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‘Orange Is the New Black’ Star Danielle Brooks on Season 6: Betrayal, Survival and the ‘Beginning of the End’

“We in trouble….!”

That’s how Danielle Brooks describes the upcoming sixth season of “Orange is the New Black,” which is set to stream on Netflix on July 27. Given the seismic events of last season, which traced the fallout of a prison riot among the inmates, things aren’t looking good for the ladies of Litchfield. “There’s no good that can come out of this riot,” says Brooks.

Brooks stars as Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson , whose crusade for justice for Poussey, her friend and fellow inmate who was killed by a prison guard, fueled the tension that threaded throughout last season, culminating in the death of vicious prison guard Piscatella.

Ahead of the sixth season premiere, Brooks talks to Variety about the riot’s impact on the inmates, why she’s “terrified” about Taystee’s future, and how she feels about the groundbreaking series potentially coming to an end.

How did season six compare for you to what’s come before?

I think every year takes a new turn, but this one specifically because of all of the damage that happened in season five. The structure is completely turned on its head, the structure of what we’re used to being at Litchfield — that’s over because we’re all going to max. There’s no way up from starting a riot in prison, especially when you’re already considered in the bottom of the barrel of society. You’re not really considered human, and so I was never expecting it to be a victorious moment at the end. These girls, they’re in for it. So this season’s really about survival, because all these other inmates from different prisons have heard about what has happened. There’s going to be so many different versions of the truth and how that manifests in each women’s outcome, it will be very interesting.

How does that impact all the women of Litchfield?

These girls are finding new homes and with new homes is new faces, new inmates, new guards and finding your family, finding your tribe. You have to start all over again while still trying to hold on to your tribe, while still trying to keep together this community of Litchfield in a new environment.

So it’s going to be I think an incredible season. I think the fans will feel somewhat satisfied, and I think the writers were really inventive this season. You’ll see some episodes that you just never would have imagined the direction taking that turn, and I think that’s pretty cool. “Orange” has been such a trailblazer in changing the way in which we view television already, but the first episode will definitely start off that same way. It’s like, whoa — I’ve never thought of that, I’ve never seen that before in the storytelling.

Where is Taystee emotionally at the start of the season?

Man, at the start of season six she is sort of dazed out and kind of in awe of what has transpired and what hasn’t transpired. The fact that no justice was served for Poussey, she’s really struggling with still feeling quite alone and feeling no sense of family still. Everyone has left her world, and so we see her trying to fight depression, trying to fight her will to give up. We also get to go back and see more of Taystee’s flashbacks and see where she’s come from and how her past has really landed her here.

I feel like there’s so many people out there like Taystee who really are incredible human beings, incredible people, but the cards that they’re dealt never really pan out for them. They’re kind of always getting the two of clubs, they never really get the joker, and I feel like that’s what her situation has always been. She realizes that some people really are in it for themselves. They really are not loyal; they will do anything for their own personal gain or personal success. We definitely see this season how she deals with the people that she thought had her back not being there for her.

How will she deal with that betrayal?

I think with Taystee at this point it’s really about battle. It’s like, am I going to fight for myself now? I’ve fought for everybody else. I’ve fought for people to really come to love Vee, and that didn’t work. I’ve fought for my relationship with Poussey and that didn’t work and she’s gone. I’ve even fought for the relationship with Crazy Eyes, but mentally she’s not there. So now it’s time for her to fight for herself. Caputo tries to step up and be that father figure for her, encouraging her. But as far as where she’s going to end up, I don’t know. I’m terrified.

Do you think season seven will be the last for you? Do you see season seven as the end of the series?

I don’t know. I am dreading it. Whatever happens, whether we go on for five more years or whether season seven is the last year, I’ll go on the ride. I’m down to see where this takes me because this is still the beginning of my career. This is my first major break. It’s given me so much. My heart starts feel a little heavy knowing that we might be coming to an end because, especially with my character being a little bit more isolated from all of the other main characters on the show, it’s sort of like damn, can I just rewind the tape real quick? Can I just rewind time and take in those moments a little bit more? To spend more time with my girls, to really soak up those moments that we got to create together.

At this moment, you just don’t know if this is the end or not, so you’ve just got to really cherish every 5:00 a.m. call. You’ve got to really cherish those hours that you’re just sitting in the cell with Nick Sandow or sitting in the cell with Taylor Schilling waiting for them to fix the light. You really have to embrace all of those moments, because it’s going to be the end. I don’t know when, but I feel like we’re closer to the end than the beginning.

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