Blair Brown joins ‘Orange Is the New Black’

Veteran actress Blair Brown’s role on ‘Orange Is the New Black’ is being compared to Martha Stewart and Paula Deen.
Veteran actress Blair Brown’s role on ‘Orange Is the New Black’ is being compared to Martha Stewart and Paula Deen. AP

On last season’s finale of Orange Is the New Black, Judy King, nailed for tax evasion, arrived at Litchfield Penitentiary to surrender. But she found no one at the front desk to receive her.

Judy had a fit. A big-time TV chef, she wasn’t used to being made to wait.

With Netflix’s release this weekend of the entire 13-episode fourth season, viewers will find Judy has subsequently gotten a warm welcome at Litchfield from many of her fellow female inmates (she’s a TV star!). And from the warden, too, who handles her with kid gloves: He worries that, if anything ugly should befall hfer, bad publicity or even a lawsuit would result.

Suffice it to say that Judy will help make this Orange season cook as Blair Brown joins the cast of this prison comedy-drama for an exploration of fame compelled to coexist with hoi polloi.

In a recent interview, Brown takes pains to say Judy King isn’t meant to be a Martha Stewart knockoff, although the similarities (including their mutual incarceration) are obvious. But so is the nod to down-South culinarian Paula Deen, as evidenced by Judy’s luxurious drawl.

“Judy’s Southern all right,” says Brown. “She’s also very outgoing, very friendly, and a complete egotist in the sense that whatever is good for her, she figures is very good for you. She is a survivor, and her attitude in being in prison is, she just wants to get this done.”

In the process, she rises to the occasion. Here, as with most places, she loves the spotlight.

“It’s interesting to come into this story playing a privileged person,” Brown says. “There are a lot of feelings both on the administrative side and the inmate side as to what that means, and why that is.”

Brown, 69, is a veteran actress with a wide range of roles whose only commonality may be her signature red hair and luminous smile. Her film work includes a trio of major releases within two years (1980-81): One-Trick Pony, Altered States and Continental Divide. Her many theater credits include a Tony Award-winning turn in the play Copenhagen.

Recent TV appearances include a recurring role last season on Limitless, and before that as the steely corporate boss on the Fox sci-fi series Fringe.

And, of course, there’s her celebrated run as the title character of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, which, though not a smash hit, helped change TV.

Brown says she has been an Orange fan since its inception.

“When it first started, I thought, ‘Is there any room for me on this?’ But I decided they had plenty of people, with enough stories to tell.

“Then I got the call to play Judy,” she smiles, “and the character was easy, because she came in wondering how does all this work? So did I. All the stuff I’m trying to find out as a new cast member works hand in hand with Judy’s journey. So that’s been a happy coincidence.”

Another happy coincidence: The role has brought her back to Kaufman Astoria Studios, the Queens, New York, production center where Molly Dodd was shot three decades ago. The show helped stake out a genre dubbed “dramedy” — which is what you’d call Orange Is the New Black.

“Now,” says Brown, “many, many years later, I’m back in Queens, at the same studio, doing another show that’s funny when it wants to be funny, serious and scary when it wants to be serious and scary. It’s a very similar idea. It’s just about people. And you don’t have to blow anything up.”