Alan Aisenberg has a diverse resume, which includes both acting and producing credits. Currently, he is working as a Producer on New York’s Funniest, the new episodes of which are available on Seeso (check out the trailer below.
However, you’re probably most likely to recognize his work as Baxter “Gerber” Bayley on the last couple of seasons of Netflix’s dramedy Orange Is the New Black. Recently, Alan agreed to give us a little insight into the latest drama that unfolded on the hit series. You can read that below, and catch him in action by re-watching Season 4 on Netflix.
Consider this your spoiler warning: if you haven’t seen Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black (first of all, why haven’t you???) then stop reading now and go watch it. Then, come back and continue reading.
So, we have to start with the obvious: that season 4 ending. Social media can be a pretty mean place. Did you think about avoiding the internet for a few days after season 4 was released?
I definitely thought about it. I joked with a bunch of my friends that I was going to grow a giant beard and spend the weekend in a bunker I was building. But a couple of weeks before the show premiered, I realized that going MIA for a little bit would’ve stripped me of this amazing communal experience that happens when a show (particularly Orange) is released on Netflix. More than half of its audience will watch the show in 6 days, so it’s amazing to be able to go online and track when people are watching it and getting to be a part of that dialogue. I’m really happy I stayed online because it was a supremely cool and unique experience.
And what type of reactions did you end up getting? Any in particular that surprised you?
I was convinced I was going to get a lot of backlash for what my character does. I wasn’t allowing myself to get a good grasp of the entire narrative, so I was totally set on people being like “he killed her… burn him!” But the way that this arc fits into the whole piece, people can’t jump right to that conclusion since the entire situation is far more complicated than it appears. So people have been sad and confused, but also supportive and understanding of the intricacies of the arc. People come up to me on the street and just want to hug since they really feel for Bayley. And that’s a pretty crazy and cool thing that I never would’ve imagined a few months ago.
I know it’s been a while since you filmed it, but what was that like? It seemed as though it would have been draining not just emotionally but physically as well. How much rehearsal time went into choreographing all the chaos?
A few weeks before the big shoot day (see: scene where my character accidentally kills a person…spoilers, whoops), Samira, Uzo, and myself met with the stunt coordinators and our director (Matthew Weiner) and writer (the fucking amazing Lauren Morelli) and worked through the mechanics of the action. I know there was a lot of thought put into the justification of each moment: Bayley had to be completely overwhelmed, Crazy needed to have zero control, and Poussey’s jump down from the table needed to have 0 malice in its intent. From there, we figured out exactly how everyone would land and just walked it through. A few weeks later, we came back to the cafeteria with 100 actors, a full crew, and a close to 22 hour work day to shoot that one scene. It was exhausting and exhilarating and a day where I hopped back and forth from emotions so quickly that I’m sure my body was like “why are you doing this to us?!” I never really felt tired during the day, but I remember waking up the next morning like I had gotten hit by a bus. I was totally bruised up (emotionally and physically). I turned on my shower and just sat on the floor of the tub trying to take count of the day before. Took a second to compose myself, and then went back to shooting the rest of episode 12. It was a day I’ll never forget.
So, now that the big release day has come and gone: have you fully recovered yet?
Totally recovered now! (laughs). The week after the show came out I didn’t sleep much. I was just so excited to wake up and see how people were responding to the show. It’d been over a year since we had started shooting season 4, so it was really cool to get messages from folks who were calling out specific scenes and moments that I barely remembered shooting. It’s also been really exciting to see the dialogue that the show has started about social justice and prison reform in this country, particularly in light of the events at the end of the season.
Before OITNB, you’d pretty much only done comedy – and while OITNB’s got comedic parts, it’s also a drama. Was it difficult to make that transition from comedic to dramatic acting?
Yes and no. I was definitely a little thrown at first when I read some of the dramatic material and was like “I have to figure out how to do this thing I’ve never done before.” But the material, regardless of the genre, seems to come down to the same thing: can you find truth and authenticity in these moments? I really know nothing, but it seems like the funniest moments are the ones that are rooted in truth and grounded in their reality. I just applied that to the dramatic stuff. What’s happening here? Why is he feeling this way? How does this make him tick? I’m still getting a grasp of the whole thing but it’s been a really fun and exciting challenge that I never expected to get to do in this manner.
What made you decide to go for this type of role? I mean, you obviously wouldn’t have known just how dark it’d get, but what drew you to Baxter Bayley in the beginning?
I loved how innocent Bayley was. He really just wanted to laugh and have fun and just be silly. And I can definitely associate with that. For most of the time we see him up until the last few episodes of season 4, he’s cracking jokes and doing dumb things. I think what happens to Bayley is definitely dark, but it’s made infinitely darker by the contrast of what he used to be like. He jumps so far (and so quickly) on the happy-sad scale that it’s terrifying.
You have quite a few behind the scene credits as well, but your earliest credits were acting. How did you get involved in the behind the scenes side of film?
I’ve been acting since I was very young but from an early age recognized that the behind the scenes component was something that interested me in a very different way than the performing component. I loved seeing the process and how this giant crew with individual and specialized jobs could create this thing that was far bigger than what any of them could do alone. So whenever I worked as an actor, I spent all of my downtime on set just watching the crew and learning. My freshman year of high school, I spent 4 months working on a movie down in Louisiana and because I was under 18, I had to go to set everyday even if I wasn’t working since I had to work with a tutor so I didn’t fall behind in school. Every day after “school” was done, I’d go and sit in village and watch the movie get made. Working on that movie was life-changing in many different ways but the biggest one was that I got to learn first hand how production worked. And I got hooked.
Do you have a preference for one or the other – producing or acting?
The thing I love about producing is that there’s something immensely satisfying about being with a project from inception to being able to turn on your TV and watch it.
Speaking of your behind the scenes projects, Poussey ran into Baxter on the streets of New York, but she also ran into an improv group, coincidentally called Improv Everywhere. I’m assuming that wasn’t actually just some crazy coincidence, so how did that come about? Did you know about it ahead of the episode?
(laughs) I’ve heard some rumors of how this made its way into the script but can’t confirm anything! As soon as I read it I just started laughing and texted Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd like “you’re not gonna believe this.”
Were any of the actors in the episode part of the actual Improv Everywhere group?
Not directly but the lead monk, Sean Casey, is a very funny improvisor in the UCB community.
Now for the big question: we know filming for season 5 has already started… so can you say whether or not we’ll be seeing Baxter Bayley next season?
I think it’s going to be a while before we see Baxter Bayley back at Litchfield.
When (okay, if) he comes back, what are some storylines you’d like to see explored with him?
The OITNB writers are the smartest folks. Any type of speculating on my end will be just garbage compared to what they’ll come up with.
We have a signature question here at TNWU that almost all of us end our interviews with. As our name implies, we are all nerds and we let our nerdy flags fly! What do you think qualifies you to ‘Talk Nerdy With Us’?
(laughs) I started typing this interview on my iPad while in bed, wrote the middle questions on my MacBook in between calls, went back to edit one of the questions on my iMac at my office and am dictating the last few questions into my iPhone while on my couch. I’m a diehard Apple nerd and can spend hours, if not days, talking about that company and the wonderful things they do. My backpack that I wear everyday has the Apple logo and if I were into tattoos I’d probably get one of the logo as well. Let me know if you need any Apple tech support.