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‘Orange Is the New Black’ Star Danielle Brooks on Why She Was ‘Really Gutted’ by Season 6 (SPOILERS)

Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the entire sixth season of “Orange Is the New Black,” which premiered July 27.

With each passing season, the stakes have only gotten higher for the ladies of Litchfield — and perhaps none more so than Taystee Washington, embodied by Danielle Brooks. Her crusade for justice for her murdered friend Poussey had tragic ramifications, which played out cruelly in the sixth season — as she stood convicted of the murder of prison guard Piscatella.

We may not have heard the actual words said (given that the scene played out silently), but that guilty verdict for Taystee was a devastating one — sure to have repercussions through the show’s 7th, and likely final, season.

Here, Brooks talks to Variety about Black Cindy’s betrayal, her “beautiful” relationship with Caputo, and the moment that “gutted” her.

Taystee’s relationship with Caputo became so pivotal this season. What’s the source of the bond between them?

They’ve kind of always found each other, needed each other in odd ways. I think Taystee has definitely been his support system in the past, too, encouraging him on making the right choices. So I think out of everybody on that show, all the other characters, he really, truly knows her heart. He knows that her intentions are pure, and he sees that and he wants to help, but he doesn’t really know how. This season there’s some beautiful moments with them two when Taystee’s waiting for trial and she’s just not really wanting to fight and he’s encouraging her to continue to fight for herself, and being there for her in the courtroom. I just find it’s just such a beautiful relationship how they’ve gravitated towards each other and just have been able to lean on each other. But the real question is that is that really enough? I don’t know. The way it panned out in season six, clearly it wasn’t.

Which brings us to her friendship with Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), which didn’t play out the way she might have expected it to.

Going quickly back to the Caputo thing, I think she is a reminder to him that the way the world works for me does not work for you the same way. Life works different for people that are of color, and we see that so clearly with what’s going on now in the country with the immigration stuff, the way in which families are ripped apart from one another. If the tables were turned and the color was different I think it would be a whole different situation. I think that’s what she’s trying to drill in Caputo’s head — I really need you to understand that my life is not going to ever be easy. Situations like this are never going to get the longer stick in the game, and so I think that’s what Black Cindy sees as well, is this is her long stick. This is her moment to maybe get a few years off of prison, and unfortunately she decides to throw her best friend under the bus. I still can’t wrap my head around that. When I read it, I was just gutted inside. I was like oh my god, how can this girl do this? How could Black Cindy, somebody who has seen Taystee have her back over and over again and support her, just act as if she was (trails off)? I still haven’t quite found the words to describe how I feel about that betrayal.

That’s clearly going to have huge repercussions going into season seven with Taystee coming back to max. What do you think the state of their relationship’s going to be?

The tricky thing is the kind of heart that Taystee has, I wouldn’t be surprised if she forgave her and saw the situation in a different light than most people that are going to view it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Taystee of course was upset and mad, but at the end of the day should understand why she did it, you know what I mean? It’s messed up, but I understand that you have a family that you want to get back to and start your life over.

But at the same time, you never know the way in which the writers work things in. You never know how it can pan out. This show has taken so many turns. We’ve seen with relationships like Natasha Lyonne’s character, Nicky, with Red, and we’ve seen relationships with Dayanara and her mother where you thought this relationship can never be made right and things go well and sometimes they don’t. I really don’t know which direction it was going with them, but I feel like Black Cindy’s definitely stuck a huge needle in Taystee’s heart or stabbed her in the back. I feel the same way about Taystee going into maximum security, being in prison for life. She’s there for life. I don’t see that turning around. Unless somebody recants their testimony, there’s no coming out for her. So I have no idea where this is going and that is kind of exciting to not know exactly where it’s going to go.

You had a really powerful moment yourself with the verdict scene, which played out silently. How hard was that to pull off?

Was that a good scene? I have no idea. That was directed by Nick Sandow. He was also clearly in that scene as well as behind the camera, so we just kept trying, We just kept trying new things. Because how does one find out a verdict like that? I try to pull from real experiences, that’s just been my whole thing. As an actor we come in with our own imagination and we come in with our own spices to bring things to life, but I think to me, it’s always the beauty to try to re-tap into something that you actually witnessed or saw. I watched a bunch of clips of people finding out the verdict of having a sentence of being in prison for life, or 25 years to life. The response is so vastly different. People will be so still, there’s people that will faint in the courtroom, and there’s people that their bodies just don’t know how to handle that kind of news.

How was it working with Nick as a director?

With Nick, we have great chemistry working as actors together, but being led by him as a director, it’s even more natural because we’ve built this trust for six years already so I already know. He could say one thing to me and I’m like, oh, yes, I get you, I know exactly what you want. It’s so much easier having built a relationship together for six years already and have worked so intimately together for a while now. I felt I was okay to be vulnerable in front of so many people, because that courtroom was full.

I remember after I finished that scene everybody started clapping once he yelled “cut.” When that happened I felt overwhelmed and then I also felt like, thank you God, I must have really captured the truth in this moment, you know what I mean? As an actor, that’s all you want anyway, so I was grateful that I was going in the right direction being someone whose background is completely different from what my character’s is experiencing. You just want to be as honest as you can.

Time and again, the show has been on point in weaving headlines into the storytelling, from Black Lives Matter to the debate over immigration. That felt especially true this season.

The relevancy of the show continues to really blow my mind on how on point they are with what’s going on in the world and how unafraid they are to be so parallel to what’s happening. I think that’s awesome that we’re still focusing on immigration to rehabilitation to justice to female empowerment. What it all really boils down to at the end of the day is our humanity. How are we, through this medium, through telling stories, how can we really change the world or change people’s views with storytelling? I’m just really grateful to be a part of the show that does not shy away from that, that sheds light on it because it’s an important matter.

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