You may not be familiar with the name Alysia Reiner unless you’re a fan of Orange Is the New Black. Reiner, who plays the anti-hero Natalie “Fig” Figueroa, is undoubtedly a large part of the show’s success. But now that the series has come to an end, it’s worth keeping an eye on the actress for her next moves. Here’s the scoop on Reiner, OINTB, and what’s in store for her future. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
What Is Orange Is the New Black?
When Orange Is the New Black debuted on Netflix in 2013, few predicted that it would become a cultural phenomenon. The series—created by Jenji Kohan (Weeds) and adapted from the Piper Kerman novel Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison—is a dark-yet-humorous look inside the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary, a minimum-security women’s federal prison.
OITNB starred a number of acting veterans, including Natasha Lyonne, Laura Prepon, and Jason Biggs. But more importantly, it was a groundbreaker for featuring trans (Laverne Cox) and nonbinary (Asia Kate Dillon) performers. It also deftly used humor to shed light on various issues, such as prison privatization, systemic racism, and corruption inside correctional facilities. In its seven-season run, the series received 16 Emmy Award nominations and four wins.
The show was also a pioneer in the concept of binge-watching. OITNB was originally rejected by HBO and Showtime; it landed at Netflix at a time when the company was just beginning to develop original programming. Thank Kohan and the streaming platform for being game-changers in the way that the world watches TV.
Who Is Alysia Reiner?
Alysia Reiner, 50, played Natalie “Fig” Figueroa on OITNB. Over the course of the series, her roles change: she begins as an executive assistant to the warden at Litchfield Penitentiary, and later becomes the warden of the prison’s ICE detainment facility. She is also the mistress—and later girlfriend—of warden Joe Caputo. Through it all, viewers have a love/hate relationship with Fig for her complicated mix of nasty and softer natures.
Reiner has an impressive filmography. In addition to OITNB, she has appeared on a number of popular shows, from a bit part on 30 Rock to five episodes of How To Get Away With Murder. From 2018 to 2019, she had a recurring role on 10 episodes of HBO’s The Deuce. She’s also played multiple characters on all three versions of Law & Order (the original, Criminal Intent, and Special Victims Unit). Her most recent role on this big screen was alongside Christina Hendricks in the comedy Egg. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018 and has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Reiner was raised in Manhattan and educated at Vassar College, the British American Drama Academy, and the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. In her personal life, Reiner has been married to actor David Alan Basche for 13 years. The couple lives in Harlem with their 12-year-old daughter Livia. Reiner is committed to various causes including Time’s Up, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Women’s Prison Association.
Alysia Reiner Auditioned For A Different Character On ‘Orange Is the New Black’
To some fans’ surprise, Reiner never saw herself playing Fig. When auditioning for OITNB, she read for the role of Alex, played by Laura Prepon. She says she was heartbroken that she didn’t earn the gig. She settled for Fig—even though the part had all of two lines in the first episode—because she was impressed with the overall script. She felt that each role was treated with a certain level of care.
“I think everyone can relate to one of the characters,” she told Fox News Magazine. “I think it really helps you have compassion for both yourself and others that you may not come across in your daily life.”
Listen to Reiner talk about the show and her audition:
What Happened To Fig On OITNB?
Fig evolves from the hateful, manipulative villain of earlier seasons. As her relationship with Joe Caputo progresses, so does her character. Together, by the end of the series, they become as sympathetic as two highly flawed characters can be. And when Fig is assigned to watch over ICE detainees, she realizes there’s no clear-cut definition of good and bad.
“I think one of the special things that this show does is that it turns upside down and inside out some of our preconceived notions of people and who they are,” Reiner told Parade.
But more important than Fig’s experience is Reiner’s. Playing the role was an eye-opener that changed her life. “There are certainly moments on the prison set where I look around and it’s overwhelming the sort of pain and sadness of what that experience must be like,” she said to Parade. “There were scenes that I can’t talk about in this last season where even though Fig was not that moved by it I was wrecked by the experience of just being in the imaginary circumstance of some of the things that are happening in our country right now.”