Orphan Black is the new original series from BBC America that debuted alongside the return of Doctor Who for Supernatural Saturday. In addition to speaking with Steven Moffat about The Doctor, we also had the opportunity to chat with Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany and co-creator John Fawcett about clones, serialized versus stand-alone stories, and what the future holds for the show.
What you can tell us about the upcoming season as far as what kind of storylines will be explored?
John Fawcett: What kind of storylines will be explored? Well, you know, Orphan Black for us is basically a mystery kind of thriller with a kind of a sci-fi angle. And of course, the big question is, who am I? It’s an identity, and so that’s kind of the overarching mystery of the series. And really, because of the rabbit hole/mystery/thriller aspect of the show, the deeper you go into the rabbit hole the more questions you get. You get answers along the way, but more questions start to arise.
That is kind of the biggest storyline I think that we’re following through the course of the series. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there may be some more clones. Those characters have their own storylines and contribute to the larger picture and the larger mystery.
For Tatiana: what was your first impression when you read the script, and what attracted you to the role of Sarah?
Tatiana Maslany: I was obsessed with this part as soon as I read it. I was obsessed with the material. It’s just – it’s so unique and it’s so compelling. And it’s so a world that I’d never seen on television before. The wonderful thing about this show is that each of the clones has their own voice, they’re not just cannon fodder. You know what I mean? They’re not just expendable. They’re completely their own human being.
And so for me, it was like I’m salivating at the challenge to get to play all these characters and, you know, define each of these women – because each of them are so well written. Like you could have a series about each of them. They’re so complex and human and funny and dark and everything, so.
And then of course Sarah was the initial pull for me because she’s the lead of this series and she’s an extremely human character. She’s very flawed, she’s very manipulative, she’s very much an animal of instinct and of spontaneity and – she adapts. You know what I mean? There were so many possibilities, I was so excited to play her. She’s working class from London so she has a very specific life experience that was far from mine, but really enticing to me.
Each character has a distinct personality with different mannerisms – how do you prepare to play so many different characters and keep it all straight?
Tatiana Maslany: I don’t know. It was extremely daunting. I mean, I was just hungry for the part so I just went like full into it. And when I got it, I was like oh God now I have to do this extremely big challenge. I mean, keeping them all straight in my head was a bit of a brain – I can’t think of the word. But it was confusing, you know, and difficult.
But the cool thing is they’re all so well written and they’re all so unique on the page, that a lot of that kind of specific differentiating work was already done for me. For me it was a matter of committing fully to them and not being afraid to find something in each of these women and really explore what that seed was.
And just play with it. It was going back to the thing of being a kid and being able to switch between being a dinosaur and being a dog and being, you know, a police officer, you know, in the same breath. Like you can do that when you’re a kid and we’re kind of socialized not to do that as adults because it’s crazy, but as an actor you have to do that. And so that’s really how I approached it.
If Sarah’s DNA is being used for these clones, can you give us any hints if there might be other DNA templates for other sets of clones that may show up throughout the series?
John Fawcett: Well, we don’t know if Sarah is the original or not. We don’t know where this DNA is from. It is one of the mysteries, for us, as Sarah discovers she’s a clone it really is a story of who am I and where did I come from? And it is an identity thriller in some sense of that feeling of like I thought I knew who I was and suddenly my world is upside down – there are others – there are copies of me and am I the original? And if I’m not the original, who is?
I think that that’s a really sort of a fantastic – a massive bewildering dilemma to put a character in – to put the main character of Sarah in and throw her down this sort of rabbit hole which is Orphan Black.
Beyond that, you know, yes. My creative partner and co-creator Graeme Manson – we’ve had many discussions about where the show will ultimately go and what will occur in further seasons. And I wouldn’t want to rule out the possibility of other clones but I can’t say exactly right at this point. I think we’re all very fascinated with Sarah and we’re fascinated with her clone sisters at this point and their journey. And I think that that – we’re hoping that people will find that journey as attractive and as exciting as we do.
Is there something in each character that you can relate to or is there one particularly that you can go oh, that’s a lot like me?
Tatiana Maslany: You know what? They each have a seed of me inside them. That sounds so gross. They each have a bit of me in them. Each of these women. I think what I did was, you know, figured out what it was that I could relate to in each of them and then expanded on that and elaborated on that and let that be, you know, kind of the nut of the character because obviously I feel like I can relate to all of them.
They’re all very human and I think there’s aspects of me in each of them, but there’s definitely certain ones that were easier to identify with than others. Their actions maybe are more in line with how I respond in real life. But there’s not one of them that wasn’t like challenging or super exciting to play. You know, none of them were like oh yes, I can just – I can do this…
Did you take any of them home with you?
Tatiana Maslany: I took them all – they’re all still bouncing around in my head and I’m having trouble sleeping or shutting my brain off. I would like – even during shooting I was like sleep – I’d be sleeping and like tossing back and forth between characters in my sleep. So it’s kind of – I think it’ll be with me for a while.
How hard will it be for Sarah to hold onto her own life while pretending to be Beth?
John Fawcett: Well that’s part of the excitement of the show really. I mean, one of the things that I liked so much about the story was watching somebody thrust into someone else’s life, having to make it up as they go along and respond in the moment, trying to keep all the lives straight. And trying to charade her way through this life that she really knows nothing about.
