"Someone said I was so ugly," Lauren Morelli says, referring to a comment on her now-popular Instagram, "that it made them want to cry." She ripples into laughter and claps a hand over her mouth. "Imagine someone being so ugly that you actually wanted to cry!"
It is, of course, completely untrue. An edgy 'do and quirky glasses don't change the fact that the Echo Park dweller, 32, is classically pretty. Yet she radiates modesty — an unlikely trait considering she's part of the booming success of Orange Is the New Black, where she works as a co-producer and writer. And Morelli is blessed with a thick skin, which is good, considering the ugliness she's endured in the last year.
She moved to L.A. in part to be with the man she loved, a writer who later became her husband. She had a BFA in modern dance but no real professional direction. Eventually she landed a gig as a personal assistant to an executive, his wife, three kids and their giant dog — a job she kept for five years. It was "really far from what I imagined my life to be," she says.
Seeking a creative outlet, she took a short-fiction class at UCLA. "I was totally that kid who would write novels and give them to my mom," she says, but it was never something she identified as being good at. Her boyfriend disagreed. So much so that without Morelli's knowledge, he sent one of her scripts to his manager, who's her manager today.
The great irony, however, is that sending that script was step one in a long journey of Morelli questioning her sexuality, coming out, leaving her husband and facing the public's judgment for all of it.
After a year with an agent, Morelli landed a meeting with Orange creator Jenji Kohan and, to her shock, was hired. Morelli describes the writers room as a deeply intimate place where "because of the nature of the show," she says, "there was a lot of talk about the nuances of sexuality." Before long, "There started to be a joke that I was the gayest person in the room."
While filming Orange in New York, the questions only grew louder. "I came home from set and immediately said to [my husband], 'I'm really worried that I'm gay.'"
Deep soul-searching followed, along with despair, more questions and an eventual answer. Her marriage ended and soon after, Morelli began dating Orange actress Samira Wiley — a romance that carried on fairly quietly until TMZ got hold of Morelli's divorce papers.
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"Orange Is the New Black Writer Files for Divorce, Show Made Me Realize ... I'm a Lesbian!" read the headline, and many similar ones followed. "Those three days were some of the worst of my life," she says. "It was so intensely hurtful" to her and those she loved the most.
But over time she made peace with the fame she never asked for, and now she lives in a more empowered place. "I claimed my own self-worth," she says. "I'm happy in a way I don't think I've ever been."
Morelli acknowledges the ways her life overlaps with Orange, particularly in the lead character of Piper, who, like her, has lived both gay and straight. In her job, she says, "It's nice to be able to make meaning of the pain."