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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with the Cast of BBC America’s “Orphan Black”

Whenever I attend the Television Critics Association press tour, be it the summer event in Beverly Hills or the winter event in Pasadena, I invariably walk away from the proceedings with at least one interviewbut generally severaldone in conjunction with a series I barely know the slightest thing about, save for whatever’s been put in the press releases sent out by the network.

This, as you might have guessed, is precisely what I experienced when I went into the room at the Langham Huntington Hotel which served as a temporary home base for the publicists of BBC America and was introduced to the cast of “Orphan Black. “

Fortunately, the young trio awaiting my arrivalTatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, and Dylan Brucehad already been dealing with this problem with the interviewers who’d preceded me, as I was their last chat of the day. As such, they had a sense of humor about the situation…which worked out quite well, as I’d decided to throw caution to the wind and have a bit of a laugh about it myself.

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Bullz-Eye: Well, as you know, you have me—and everybody else here—at a tremendous disadvantage, since I haven’t been able to see the pilot of “Orphan Black” yet.”

Jordan Gavaris: Ugh, I know.

Tatiana Maslany: We haven’t even finished shooting the series yet!

Dylan Bruce: How often does that happen to you guys?

BE: It…happens. Maybe 10-20% of the time. It’s certainly not unheard of.

TM: Okay, ‘cause when we’re done here, we go back to shooting Episode 7…no, wait, 6!

JG: Episode 6, yeah.

TM: So we’re not even halfway through shooting yet!

BE: Well, that being the case, I’m going to apologetically make with some painfully general questions for you, since I don’t really have the option to be but so specific, and even if I could, I presume you wouldn’t be able to say but so much, anyway. So…how did each of you find your way onto this project?

TM: I auditioned a few months before I got the part. I auditioned about four times, went through a chemistry test with Jordan and a few other guys, and he…

JG: I did exactly the same thing. [Hesitates.] Sorry.

TM: No, go ahead!

JG: I was just going to say that I auditioned just exactly the same way, I went through a few months of casting, and it was at the network chemistry read, when they paired us together, that my agent told me that I wasn’t the front runner. They told me that they knew they wanted her, but that I wasn’t going to get the card.

TM: [Horrified.] They did?

JG: Yeah! That’s what my agent told me. She said that some guy named… [Starts to say the other actor’s name, then catches himself.] Yeah, I, uh, probably shouldn’t say that. [Laughs.] But, you know, I will say that every actor there was a wonderful young actor, and at that stage of the game, it’s really more about physicality and who works well with each other. You can have two really great actors who just don’t connect for whatever reason. But, anyway, there was another actor who was up for the part, and she said, “He’s probably gonna get it. He’s older and more experienced.” And instead of getting really down on myself, I just got really angry. And when I went in, I was just completely fueled by fury, and when I met (Tatiana), that’s when sparks flew. Like a Taylor Swift song.

DB: Awwwwwww… You just quoted a Taylor Swift song! [Laughs.]

TM: Really, Jordan? Really? [Laughs.]

DB: Well, I auditioned 35 times. They really didn’t know what they wanted from me. [Laughs.] No, that’s not true. I put myself on tape here, ‘cause I’m based out of L.A., and then I did a Skype audition with the creator, John Fawcett, and…

TM: You did?

DB: Yeah.

JG: I know, that was so cool!

DB: It was so terrible. [Laughs.] It sucked. But John was fantastic about it. And then I did a screen test with Tatiana as well, and…here we are!

At this point in the interview, I noted to the cast that I’d be including a description of the series for you, the reader, so that I’d be able to ask one of the few specific questions that I had at my disposal, so here goes:

Sarah has always lived the life of an orphan outsider. But a clone is never alone.

Sarah hopes that cleaning out a dead woman’s bank account will solve all her problems. Instead, her problems multiply – and so does she. Experience a whole new side of BBC AMERICA with the channel’s next original scripted series, “Orphan Black,” the exciting and ambitious new addition to the Supernatural Saturday programming block. “Orphan Black” features rising star Tatiana Maslany (“Cas & Dylan,” “Picture Day”) in the lead role of Sarah, an outsider and orphan whose life changes dramatically after witnessing the suicide of a woman who looks just like her. Sarah assumes her identity, her boyfriend and her bank account. But instead of solving her problems, the street smart chameleon is thrust headlong into a kaleidoscopic mystery. She makes the dizzying discovery that she and the dead woman are clones… but are they the only ones?

Sarah quickly finds herself caught in the middle of a deadly conspiracy and must race to find answers about who she is and how many others there are just like her.

Got it? Good. Moving on!

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BE: Tatiana, you clearly have the most challenging role of the series, at least from an acting standpoint, in that you’re playing yourself as well as at least one clone of yourself, if not more.