And then not only that – suddenly coming to the realization that the person that she’s inhabiting, the life that’s she’s inhabiting and trying to fake her way through, turns out to be a cop. And so that just like suddenly ups the stakes and makes the level of her lies and the volume of this act that she’s having to put on just goes way up on it. And it’s exciting to watch.
I love watching it, you know, all the sort of the close calls and how is she going to get out of this and how is she going to get – oh my God she’s busted. And watching her worm her way out of various situations it’s part of the excitement of the show. And it’s kind of hopefully one of the big aspects to the series that will keep the viewers coming back episode after episode.
Tatiana Maslany: The more questions we’ve answered, the more questions we pose. I think the audience will really relate to her being lost – we will understand because, you know, their questions are her questions and so you always have an in with her. You know, you’re on the journey with Sarah for sure.
Orphan Black seems to lean more towards serialized storytelling, rather than standalone episodes. Is that something that you and your partner pushed with the show, or are you kind of taking it as the story comes?
John Fawcett: No, no, it was absolutely part of the show. To me because the show began life as a feature film. We couldn’t solve it in a 2 1/2 hour format and that was kind of what was a little bit frustrating to us in the first couple of years of developing it, and why it sat on the shelf for a while until Graeme came back to me and said hey, maybe we could solve this problem if this was a TV series rather than a feature film.
And at that point in my life I had always thought of myself as a filmmaker, but around 2007, 2008 as we picked it up and started to develop it as a series, I had been watching honestly more television than I had been watching feature films. And every stitch of television that I was watching was serialized cable shows, for the most part, other than Lost. You know, like even Battlestar Galactica, which I was a huge fan of, was a serialized show. Shows like Six Feet Under which had this great sense of comedy, this very dark sense of humor to them, which I really gravitated towards.
I loved the idea that because this was a mystery, each episode was a new chapter in a bigger story, much in the way Lost functioned. And I think that one of the difficulties in creating a show like that — other than, you know, the obvious difficulties in terms of the, you know, that it’s just become such a complex huge story — is actually selling it. I mean, we had a very difficult time getting Orphan Black made because nobody wanted to make a serialized show.
And BBC America was the first – really honestly, the first network that came to us and said not only do we love your show we would make a serialized show with you. We want you to make the show you want to make. And it was their love and belief in Orphan Black that allowed us to kick things off. We’re Canadians, we didn’t even have a Canadian distributor – or network at the time. We had BBC America. And it was really their love and support for it that allowed the show to become a reality.
Tatiana, you have some improv in your background. Do you get to improv anything on set or they keep you pretty close to script?
Tatiana Maslany: I think the improv for me came into character development. You know what I mean? A lot of my improv experience had been in long form improv, so storytelling over a longer form, and very character based. So for me, I think it was in exploring the characters in rehearsal and on my own and with Jordan Gavaris, who plays Felix, where my improv came out. Because I don’t think if I didn’t have that base I would’ve been able to come up with specific behavior and physicality that was so different for each of the women. I think that’s where it really came in.
And as much as, you know, it’s a TV show and we do stick to script – it never feels like we’re trying to churn out a product. It feels very alive, it feels very loose on set. Even though we need highly technical scenes, you know, where I’m playing opposite a clone of myself and I have to stick to a very specific technical routine or regime, it still feels like there’s breath in it and there’s life in it and there’s space to play and be creative and that’s amazing.
I mean, the first two episodes we shot with John directing, Jordan and I had these incredible long scenes where we got to just explore the characters together. I mean, the writing is there and it gave us that space – we said we feel like we’re doing a play because we got to do these long takes and really develop that relationship. And I think, you know, as much as we stick to the script there’s improve between the moments.
Have you established the typical “five year plan” for the series?
John Fawcett: We obviously knew what we wanted to do with season 1. I would say we kind of, more or less really, know what we want to do with season 2 – if we had the opportunity to do a season 2, of course. And beyond that, I think we have the bigger picture and the end game.
You know, it’s interesting creating a show like this because as much as I want to say no, we know exactly what we’re doing we don’t really, you know? Like even with season 1, as we began season 1, you know, from the get go we had three finished scripts – and seven outlines that took us to the end of season 1.
And as you get into the show and you start to shoot it, you know, things change. Like you hire a guest cast – that cast comes in and you go wow, they’re really great. I want to do more with them. And as you write on the shows, you know, suddenly there’s a piece from episode 8 that you really want to pull up and put in episode 6. And things shift around – you know, – there’s structure to it, but it is an organic process.
As we were kind of coming up on episode 10 Graeme would say, you know, he was like do you really want to do that? Isn’t that painting us into a bit of a corner? And I was always the one going let’s paint ourselves in the corner because I find it creatively exciting to try and figure out how the hell to get out. I actually like the thrill of not knowing to some degree.
And I think that that’s what the audience wants to see too. I think they want to go what the hell are they – how is he going to solve this? How are they going to get themselves out of this? How is Sarah going to get through this and not get busted? It’s something that I’m, you know, I love to watch – I hope the show is a show that just continually keeps pulling the rug out from under the viewers’ feet.
Orphan Black airs Saturday evenings on BBC America, immediately following Doctor Who. Check local listings for showtimes.