Why You Should Watch Orange Is the New Black

Did Netflix just create the greatest lesbian TV series ever?

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

July 10 2013 3:03 AM ET

At left: Natasha Lyonne

Lyonne, already a cult icon for her roles in Slums of Beverly Hills and But I’m a Cheerleader, is perhaps another standout as Nicky, a drug addict making her way through prison. While Taylor is bisexual and Alex is gay, Nicky’s self-identity seems a bit more nebulous.

“I definitely think Nicky prefers women,” says Lyonne, “but I also think she's someone who uses sexuality to cope with the pain of her family life and enjoys saying sexually inappropriate things to get a reaction, cut tension, and make people laugh. On the back of that tough exterior is a very vulnerable young woman, who is desperate for the unconditional love she never got from her mother.”

While some fans might see Nicky as a modern, perhaps darker version of her famed characters, Lyonne disagrees. “I think Nicky is very different from Vivian in Slums of Beverly Hills or Megan from But I'm a Cheerleader, primarily in that, even if those characters were very upset with their parents, they were still very present in those stories. Nicky is much more of a lone wolf, who's had to make her own way in this world. I think she's a much darker person — one who's been abandoned, but still has enough innate fire in her that she's willing to fight for survival and to make a life for herself, even if behind bars. I also think she’s much more self-aware and has a better sense of intentional humor — skills that have been hard won in her drug-addicted life.”

Of course, the media surely will pick up on the irony of Lyonne playing a drug addict; her own troubles with addiction are widely known. After her early career success, her time in Hollywood was derailed by drug use, and she was arrested in 2001 and 2004. In 2005, she was admitted to New York’s Beth Israel Hospital with a number of ailments, including a collapsed lung and hepatitis C, and she stayed there in intensive care for five months.

“Suffice it to say that I’d already done plenty of my own drug and jail research, a lot of which I was able to bring to the table to help bring Nicky to life,” Lyonne admits. “I’d like to think I created her internal world out of thin air and imagination, but let’s be honest, I’d probably be kidding myself.”

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