Warning: This post for the “Litchfield’s Got Talent” episode of Orange Is the New Black contains storyline and character spoilers.
It’s official, Evan Hall is one of Orange Is the New Black Season 5’s scene stealers.
Introduced in Season 4 as one of the military vets-turned-Litchfield guards whose lack of training — and having the sadistic Piscatella as their leader — helped set up the riot and inmate coup in Season 5, Hall brought some much-needed levity, and some sweet, sweet dance moves, to episode 4. His Stratman performs a striptease for the women of Litchfield when gun-totin’ Angie and Leanne, ahem, produce, the prison’s version of America’s Got Talent, with the guards they’re holding hostage as their, ahem, talent.
Hall, who has guest starred on The Mysteries of Laura, Elementary, and The Following, talked to Yahoo TV about his first recurring TV series role, about the OITNB character he originally auditioned to play, and about the very special accessory he personally added to Stratman’s wardrobe.
And, yes, of course, we asked him to break down that memorable “Red Light Special” scene, and reveal whether or not he’d say yes if the Magic Mike crew came calling.
Hey, Evan. Thanks for taking the time to chat today.
Not a problem. It’s actually my first time doing this, so I’m very excited.
How did you become part of the cast? Did you audition? If yes, was it your first? A lot of the cast members have said they auditioned for other parts on the show before the one that they actually got.
Funnily enough, when I auditioned, I auditioned for the character of Blake, who’s played by Nick Dillenburg. We were in the audition room together, both auditioning for the same part. I got the job, but they told me that I was playing this other character, Stratman. I didn’t really know too much about him until almost a couple days before shooting.
At that point, how much did they tell you about Stratman?
I had no idea. I went in for this one character, and I understood that there was going to be a shifting of the guards. I got the breakdown for that character, and it said he was an Army guy. They only had the sides for Blake, not for the other character of Stratman. When I booked Stratman, I didn’t really have anything. They didn’t send me a script or anything. My only impulse was to go out and buy dog tags and put Stratman’s name on them. I wore dog tags under my [guard] uniform for the entire fourth season, just for me. That was the only character prep that I could really do.
And you were still wearing them in Season 5, as we see in “Litchfield’s Got Talent.”
They’re there. They are there. When I found out what was going to be happening to me [in Season 5], I talked to either the head writer or the showrunner… and they were like, “OK, if you’ve been doing that before, then yeah, keep them on.” I just kept them on and there they are.
Do they have a backup of them now, since it is an official part of Stratman’s wardrobe?
I don’t know. But I was very precious with them. They have their own box that I had on me at all times while I was shooting. There was no way they were getting off my body at any point.
At what point did they tell you about Stratman’s arc? Did you know, for instance, what the overall storyline was going to be for Season 5 when you signed on? That he was going to have this big episode?
No. It was guesswork here and there. They run a very tight ship. It was episode by episode, you’d get a little bit more of an understanding of what was going on for your character, which is really exciting actually because then you get this amazing… it becomes very spontaneous. You’re getting this information pretty fresh, and you’ve got to work with it, basically the day before.
When did they tell you about “Litchfield’s Got Talent,” and Stratman’s stripping act? Did they ask you if you were willing to do that? Did you help come up with it? How did that all happen?
I’m wondering how much I can tell you… They told me about it basically two weeks before I was supposed to shoot it. I had two weeks to prepare. They gave me free rein. It was very much like, “You’re going to do this, and we’ll help you with however you want to do it.” My reaction was, “Oh, my God.” Then my reaction was, “OK, I need a choreographer.” I actually got together with this… they found me this incredible, incredible choreographer, Michael Arnold, who just… he’s amazing, and he really helped me. He made it come together so beautifully, and was really great to work with.
We worked for about two weeks together fleshing it out. And I didn’t really tell anybody that I had dance experience, so Michael shows up, he starts getting me through talking about different choreography that he had here and there. We start playing around. We have a couple rehearsals, and then after one rehearsal he stopped me and goes, “Wait, do you have dance training?” I was like, “Yeah. I did hip-hop for five years, and I trained in ballet for several years. I did musical theater. I started with the musical theater. I went to college for that.” Then he was like, “Oh, we have to start again.” He scrapped the old choreography and started again, and I started adding more moves and adding a little bit more hip-hop elements to it. And that’s what came out. That’s how it all came out.
It wasn’t written that it would be a stripping number?
