hiring more women and minorities, a feat that previously could only have been comparable to a Shonda Rhimes production. It’s paved the way for serious cultural analysis such as inequality in the prison system, systemic guard-inmate misogyny and the rights, or lack thereof, for jailed transgender women (spotlighting Laverne Cox’s character “Sophia”).
Beyond the larger themes of the show, each episode peels back more layers on the women in Litchfield, hence showcasing where their priorities truly lie. Recapping part of season two, it was a huge shock (for us and viewers alike) to learn that born-again Southern rebel Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) was arrested for shooting a technician at an abortion clinic. She didn’t commit murder for her pro-life beliefs as her lawyers believe; shots were fired because the technician insulted Pennsatucky about her number of past procedures.
Angie Rice (Julie Lake) is one of Pennsatucky’s former followers, rounding out the clique of rural girls with past drug and present dental hygiene problems (read: yellow and brown cracked teeth). Appearing in OITNB at the end of season one, viewers have yet to learn the reason for Angie’s sentence in Litchfield. While she’s been more of a minor character in the past, she’s appearing in the majority of the upcoming season’s episodes. In preparation for seeing more of her in season three, GALO had an opportunity to speak with Lake about her transition from theatre to television, the makeup process to deconstruct rather than beautify, and behind-the-scenes moments with the cast.
GALO: Angie was a loyal supporter of Pennsatucky for a long time in the show. To catch us up for season three, can you tell us a bit about the breaking point that pulled her away and what brought her back?
Julie Lake: I think that Angie kind of just goes along with whatever Leanne (Emma Myles) wants. I think Leanne is the mastermind of their friendship and keeps her on Pennsatucky’s good side. I don’t think Angie would have it in her heart to reject Penn on her own; I think she feels empathy for her and is a kindhearted character in general. She’s pretty reliable in that perspective.
GALO: Angie has a diverse role in Litchfield, even though she’s part of a clique. We see her in a lot of fun scenes practicing yoga, on the hunger strike that ends in pizza, and tricks against corrections officer Sam Healy, among others. Do you ever improvise these scenes or does everyone stay within the confines of the script?
JL: I improvise when I can get away with it. So sometimes at the end of the scene, I will [do that]. But mostly, it’s written. I’m definitely free with it when I can be. Often, Emma and I will improvise little bits and stuff, physical comedy bits like clapping [our] hands or putting our hair back. Sometimes we talk about it and sometimes we do it in the moment. A lot of the time, we have a funny idea before shooting — if they hate it, they’ll let us know, but that doesn’t usually happen.
GALO: On Instagram, you recently posted a picture of you and Emma Myles. It’s great to see how genuinely close so much of the cast is. What do you attribute this to?
JL: I’m really grateful to Emma. My first day on set, I was so nervous. I had never been on a TV set before and I thought I was going to have a panic attack. She introduced me to everyone and put me at ease. She’s so chatty, such a warm and friendly person, that she made my experience on the show so wonderful.
But there is not one bad egg in the cast. You know, the Orange cast is so close, we hang out outside of the show as well as downtime during the show. Like, we’ll pile into a dressing room and watch stupid videos on YouTube.
GALO: Your character puts a more sympathetic angle on what it’s like to be locked up for drugs. How did you prepare for a role like this?
JL: I watched a lot of interventions. I watched this documentary [a few years] before called High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell, and there was one character named Brenda who really stuck with me. She was so funny but so sad at the same time. I didn’t completely model Angie on her, but she was in my mind the entire time.
GALO: You studied theatre at Yale and were in a number of productions in New York. OITNB is your first television appearance. How has it been different than theatre?
JL: It was a hard transition. I did a ton of theatre with a lot of well-respected directors, but I moved to L.A. and it seemed like no one really knew who they were [laughs]. I got a break with Nick Jones [writer/producer for OITNB], who sent the casting director my tape and they cast me off of that. It really was my lucky break.
JL: [Laughs] That’s true! Julie is a desperate actress and George is her cat who is super connected in Hollywood. As in, he’s friends with Matthew Weiner, Kevin Spacey and other celebrities. I’m always asking him for connections or advice with men and he just degrades me like a jerk. It’s funny because it’s mocking Hollywood in a way.
GALO: Going back to OITNB, it’s rare to see a group of actresses take on roles where they look less put together. How long is your hair and makeup process?
JL: It’s actually not that long; the teeth only take 30 seconds. The hair and makeup stylists are really good at it and they know what they’re doing. They make my circles look darker and add spots, add more grease. So, [it takes] 15-20 minutes tops.
GALO: What was your first thought when you looked in the mirror and saw the transformation?
JL: I laughed and bowled over and took a lot of selfies. I think having bad teeth really changes a person’s appearance; anyone looks hideous with gross teeth.
GALO: Noting how different you look in real life from your character, do you have a lot of people recognize you on the street? Do you prefer that rather than have paparazzi follow you?
JL: It’s rare that someone recognizes me, and when they do, I’m confused. One time, someone came up to me about the show and I thought he was a friend that I should have known that I wasn’t recognizing and it was so awkward. I prefer the paparazzi staying away; I’m a very shy person.
Anytime someone recognizes me, I think to myself, ‘Am I walking like a normal human being?’ It’s hard and that’s never something that I wanted as an actress. But I think I’ll get more used to it. I think people will recognize me more in the third season because my character is getting a bigger role.
GALO: A bigger role, how exciting! One of the reasons I love OITNB is because in an episode, it highlights why and how an inmate arrived in jail, while still keeping up with the current drama inside Litchfield. We don’t know a lot about Angie’s past yet. Will we see her story in the upcoming season?
JL: I cannot say. Wouldn’t want to get into trouble!
GALO: We don’t want that either! Why do you feel that OITNB has such a huge following? Do you think being on Netflix helped it achieve that notoriety, and do you think the results would have been different if it was broadcast on a cable network?
JL: I think it’s just a different show — there are so many women, there are so many minorities, it’s so real. It’s gritty and truthful; there just isn’t any other show like that and it’s such great writing. I had no idea what to expect, though. I didn’t even know that I was going to have a regular part on the show. I thought it was just going to be one episode — and I hadn’t even read all the scripts, so it was very surprising when I ended up being a regular.
GALO: OITNB is a show that many describe as one of their “binge-watching” habits (aka watching an entire season in a few weeks or less). Are there any shows that you binge-watch?
JL: I binge-watched so many shows this year. I’m getting married!
JL: Thank you! And before being with him, I didn’t even have a television. But since we’ve been together, I’ve caught up on years of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, so many shows that I can’t even remember anymore. I actually think I’ve been watching too much TV… Arya [Stark, played by Maisie Williams] is my favorite [on GoT], she’s so great. I used to think that Jon Snow [Kit Harington] was the hottest guy in the entire world, and he looks a lot like my fiancé. But I saw him at the SAG Awards and I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s him!’ I made my fiancé turn around and gawk at him; it was so nerdy and embarrassing. I actually felt sorry that he had to see me do that.
GALO: Well, in all fairness, I think we can all get starstruck at times, especially when it comes to a beautiful person like Kit Harington. Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you want your fans to know about?
JL: We start shooting the fourth season of OITNB in June, so that will take up a lot of my time. I’ve been focusing a lot on writing — one of my dreams beyond being an actress is to be a writer. I’m working on more George and Julieas well as Mental, which is about two best friends having a barely functional existence. I’m also writing a pilot I’m hoping to pitch this summer!
For more Julie Lake, tune in to Netflix for the highly anticipated season three of “Orange is the New Black.” You can also follow her on Twitter @juliemflake to keep up to date on her current and future endeavors.