Jenji Kohan, OITNB creator and showrunner, pays tribute to a kooky mix of criminals we can’t help but love. 

This is a cast full of stars with so much talent. There’s so much to watch. I want to see it all, so I keep swinging the camera around like, “What’s going on over there?” It’s an embarrassment of riches.

As a writer, I have dialogue and images in my head, but the scenes only come to life in the hands of these actors. It’s a mystical, ethereal relationship. It’s like I don’t see the whole picture until the actors bring it into focus.

There are millions of moments when I’ve been surprised by what each woman has brought to her role. For instance, Uzo Aduba brings such a childlike quality to Crazy Eyes, a character who can be so scary. Uzo has found an innocence and a tenderness and vulnerability in Suzanne, the same way Adrienne C. Moore has found humor in Cindy. And I remember the moment when Danielle Brooks, as Taystee, did a spin after she got her new hair. It was so joyful. And Samira Wiley’s face just breaks your heart.

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Last season, when Lorraine Toussaint joined us, I don’t think she knew what she was getting into. She is a master, so nuanced and bold. But I don’t think she knew anything about Netflix or what our show was. I think she thought it was going to be amateur hour. Then her first scene was with Samira, Danielle and Uzo. I watched Lorraine realize that there was some meat for her to sink her teeth into. It was like she was thinking, Ohhhh, okay. They are great. This is something special.

Every show has a destiny, and for this show it felt that the right people came along to fill each role. They work so hard at making it all seem effortless. 

This feature was originally published in the March 2015 issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now!