Taylor Schilling deals with the real horrors of parenthood in ‘The Prodigy’

Jackson Robert Scott and Taylor Schilling star in "The Prodigy."
Jackson Robert Scott and Taylor Schilling star in "The Prodigy." Photo Credit: Gina Pace

In "Orange Is the New Black," actress Taylor Schilling takes the high stakes of navigating through the prison system at Litchfield Penitentiary and effortlessly grounds the reality of the situation for the viewer.

In her new horror film, "The Prodigy," Schilling taps into that same skill set.  She plays Sarah, a mother struggling to cope with an evil force living inside her young son, Miles. At first, Miles appears to be intellectually gifted, but as he rapidly progresses from toddler to child, that "gift" turns into something much more sinister. This dark discovery tests Sarah’s maternal instincts as she goes to great lengths to protect her son from persecution and danger.

amNewYork spoke to Taylor Schilling about "The Prodigy," out Friday, and the final season of "Orange Is the New Black."

There are some actresses who really reign supreme in the horror genre, like Jamie Lee Curtis. She brings naturalism in her performance which grounds the horror, which is what you did excellently. Is that something that you were thinking of?

Thank you, I’m glad you think so. You know what’s interesting? I haven’t thought about this since you mentioned it, but I remember I really loved "The Ring," with Naomi Watts, growing up. That’s what I was kind of thinking about when I started to make this. Her performance in that movie was really grounded.

What went through your head while you were reading the script?

I really liked it [especially when] I got to the third act of the movie and I saw where she was going and the choices that she makes to save her son and to protect him and to give them a chance. I was really sold. I was really blown away. . . . I felt really curious about who this person that ends up making that decision. I kind of wanted to backtrack and put the puzzle pieces together of Sarah.

This seems like a mother’s worst nightmare where it really tests inherent love. How was it, grappling with that and conjuring up those emotions?

It’s terrifying. It’s like your worst nightmare. And I think that’s what I love about Sarah. She never loses hope and she never even started to really take in what the other options could be. She’s ferociously advocating for her son. That’s it. She’s not giving up on him. And I really find that so admirable and interesting and wild. Everybody else decides that they think they can’t do it, but she continues to see something in him and she continues to believe.

Some films go for a reactionary kind of response and this doesn’t.

The film really feels like it’s coming from a place where things happen organically. There are consequences to her love, but that’s where the horror is coming from. It’s not contrived.

Jackson Robert Scott was impressive. It takes a certain kind of actor that can carry that kind of role at such a young age. What was the dynamic between the two of you on set?

He’s an adorable little boy that loves to play and has so much energy. Then he can shift over to this place so seamlessly where he gets focused and then he lets it go immediately and is just ready to play again. So in a lot of ways he was just kind of an inspiration. I really learned a lot in the effortlessness in which he worked.  

Did you do much digging into the reincarnation aspect of it? Has it changed your belief?

I sort of stuck to Sarah. She’s ready to believe anything and she’s ready to try anything because she is embroiled in such an intense crisis. I kind of am with that, where you don’t rule anything out. It’s all possible. I know enough to know that I don’t know. I would be willing to try anything and believe anything to help my child as well.

Season  6 of "Orange Is The New Black" is such a turning point for Piper. We see her released from Litchfield and regain her freedom.

Yeah, it’s incredible. She’s out and it’s been really interesting to take her journey this year and see her out and trying to readjust to life and what that looks like now, after all of her experiences in there.

The most interesting thing to see is her conflicted feelings about living outside of Litchfield. She’s leaving her wife behind and there’s also this fear of how she’ll acclimate outside of the prison system. Were you surprised by her reservations?

I really understood them. I think that there is no way to not have reservations in having such a dramatic change of circumstances and I think it’s just overwhelming.

Season 7 seems like it will be the coda for these stories. What can viewers expect when it comes to the exploration of Piper outside of the prison system?

I think she’s still Piper. She’s still struggling to find her path. She’s still struggling to find balance.

How was it, filming in the Staten Island prison last year?

Oh, that was intense! They cleared out one pod for us and there were inmates on either side and that was spectacular. Just knowing that this is what humans are living through, that this is not a set. I’ve visited other prisons but it never ceases to amaze me what people are living through.

Is that the biggest take-away for you?

I think one of the take-aways is the community. It’s just a sense of history that I have with all these women and what we’ve kind of gone through together. It was a learning curve and we’ve learned so much together. So much life has been shared with this group. It’s about the understanding of what it means to be involved in the criminal justice system in any capacity and I have a much deeper respect for that.

With "Orange" winding down, do you feel like you’re heading toward a new chapter in your career and, if so, what does that look like?

I really am ready for a new chapter. I think that’s going to look a couple different ways, but I’m really just eager to do good work.