Laura Prepon is most remembered for her role as the spunky Donna Pinciotti in all eight seasons of the FOX sitcom That ’70s Show. The chance to star on such a successful series is seemingly a once in a lifetime opportunity for any actor, but Prepon has done it yet again. Nowadays, the versatile actress is sure to be recognized for her performance on what has instantly become a summer favorite series, Orange Is The New Black. You can catch Prepon as Alex Vause, a lesbian, and ex drug-smuggling inmate – clearly a very different role from her previous credits.
Prepon was kind enough to take a break from filming the highly anticipated Season 3 of OITNB to speak with us on the acting technique she utilizes to tackle such a demanding role.
Robert Peterpaul: As an actress, what do you believe is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Laura Prepon: To know who you are and what you are capable of. Our industry, as amazing as it is, can shake your confidence in yourself. You always have to be true to yourself and not doubt that.
RP: Is this the same advice you’d give people trying to make it in the industry?
LP: It is. People ask me all the time for advice and it’s one of the first things I say. People love saying NO. So, you have to keep pushing through until you start getting YES. It’s one of the toughest industries to work in, but when you get on a job you love…all of the stuff to get there becomes worth it.
RP: Do you have a specific acting method or technique you use when approaching a project?
LP: I do. I always breakdown my work with my acting coach, Robert F. Lyons. He’s the most amazing coach I’ve ever worked with and we break down the scene in a way that all of these other colors and moments come out that were not on the page.
RP: What do you feel was your biggest struggle in pursuing an acting career?
LP: I think for me, when I was younger I never fit into any kind of mold. So, I wouldn’t get those “I Know What You Did Last Summer” type movies that the girls my age were getting. I was tall, had a deep voice, red hair - I didn’t look like your typical teenager. I kept trying to fit into a certain mold until I realized how great it was that I wasn’t your typical girl. Those things that made me different ultimately helped me land my favorite roles. I also had to grow into myself, which a lot of teenagers I think have to deal with.
RP: Speaking of struggles. Have you ever had a director who had a difference of opinion about the character you were going to play? It must be tough to try and stick with your gut instinct about a role, but also honor the director’s wishes.
LP: I have had this happen, not often, but it’s happened. I feel that the director should always be open to the actors instincts - that is to say if the actors instincts are good, because let’s be real, those can be off as well. If we’re talking about a good actor who has good instincts, if a director is resisting those and still trying to get the actor to fit into what he had in mind, I feel that the director doesn’t really know what he is doing. Also, when it comes to being on set and blocking a scene this could happen a lot. Even if he/she has a very complicated shot in their mind and the blocking is very important or how it’s played is very important, if the director is good, they can make the actor agree and see their side and why it would benefit the scene to be played like that. If that isn’t happening and the director just won’t budge, I feel like I’m working with someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience as a director, or someone who is just trying to “make their day” and changing the blocking could add time. In this case, I use the uncomfortability of the blocking and incorporate that into the scene. Who knows? You might get a good moment out of that new color.
RP: Now, of course, I have to bring up Orange is the New Black or my girlfriend will kill me. How would you describe your character Alex in three words?
LP: Bold. Daring. A survivor.
RP: After receiving a new script, how much work do you do before you come on the set?
LP: I do a lot of work. I break it down, look up any words I may not know so I can fully understand what the writer is going for (you’d be shocked how many actors are saying dialogue they don’t have an understanding of), and figure out how I will play my moments. Always leaving room for the X-factor of working with another actor and what they will bring to the scene. That’s where a lot of the fun comes in; when you get with another person and see what magic happens.
RP: What’s it like acting with such a talented group of ladies?
LP: It’s the best thing ever. I go home feeling so creatively satisfied after working with these incredible actors.
RP: Orange is the New Black (and Netflix for that matter) has revamped the way viewers can watch a series. They get to control how many episodes they see in one sitting. Is there a show you binge watch?
LP: I’m currently binge watching Orphan Black. And I just finished watching Homeland. Both female fronted shows with an incredible actress at the helm. Very inspiring.
RP: As an aspiring actor, I always find being on a set to be the most exhilarating place in the world. Do you still get an overwhelming sense of excitement when you step onto a set, or is it just like another day at the office?
LP: I’m always excited to go to set. Every day is different and special. You never know what will happen in a scene, and it’s new every time. I love Mondays because I get to go to work. I know most people are not too fond of Mondays.
RP: Any upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?
LP: Right now I’m shooting Orange season three so that’s my priority. I’m always working on my side projects though. I’m currently on a third draft of a feature I will direct, and I’m pitching two shows I co-created; one that we already sold to a studio. I’m usually working on a few things at once. I’ve always been like that. And all these projects make me a better actor.
The first two seasons of Orange Is The New Black are now streaming on Netflix.
Robert Peterpaul & Laura Prepon