Lori Petty went from a supporting character on the hugely popular Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” to a starring role in just one season. Her character, Lolly, has suffered from paranoid delusions from the beginning, but Lolly’s battle with schizophrenia worsened in Season 4, providing viewers with equal doses of comic relief and heartbreak.
[Warning: Season 4 Spoilers Ahead!]
Petty opened up about the declining state of Lolly’s mental health, which begins to show in episode 1 and steadily worsens as the season goes on. On the surface, her storyline seems pretty straightforward — she steps in to save Alex Vause’s (Laura Prepon) life, agrees to help cut up her assailant’s body and goes down for the crime when bits and pieces of him are unearthed in the garden.
As Petty pointed out during an interview with Vulture, however, there is more to learn from Lolly than meets the eye.
The Tennessee native assured the publication that like many mentally ill prisoners, Lolly is largely misunderstood. Petty said her character's intentions in killing the fake guard were good — her friend was in danger, so she did what she had to do. Petty claims that like so many people in real prisons, Lolly was failed by the system. She is “loving and kind,” the actress said, but in need of help that neither Litchfield Penitentiary, nor the psych ward she is sent to, can provide for her.
Petty went into detail about how common her character's predicament is in the real world:
You can’t just lock these people up! They need help. It’s true what she says about not having a moment where everything went wrong. Not one thing happened; the whole thing happened. Living in Venice Beach [California], I see a third of these homeless people that need mental help. And they’re just being thrown away; no one’s helping them. You can’t just lock someone up or leave them on the beach, but that’s what they do. We have to help each other. When it gets to the point that you’re locking people up because you don’t wanna help them, that’s just so f---ed. And that’s what happened to Lolly. That’s why she’s so loving and kind — she needs that. People often do what they need. I think she’s a really good person who just needs help.
Petty, who has won a comedy ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild, went into detail with Vulture about filming the gut-wrenching scene in which Lolly realizes Officer Healy (Michael Harney) is taking her to psych. Although she was only acting, Petty compared it to “a nightmare.” She revealed there was a lot going on that Netflix cut from the show, including “people being held down, people being force-fed medicine, people in cages.” She added that what was truly horrific about the scene is the reality that these things are “all true.”
“As an actor, when you’re doing it, you just believe what you’re doing. So when Lolly was taken in the psych ward, they have people that they were restraining that they didn’t show in the episode. But they were there. So to see what they were gonna do to me, that was what that reaction was,” Petty said. “It’s really what happens. That was my reaction: What if this was happening to you? It was just awful. And to know that everyone is somebody’s baby, or mom, or brother — these aren’t people you don’t relate to. It’s us, it’s me, it’s you.”
There were other major shockers in Season 4, including the death of Poussey (Samira Wiley), which came during a peaceful protest against the unjust punishment tactics at the women’s facility. Poussey’s death was a blow to “OITNB” fans for several reasons — for one, she is one of many characters viewers love to catch up with season after season. As Wiley noted, however, her death, though senseless, was “not thoughtless.”
“It echoes so many deaths that have happened in the last year, even. Eric Garner. Mike Brown. This happens in real life, and people are so upset,” she told Variety.
“OITNB” Season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.