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Rising star captivated by role in 'Orange Is the New Black'

Published On: Jul 24 2013 04:19:09 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 24 2013 04:20:39 PM CDT
Matt McGorry in 'Orange is the New Black' (Netflix)


Matt McGorry in "Orange is the New Black."

The title of the new, acclaimed Netflix series is "Orange Is the New Black," but for one of the show's stars, Matt McGorry, it's all about playing green as a rookie prison guard.

That's because McGorry's character, John Bennett, must learn how to distinguish the proper line between a guard and an attractive female inmate, Dayanara (Dascha Polanco), among other things.

"Bennett is new to the prison system like Piper -- who is at the center of the show -- and he has to deal with Dayanara, who he has flirtations with initially and things sort of become complicated," McGorry told me in recent interview. "He has to learn the ropes of the prison system and what's appropriate and what isn't appropriate -- and how to deal with a crush and a love that's pretty forbidden."

A 12-episode comedy-drama that debuted on Netflix earlier this month, "Orange Is the New Black" follows the sometimes hilarious and other times harrowing exploits of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who is sentenced to 15 months in federal prison after taking a plea deal in a drug smuggling that took place 10 years earlier. The show is based on the 2010 memoir "Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison" by Piper Kerman.

In addition to dealing with his situation with Dayanara, Bennett must deal with the behavior of other corrections officers, like George "Pornstache" Mendez (Pablo Schreiber). Unlike Bennett, whose actions are relatively innocent, Pornstache is brutish guard who looks at inmates only in lust.

"I think the great thing about Pornstache and Bennett is that they are very different," McGorry, who's previously appeared in such series as "Elementary," "Royal Pains" and the daytime drama "One Life to Live."

"The comedy we play with the characters is almost sort-of automatic because there's a 180 degree difference between us. In some ways, it makes Bennett even more likeable, because he's in such sharp contrast with Pornstache," McGorry added. "The interesting thing is, there's a part of him who feels bad for Pornstache, too, because he recognizes he's a pretty unhappy individual. That's the way I've chosen to ground the character, looking at the complexity between the two characters."

And the fact that they are prison guards shouldn't make them any less relatable to the audience, McGorry added.

"Working alongside of someone you don't like is pretty universal," McGorry said, laughing.

McGorry said the interesting part about working on "Orange Is the New Black" is that the women's prison system isn't portrayed too often in film or television, creating a unique setting for audiences to explore -- and the people who work on it.

"The interesting thing about working in a 'minimum security prison' as portrayed on the show is that violence isn't the main threat, generally," McGorry observed. "Ultimately, a lot of the drama and the threat that goes on is housed in Piper's psychology. She's wondering how to deal with a new setting and how to survive. She wonders if it's better to engage the other inmates or not, and she's also trying to manage her life on the outside. The stakes are incredibly high because it's her life, and she's not experienced anything like it."

"Orange Is the New Black" also stars Jason Biggs as Piper's loving fiancé and Laura Prepon as Piper's former lover who played a huge part in her downfall. Kate Mulgrew also stars as an inmate who runs the prison kitchen and rules over the other inmates with an iron fist.

McGorry said without a doubt that the cast member who holds everyone together is Schilling, a fellow rising star who is clearly more concerned about the whole of the cast rather than just her character.

"Taylor, in addition to being a phenomenal actress, is so giving and genuine, and tries to make a connection with every single person in the cast," McGorry said. "She creates a feeling that makes all of us want to do something so special."

And it appears that all of that good will has paid off. Even though the show is only about two weeks out of the gate, Netflix has already committed to a second season.