July 27, 1984
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
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Taylor Schilling became the Cinderella story of the fall 2009 network television season when she was picked to headline the NBC ensemble drama, "Mercy" (2009-10) while she was still working as a Manhattan-based nanny. With only one screen-credit to her resume, the unknown Schilling's auditions so wowed producers of "Mercy" that they gave her the lynchpin role of the blue-collar, war-hardened nurse at the heart of the show's eponymous hospital. Catalyzed by a marked ability to render a character layered with surly grit, pathos and human vulnerability, Schilling's abrupt promotion into the limelight portended a big upside for a burgeoning thespian career.She was born in Boston, MA, on July 27, 1984, to Robert and Patricia Schilling, the former an assistant district attorney for Bristol County, MA, and later a private practice lawyer; the latter an administrator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Schillings later divorced, and a joint custody agreement saw Taylor split time growing up in the households of Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood and Wayland, MA. A devotee of the NBC medical drama "ER" (1994-2009) as a youth, she caught the acting bug at a young age, first appearing on stage in a middle school production of "Fiddler on the Roof." She attended Wayland High School and, upon graduation in 2002, matriculated at Fordham University's New York City campus at Lincoln Center, where she was active in student stage productions and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2006.Schilling was accepted into New York University's prestigious graduate drama program, but left after two years to try to put her talents to work in the tough New York drama market. While she went out on auditions, she supported herself by working as a nanny for a New York family. She netted a supporting role in the indie film "Dark Matter" (2007), a dark, taut drama starring an actress she greatly admired, Meryl Streep. In spring 2009, Schilling's taped audition for a forthcoming TV medical drama pilot, "Mercy," captured the attention of the show's creator/executive producer, Liz Heldens.Heldens, a writer and producer on the NBC drama "Friday Night Lights" (2006- ), flew Schilling to Los Angeles for an in-person callback, at which she dazzled the show's producers so effectively that Heldens later said they knew almost immediately they had their tent pole character for the nurse-focused medical drama. Within days, Schilling learned she had won the role of Veronica Callahan, a former military nurse whose Iraq War service has transformed her into a smack-talking, no-nonsense, tough-as-nails medical practitioner unabashed about schooling fellow nurses and even on-staff doctors at Mercy Hospital, even as she struggles with her own demons. The show, picked up for NBC's fall 2009 season, was both set in and filmed in New Jersey, allowed Schilling to keep living in New York. When "Mercy" left the air after a single season, Schilling was cast in the key role of Dagny Taggart in a critically-reviled film version of Ayn Rand's divisive novel "Atlas Shrugged" (2011). This was followed by a somewhat bigger success opposite Zac Efron in the film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, "The Lucky One" (2012). The following year, Schilling finally found her breakout role in the lead of the critically acclaimed comedy-drama "Orange is the New Black" (Netflix 2013- ), in which she played Piper Chapman, a middle-class woman sentenced to a year in prison after she acts as a drug mule for her former lesbian lover (Laura Prepon). The series garnered immediate praise, most notably for Schilling's emotionally varied delivery. She was nominated for Best Actress In A Comedy at the 2014 Emmy Awards.