No, it was. It was. It was just very bare bones. There was not a lot of dance involved. There wasn’t a lot of specific choreography mentioned. It wasn’t like, “He does anything here at this specific time.” It was very much fleshed out by Michael and myself.
Did the producers even expect that it was going to look as polished as it did? Or did they think it would look like something Stratman made up on the fly?
I don’t really know. I know the backstory is that [Stratman] worked this kind of job before. This is a routine that [he] had done in college. I have to say though, the looks on their faces when I did the first rehearsal for them, the director and the producer and the writer, the looks on their faces led me to believe that they were not expecting it to be that — in a good way.
Did you choose TLC’s “Red Light Special” as Stratman’s song?
No, the song was chosen. We worked [with] that.
What was it like filming the scene, the routine? It had to feel so vulnerable; you’re in such a small place, with such a small, but rowdy, audience.
Honestly, it was probably one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was very scary, but I put a lot of work into it, and I felt proud about what I was able to accomplish doing it. It was terrifying, but, I don’t know, it felt right. It felt like it was supposed to be like that.
I can imagine after doing that — and it was a good dance routine — you would feel a new confidence, getting through something that really does put you in a very vulnerable place.
Definitely a new confidence. A way to be like, “OK, I’ve done that now.” Taking your clothes off in front of a lot of people is not something that’s normally done, and I think it takes psyching yourself up and putting yourself in a head space to be able to do something like that. But then again, it’s a thing that happens, right? I’ve worked in bars where men get up and do that… I’ve worked in gay bars in the past, and I’ve watched men do those kinds of things. I took a lot from my own experiences of seeing guys do this as their job. I feel amazing after having done it, and I feel like it really serviced the show, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that it serviced the show.
Nick Sandow, who plays Caputo on Orange, directed that episode. Did that help make it a little more comfortable that it was someone you knew, and a fellow actor, directing the scene?
Yes! That’s the man. He’s the man. He was incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better director for that experience. He was fully supportive. He saw the rehearsals. He was saying yes from day one. He would do everything in his power to make sure that I felt as comfortable as I should feel doing something like that. He was incredible.
We see Stratman later in the season, bolting across a picnic table, running from Angie and Leanne, and escaping through a hole in the fence. Do we know anything about Stratman’s future?
Not a clue. Not a clue. I don’t know at this point anything that’s happening. People are just going to have to tune in for Season 6 and see what becomes of me.
What was it like being a part of this season, which is so intense and tackles a lot of different topics? There’s always humor in the series, but there were some super intense storylines and real issues being recognized this season, I think more than any other season so far. What was it like being on the set and being a part of all that?
It was incredible because, especially at that time, we were dealing with a political culture. The election was happening around the time that we were shooting. I think everybody was stressed, across the board. I think the amazing thing about the show is that I feel like it caught the feeling. It caught that feeling when you’re watching it, and yet the show itself is funny, there’s moments of levity, but it becomes this very serious, very stressed tone to the new season. I think people felt that every day on set, and it played into the work, and how the season turned out. For me, this is my first time dealing with this kind of a reoccurring role, being on set for so many days, and it’s amazing because you build this family with these people. You’re there every day banging out this stuff, making hard decisions and working around conflicts or things that are happening. I just love that. I love that feeling of people coming together to tell a story. People coming together to state a point of view. I think Season 5 did that really well. I’m very proud of the story that we all told this year.
If you could pick a dream storyline for Stratman going forward, what would you want to see? What would you want to see happen with him?
Don’t ask me that question! [Laughs.] Come on. A dream storyline? There’s so many different options that I could go with… Honestly, I’d love to play all of them out, but the thing is, I trust the writers on this show. They’ve been doing this for a long time, and they know the story that they’re trying to tell, and they’re good at it. I just want to tell that story, whatever it is. Whatever I come up with in my head is not going to be half as good as what they come up with. I’m happy to translate that into a character for them.
Are you going to take the “Litchfield’s Got Talent” episode, and make that your audition tape for Magic Mike the Broadway musical or the next Magic Mike movie sequel? Are you submitting that?
[Laughs.] If Channing Tatum wants to knock on my door, I would happily accept the invitation. I respect what he did in Magic Mike a lot. I saw that film, and I thought it was incredibly powerful for something that when you hear the storyline you’re like, “OK.” I think he did an incredible job with that, so yes, I’ll make an audition tape. I’ll take that audition if they want to use me. I’m happy to help out, you know?
Orange Is the New Black Season 5 is currently streaming on Netflix.
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