She earned a bachelor's degree in acting at Fordham University and did two years of graduate study at New York University before dropping out to actually act. Taylor Schilling, 28, is known for her roles in "The Lucky One" starring opposite Zac Efron and the lead in "Atlas Shrugged: Part I. " Now she is heading to prison as the star of the new original Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black," from "Weeds" creator Jenji Kohan. The series is inspired by the memoir of Piper Kerman, who went to prison for drug smuggling when she was young. Thirteen one-hour episodes of "Orange Is the New Black" will be available Thursday on Netflix.
Was there anything about your part in "Orange Is the New Black" that concerned you?
I was so excited when I saw that it was Jenji Kohan's project. I felt really excited to explore the world that in the first script is so textured and different and there are so many parts of Piper that get explored. I kind of just dove into this project head-first and didn't think much about it, which generally works well for me.
Did you read the book or meet the author?
I read the book after I was involved with the project. Yeah, Piper was a part of the process. She was there on set a bunch and as the season went on, we got to know each other well. She's been a fantastic resource.
It must be interesting to play someone who is standing there.
You know what? That was tricky for me. I didn't think much about it because Jenji was very clear that we were creating our own world and my Piper [Chapman] was a character inspired by the events of Piper Kerman's life and Piper Chapman was her own entity. So I felt very liberated from trying to make anything specific. That said, I have a great deal of respect for what Piper Kerman went through and the courage and dignity that she brought to some pretty extraordinary situations, especially the way she handled her life and got involved with the Women's Prison Association post-incarceration. It took me a while to be able to talk to her while I was working. I would sort of hide out while she was on set. I could talk to her when we were done shooting.
Was that for creative purposes? For your acting process?
Yeah, yeah, for sure. At the beginning it was and then I started to get a little more comfortable and it felt safer to let more people into the process. But at the beginning I was just getting my sea-legs. It was OK to be social with Piper, but I didn't really want, I wanted just a little bit more space. I think that's always the case anytime you are warming up. For me, when I'm warming up to a part, I never know what I'm doing and you sort of feel your way into it.
You've been acting since you were young. Do you think studying it in college and going to grad school was worth it? Could you have jumped right in after high school?
You know, absolutely. I didn't really study it when I was in high school. I just did plays and sort of smushed around. My life was taking me all over the place. It's the one thing I did know. It's the one thing I still know, that this is what I want to do. I don't know much else for sure about my life. I feel the most at home doing this work.
So could you have done it without going to college?
I don't know. That's a great question. I definitely felt by the time I got to grad school -- which was a great experience -- I was like, what's the difference between the teachers and the students? Why are the teachers teachers if they want to be acting? It didn't make sense to me anymore. It's not like you learn how to set a broken bone and you get the stamp of approval. There comes a point where it is so subjective -- why does your point of view on this mean more than mine? But I felt like couldn't really say that confidently until I had done a lot of exploring.
There was this period of time when I dropped out of grad school after two years and I felt really ballsy, like I can do this. As I have been working more, I find I am so grateful for all -- and I don't like using this word -- but for all the technique I have under my belt. I find myself much better equipped to be in lots of different situations and much better equipped to take risks and to approach stuff that I think doesn't initially click.
For a long time I thought I don't have any technique. I don't know what I'm doing and I still say that a lot. I am starting to realize there is a process that I go through and it's real. I love to talk to actors about what they think of training. Some people are like ... no. Some people really believe in it. I fall somewhere in the middle.
Is there anything about acting and your career that intimidates you?
Everything, everything makes me nervous. I get nervous that I won't be good enough. I get nervous that I won't fulfill what I think I can fulfill or that somehow I won't give everything that I can give. Or challenge myself as much as I can challenge myself or find that sweet spot that I want to find or that I won't live up to my own ideas of what I can do.
I'm like in my gut, I've got more to give. I feel like this part is one of the first times I've been able to do that professionally. I had a lot of experience in college and in grad school doing all these different plays. Theater felt like my home and it still is my home, but I hadn't necessarily had experiences on camera that I felt really good about.
I actively work at keeping those thoughts at bay because they don't help me. I can't be in that kind of head space and work at the same time. I have to tell that part of my brain: Go wait in the hallway while I'm on set. I can come back and hang with it later if I have to.
You've learned to compartmentalize.
Yeah, I have learned to take the part of me that is very fearful and work on that. There is space for that in my life. I have learned to give myself a bit more freedom between "action" and "cut." I come by all that fear honestly, like most humans have. I can't bring it with me to work so in that way the work feels quite liberating.
On one hand, you're nervous and a little bit shy, yet you can perform in front of others and find it liberating.
It's weird, actually, hearing it reflected back like that. It is strange.
Are you excited about achieving a certain level of fame?
I feel like with what I do and what I've chosen to do and love to do, in our world today, it comes with a certain level of recognition. So I think that's exactly what I signed up for. But it's the kind of thing I don't think about very often. It doesn't behoove me to spend much time dwelling on that. I kind of try to take all of it as it comes. What does excite me is maybe I will have more choice in the stories I want to tell and what is available to me. I am so hungry for that. You know, I really like to work.