Lorna Morello is one of the first women prisoners we meet in the trailblazing television series Orange is the New Black - but with her pin-up curls, cherry-red lipstick and diamante-studded sunglasses, it's not immediately obvious that she's an inmate.
''It's not so bad, I've got 34 [months],'' she says of her prison sentence for stalking, in her distinctive Brooklyn-meets-Boston accent, as she flips through a magazine of wedding dresses. ''I want to show off the boobs and ass ... my first dance is going to go on YouTube.''
Lorna sees herself as the leading lady in a romance film whose set, supporting cast and plot are all of her own creation. The Italian-American New Jerseyite carefully constructs herself and her world - from a meticulous make-up and hair routine enacted daily in her cell, to obsessive conversations with other inmates about her ''fiance'' Christopher, who she relentlessly stalked after one coffee date. The authentic and the artificial sit in sad tension; reality rears its head through the romantic illusions. ''There is something really wrong with me,'' the character heartbreakingly confides early in the series, in her gangster tone that The New Republic called ''the most amazing accent on television''.
Australian actor Yael Stone is strikingly dissimilar to the character she has played for seven seasons of the hit TV show set inside the fictional US women's prison Litchfield. When we meet, Stone, 34, is wearing denim overalls, a roomy jumper, no make-up and a peak hat. Gone is the abrasive accent; Stone is softly, carefully spoken. And in the place of Lorna's raven curls and lipstick, a fresh pixie cut frames Stone's equally pixie-like face. That's not to wrongly assume that actors and their on-screen personas should be simpatico, but it's testament to Stone's metamorphosis into a character who has been loved, admired and pitied around the globe.
With the final season of Netflix's Orange is the New Black - a show that came of age with streaming platforms and carved the way for a new era in casting diversity and female-led drama - it's time for Stone to say goodbye to Lorna. She leaves having learnt a thing or two from her. Truth, individuality and love - these are at the centre of Stone's life after a year that has seen her heart both filled and broken.
This is Stone's first interview since she was last year revealed as ''Witness X'' in former theatre co-star Geoffrey Rush's defamation case. The Daily Telegraph unsuccessfully attempted to call Stone in support of its defence against the Oscar-winner's defamation claim. The media company was found liable for wrongly accusing Rush of inappropriate behaviour towards another actor, later revealed to be Eryn Jean Norvill, during a Sydney Theatre Company production. There are legal restrictions around what Stone can say, but she acknowledges the experience as heartbreaking and challenging, emphasising that her intention was to bring complexity and empathy to issues surrounding the #MeToo movement.
Earlier that year - in May 2018 - Stone and her partner, Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience founder Jack Manning Bancroft, had their daughter, Pemau, who is named after her great, great, great-grandmother, of the Djanbun clan of the Bundjalung nation. Stone, who recently became a yoga and meditation teacher, had a difficult birth. She had wanted to have a home birth, but after 18 hours was taken to hospital for an emergency caesarean after an obstructed labour.
In conversation, the actor swings between being open and guarded. There's vulnerability, but it is coupled with a wellspring of strength and resilience. She cuts off conversation about Rush, and is cautious when conversation returns to the topic. The past year has been a watershed, one of ''big thinking'', Stone says.
''I've spent seven years working in this character who is so dislocated from her truth and there's been compounding pain for her because of that. Maybe it's a lesson from Lorna, but I just really now more than ever want to just ground down into truly who I am,'' Stone says.
Maybe it's a lesson from Lorna, but I just really now more than ever want to just ground down into truly who I am.
''I think that the last year has been, it's made very clear, that there is no other option for me. It's absolutely necessary for me to be at peace with myself and for me to be the kind of role model for my kid that I think she deserves. If I can be myself now, that means I can be myself forever.''
Stone has recently returned to social media after a six-month hiatus, during which she only used a phone that could call and text. She is intensely concerned about how the platforms create a gulf between fantasy and reality; how they encourage users to, like Lorna, perform a version of themselves so extensively they become detached from their own identity. Stone's return to Instagram coincides with an intention to be ''definitively, horrifically'' - I might add gloriously and hilariously - herself. She has publicly heralded a ''return to authenticity'', declaring her commitment to being ''more and more me''.
