Critically acclaimed prison drama Orange is the New Black rarely shies away from how terrible life can be in jail. Quite apart from their day-to-day difficulties, inmates have neither the time nor the resources to make themselves look particularly presentable. So it’s unsurprising, then, that the actresses who star as inmates in the show – people who do have the time and the resources! – look very different from the incarcerated women they play. Here are 20 side-by-side comparisons.
20. Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)
OITNB is based on the memoir of Piper Kerman, and so the main character of the show was named Piper Chapman as a tribute to her. Although she’s now more of an ensemble player than the protagonist, Schilling (who looks a lot like Kerman) is still billed first in the credits.
19. Alex Vause (Laura Prepon)
Initially, Laura Prepon auditioned for the role of Piper. But show creator Jenji Kohan thought she was too tough and badass-looking to play her, and cast her as Alex instead. In reality, Prepon looks every bit as cool as Alex does in the show… but she doesn’t need the glasses.
18. Suzanne Warren (Uzo Aduba)
Uzo Aduba became one of the biggest break-out stars of OITNB, and won two Emmys for her performance as the mentally ill, child-like Suzanne. Her rise to fame was all the more remarkable considering she had literally just given up acting when the call came in for her OITNB audition.
17. Galina “Red” Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew)
Brace yourselves: Red is not actually a natural redhead! Actress Kate Mulgrew got her hair styled and dyed so she could play the hard-bitten but motherly Russian criminal. “The red is crucial,” Mulgrew explained in a 2013 interview with The Huffington Post. “It’s who she is.”
16. Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks)
Juilliard-trained actress Danielle Brooks was another one who found huge success with Orange is the New Black. Her smart-but-downtrodden character Taystee was originally intended to be in the show only for a couple of episodes, but Brooks’ performance was so winning she got promoted to series regular.
15. Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne)
Natasha Lyonne has a lot in common with her OITNB character Nicky, as she too suffered from a serious drug addiction. She spent plenty of time in holding cells, something that she drew on for her portrayal of the tough, troubled inmate. And she received an Emmy nomination for her work.
14. Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning)
Taryn Manning underwent a pretty drastic physical transformation to play Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, one of the most complex characters on OITNB. But her character underwent a physical transformation, too. She began the series with rotting teeth, but received new ones in prison – much to Manning’s relief.
13. Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva)
Selenis Leyva was already a familiar face on genre shows before she got the role of Gloria, Red’s rival. She’s said in an interview that she’s worried about being killed off after season five’s explosive finale, but if she is, she has other work to occupy her, including Marvel’s Spider-Man franchise.
12. Cindy “Black Cindy” Hayes (Adrienne C. Moore)
Adrienne C. Moore got her start in off-Broadway shows, and had only done a couple of other TV shows before being cast as Black Cindy in OITNB. Moore has said that though she’s quite similar to her character in many ways, Cindy is somewhat more insensitive.
11. Dayanara “Daya” Diaz (Dascha Polanco)
Dayanara Diaz is one of the most important characters on Orange is the New Black, as it’s her actions that kick off the prison riot in series five. And Dascha Polanco loves playing her, as it helped her come to terms with her body image. She says she’s now proud of being fuller-figured.
10. Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley)
Poor Poussey Washington had a horrible fate on OITNB, accidentally killed during a riot by Corrections Officer Baxter Bayley. Samira Wiley then left the show (returning for a brief flashback cameo in series five) and joined the cast of the acclaimed new version of The Handmaid’s Tale.
9. Lorna Morello (Yael Stone)
Lorna, one of Litchfield’s more vulnerable inmates, has a very memorable accent. It’s not the same accent as Yael Stone, the actress who plays her – she’s Australian – but there was a lot of work put into it. There was a lot of work put into Lorna’s look, too, as she looks absolutely nothing like Stone.
8. Carrie “Big Boo” Black (Lea DeLaria)
Lea DeLaria actually looks like, and is quite similar to, Boo in real life. And there’s a good reason for that – the role was written especially for her! Even Boo’s tattoos are actually DeLaria’s. The only major difference is that in reality, the actress wears glasses.
7. Mei Chang (Lori Tan Chinn)
Lori Tan Chinn, who plays the little-seen but incredibly memorable Chang, underwent one of the most dramatic transformations to play her character. Though she’d still be recognizable (just) if you saw her in the street, the difference couldn’t be more pronounced.
6. Skinhead Helen (Francesca Curran)
Actress Francesca Curran has to suffer through a lot in order to play Skinhead Helen, the nasty neo-Nazi of Litchfield. She has her head shaved daily for the role, and also has to spend at least an hour every day on set getting her makeup and tattoos put on. Now that’s commitment.
5. Lolly Whitehill (Lori Petty)
Lolly is one of the most sympathetic prisoners in OITNB, a woman with almost no grip on reality who needs help rather than jail. She’s played by former Tank Girl and Point Break star Lori Petty, who specifically called up the OITNB producers and demanded a role!
4. Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox)
Laverne Cox made history with Sophia, her character on OITNB. As well as becoming the first openly transgender person up for a Primetime Emmy in the acting category, she made the plight of trans people in prison a more mainstream issue and became one of the visible trans women in America. She’s spoken about how proud she is that OITNB gave her that chance.
3. Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn)
Kimiko Glenn’s Brook Soso began life on the show as a chatterbox who was almost annoying, but prison life (and the violent death of her girlfriend, Poussey) caught up with her and turned her cynical and depressed. Glenn has said she relates to and admires Soso, but luckily her own life is a lot happier.
2. Leanne Taylor (Emma Myles)
Leanne Taylor, Amish girl turned addict, is one of the characters most physically changed by prison and her drug use. Her hair is greasy, her teeth are terrible and her skin is bad. But it’s all special effects – in real life, actress Emma Myles has none of that.
1. Angie Rice (Julie Lake)
Drug addict Angie is noticeable in Litchfield for her filthy teeth, the result of years of meth. Luckily, in real life it’s just paint. It’s quickly applied to actress Julie Lake before she goes on set, and then her hair is messed up. She can become Angie in a matter of minutes.