Orange Is the New Black Star Previews the Netflix Drama's Lessons on Love, Life and Lock-Up

Orange Is the New Black Season 1 SpoilersLife is going swimmingly for Taylor Schilling‘s Orange Is the New Black suburbanite Piper. She has a beautiful home, she’s engaged to a loving man (played by American Pie‘s Jason Biggs) and… she’s going to prison?

When the new Netflix original unspools its first season this Thursday, Piper’s idyllic life is rocked when her complicated past catches up with her.

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“After she graduated [from college], she fell in love with a woman (That ’70s Show‘s Laura Prepon) who was involved with an international drug trading ring,” explains Schilling. “Piper smuggled drug money for her girlfriend. Our show picks up 10 years later when she’s in a very happy relationship – or [what] she thinks is a very happy relationship. Her ex-girlfriend has turned her in, and she’s incarcerated for a year.”

As Piper adjusts to her new, locked-up life, “everything extraneous has to be stripped away” to survive, previews Schilling. “She reaches in and finds parts of herself that she didn’t know were there.” For the sweet, ready-to-settle-down yuppie, that journey of self-discovery is “surprising” and “scary” — but also a little thrilling.

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“It kind of feels like home,” continues the actress. “It kind of feels like who she really is, being an introvert and then realizing maybe she’s more of a ballsy, extroverted [person].”

Piper will need to tap into those reserves when her strong-willed ex Alex (Prepon) re-enters her life at the most inopportune moment. Caught between her past and her present – devoted fiancé Larry is “like the fantasy that you’ll find that person, and [they will stick by you] no matter what,” describes Schilling – while locked up forces Piper “to go really deep within. In coming to terms with who she really is, she’s realizing more about who she loves and who she doesn’t love, what she’s truly attracted to and what she’s not.”

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But first and foremost, she needs to overcome the day-to-day challenges of prison life. So what’s the trick to making it out (relatively) unscathed? “My Number 1 survival tip would be: Keep to yourself,” shares Schilling. “And my second survival tip would be: Make friends.”