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Orange is the New Black star Laura Prepon believes cinema will come back after COVID-19

For our new podcast series I'm So Obsessed, the actress talks about helping popularize Netflix and binge-watching and how social distancing may change how we make and see movies.

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Prepon attends the season 7 premiere of Orange is the New Black in 2019.

ia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Netflix
This story is part of I'm So Obsessed (subscribe here), our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.

If you're a fan of great TV shows, then you probably already know Laura Prepon.

For eight seasons, she starred as Donna Pinciotti, the smart girl next door on That 70s Show. She's had roles in Castle, House and How I Met Your Mother and was the star of Are you there, Chelsea?, based on Chelsea Handler's 2008 book Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea.

And then there's her award-winning turn as the fierce, street-smart, drug-smuggling lesbian Alex Vause on Orange is the New Black, the TV series that turned Netflix into a streaming media powerhouse -- and helped get viewers hooked on binge-watching. When Prepon was cast for the first season back in 2013, "I had no clue what Netflix was... nobody knew what Netflix was," she says. But the script for the series, created by award-winning writer and producer Jenji Kohan and based on a memoir by Piper Kerman, convinced her she needed to be part of the show.

"The pilot and the role of Alex Vause was just one of those Kismet things," Prepon tells me in an interview over Zoom from her home in New York, where she's sheltering in place with her husband, actor Ben Foster (of TV's Six Feet Under), her toddler daughter and her newborn son.

"What happened with Orange is the New Black and the meteoric rise, it had all of the amazing social issues we took on," she says. "Netflix was like this beautiful partnership ... We were like pioneers on a new frontier. We helped mold how people consume their entertainment, especially now with self isolation."

Seven years later, Netflix and rival streaming services including Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and Hulu, have redefined the entertainment zeitgeist and are enjoying upticks in subscriber growth, thanks to a shelter-in-place audience looking for ways to divert their attention away from the coronavirus and civil unrest.

When I ask her what she thinks of streaming and what comes next, given that COVID-19 is going to be around for a while, she remembers reading a 2013 interview with directors Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. They predicted the rise of streaming and said that "going to the cinema or going to the theater is going to be an event where you pay 100 bucks and bring your family.  It's like going to a Broadway show where you go and you see people dressed up, you get the leads of the movie to dress up as the characters and it's an interactive thing," she says.

Prepon isn't sure that's where this is going. "I believe cinema is going to come back," she says. "But it is a scary thing to think about because already the statistic for people going to movies is lower because it's expensive to go to the movies with a family." 

Whatever turn the industry takes, Prepon says her plan includes expanding her work as a director. She directed three episodes of Orange is the New Black and also directed and edited a YouTube series she created called Neighbros. "I'll never stop acting. I love acting. But directing is a huge part of my career," she tells me. "People talk about how there are not enough female directors. But also there aren't enough opportunities. People think that because they see ... a few more female directors working that we're getting a good opportunity to, but it's still very unbalanced."

When she's not acting or directing, she's been promoting her new book, You and I, As Mothers, a life-hacking guide for mothers and women trying to make sense of life, work and society. One of her tips: get a "Mom Squad," a group of women with diverse backgrounds to be your support team.

In our wide-ranging conversation, Prepon talked about everything from what she does binge-watch when she can take a break from her kids (Planet Earth and "basically anything with David Attenborough") and how she's working on making all the frozen foods in her refrigerator taste "like you're not eating from the freezer," she says with a laugh.

Listen to my entire conversation with Prepon. And we hope you'll subscribe to I'm So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app and join us as we catch up with other artists, actors and creators to learn about their work, their career and their current obsession. 

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