''There is a rabbit hole of press and PR and all these things that could make you morph into something else and the instinct in me, from day one, is to resist that. There's something in the last year and the experiences of the last year that have given me the mettle to go with that and to say, 'this is me'. I am a tomboy. I enjoy the exploratory fantasy elements of my job, but I'm not an advertisement. If my job is to playfully become other people, well, when I'm myself I really want to be myself. That's very important to me,'' Stone says.
''I'm hoping that if I can give myself permission to do that, we can all get a little bit closer to feeling authentic about who we are. If I can give myself permission, somebody can maybe feel more comfortable about the fact they are not perfect, because none of us are.''
Orange is the New Black, created by Jenji Kohan and based on Piper Kerman's 2010 memoir, subtitled My Year in a Women's Prison, is fittingly aligned with this mission.
It is a series that unabashedly celebrates differences and imperfections, while at the same time highlighting the common humanity we share. It's broken new ground not only with its female-led cast and story, but by featuring and celebrating women of all sexualities, sizes and ethnicities. The feminism of the show is delightfully complicated - it highlights how feminism is a lived code for many of the prisoners, from all socio-economic backgrounds, even if they don't have the theoretical terms to describe their experiences.
The show also a provided a platform and space for actors who don't fit traditional commercial television moulds. Stone remembers the chill she felt when actor Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset, became the first transgender woman on the cover of Time, with the headline: ''The transgender tipping point.''
''I thought, 'Oh my goodness, I am a humble witness to earth-shattering change,'' Stone says.
Stone was cast in the role when she was 27, four months after she moved to New York in 2012 and a day after she married her former husband, Australian actor Dan Spielman. The daughter of an architect and nurse, Stone and her siblings (Jake was the lead singer of indie rock band Bluejuice and her sister, Elana, is a singer-songwriter) grew up in Sydney's inner west. Stone attended Balmain Public School, with her current partner Jack and actor Rose Byrne, and then Newtown Performing Arts High School. She scored early roles, including starring alongside Rachel Griffiths in the 1999 film Me Myself I when she was 14, and after graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 2006 made a name for herself in Australian theatre before moving to New York.
Stone has called the US home for the past seven years, most recently living in the New York borough of Queens. By strange coincidence, she fell pregnant at the same time as her character. In the first episode of the latest season, a more grounded Lorna, free of the lipstick and make-up, is proudly showing photos of her premature baby, conceived with her prison pen pal turned husband, Vince, played by John Magaro as she tries to find a name for him.
''Motherhood felt always like a deep, deep yearning for me. If there is the one chance on the merry-go-round on my life, I wanted to have this and share that kind of love,'' Stone says.
After giving birth in Australia, Stone returned to the US to continue filming. She says there were so many women in the creative and production departments - as well as in front of the camera - that she felt fully supported bringing her daughter on set.
But New York is a hard place to have a baby and even more so when your extended family is on the other side of the globe.
When filming of the final season wrapped in February, Stone and her family returned to Australia; they are now living on the NSW south coast.
She has taken time off to be with her daughter, who is now 14 months old, and has enjoyed studying university subjects, including physics and sustainability, via correspondence.
Shortly after our interview, Stone will leave her daughter's side for the first time to do press in the US for the show. It feels horrific, she says, but necessary.
There's a theatre role in the works for Stone later this year. It will be her first in Australia since 2016 and she is nervous about retraining her voice for the stage. As an actor, Stone says, she is a ''niche'' decision.
''I'm such a weirdo that I wouldn't generally be cast in something that wasn't a really good fit for me, because I am not a pretty face or a leggy blonde,'' she says.
''I felt disappointed I didn't fit into a mould more easily. Now I really love the fact that I don't fit and I never will and I never have.''
Now that's a message to carve in stone.
The final season of Orange is the New Black is now streaming on Netflix