TM: Yeah, it’s, uh, bizarre. It’s a very bizarre concept. But a total gift. For me, at least, it’s an actor’s dream to get to be on screen that much. ..and to steal that many scenes. [Laughs.]

JG: Scene-stealer!

TM: [Laughs.] It’s, like, “Hey, I’m both of the characters in this scene!” So it’s a challenge, and it’s technically and creatively difficult, but it’s exciting as well. I’m never bored on this show. Never, never, ever. Never bored on set. There’s always something exciting that…you know, you do seven scenes a day, and there’s not a single one of them that isn’t without its challenges.

JG: Or discoveries.

TM: Or discoveries.

JG: You always discover something new about your character or the people that you’re working with or…just yourself. You’re always exploring. For me, it’s always about exploring myself versus becoming another person or putting on another skin. You sort of turn the mirror just slightly to another degree, so that you see a side of yourself that maybe you wouldn’t be comfortable exploring in regular society.

DB: We’re finding out about our characters as we go. We don’t really know much about our characters. We have a brief synopsis of a lot of our characters, but as the scripts come out, we’re just learning more and more, and it’s becoming more and more fun and awesome to play.

BE: Can you offer up your synopses of who your characters are?

ORPHAN BLACK

DB: Yeah! A nutshell synopsis of my character, Paul: he’s a consultant, he’s generally a good guy, with a lot of layers, and…a complex kind of personality. I guess that would be a brief synopsis.

BE: And who did you have to pay to have the words “very attractive” added to the description of your character?

DB: No way. Let me see.

TM: You’re kidding.

BE: [Pulls out the press release and puts it on the table.] See? Says it right there. Apparently, Paul is “a very attractive, decent guy.”

TM: [Reads it herself.] “Very attractive.” Unbelievable.

DB: You know, I didn’t have to pay for that. I actually wrote it myself. [Laughs.] They’re, like, “You know what? Just go ahead and write your own.” Okay, sorry, allow me to revise that synopsis of my character.  He’s a very attractive, very, uh, Ernest-Borgnine-looking individual.

TM: Oh, I love Ernest Borgnine.

DB: I love Ernest Borgnine, too, God rest his soul.

TM: Not attractive, though. Not attractive at all.

DB: No. No, not really. [Laughs.] Sorry, go ahead. Proceed!

OrphanBlackJordan

JG: Felix is…Sarah’s foster brother. They were fostered together in the UK. He’s an artist with a penchant for the, uh, odd hit of cocaine. [Laughs.] And he funds his artistic endeavors by selling his body now and again.

TM: Yeah, so Sarah’s Felix’s foster sister, she’s bounced around a lot of her life, hasn’t really had a family, hasn’t really known a lot about her past, and has run away a lot from any semblance of somebody who could be an authority in her life or help her. She has a daughter, Kira, who’s seven years old and who she’s kind of abandoned her for about 10 months with their foster mother, but she’s back in town now, trying to commit to being the mother she really wants to be, but she’s just not equipped to be. Money-wise, experience-wise, education-wise, she’s just not…she just doesn’t have the tools that she needs, so she’s desperately trying to figure out how to do that.

BE: How is it playing a mom?

TM: It’s awesome! I’ve never… [Hesitates.] Have I ever? I don’t think I’ve ever played a mom.

DB: What a great question!

JG: I know, right? That’s the first time she’s been asked that all day!

TM: Yeah, that’s great! So, yeah, it’s awesome playing a mom. The entire drive of Sarah’s life is getting to Kira and being a mother and assuming that role. It’s very visceral, because, y’know, mothers are very visceral animals. There’s something that kicks in when something happens to your kid. There’s nothing intellectual about it. And yet at the same time, Sarah’s so unfamiliar with what a family would be, what responsibility is, or even what sitting still is, so she has no way of doing the thing that she wants to do and be the mother that Kira needs. I love it. I love playing a mom. It gives your life stakes that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

BE: Do you have anything to draw from? Not necessarily your own child, but perhaps a younger brother…?

TM: Yeah, I have two younger brothers. One is just a little bit younger than me and not so wild as… [Starts to laugh.] Well, I don’t need to draw from anything to work with Jordan. It’s all there. Everything I need is right there.

JG: [Laughs.] She’s very kind.

TM: But for Kira…well, first off, the girl who plays her is actually seven herself, and she’s ridiculous. I mean, she’s a jaw-droppingly amazing actor and singer who’s wise beyond her years. But a lot of my understanding of that relationship comes from my little brother, who’s 15…and who I can’t even talk about or I’ll start crying! But that protectiveness and that mama-lion thing, it’s there. For sure.

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BE: “Orphan Black” is being positioned as part of BBC America’s “Supernatural Saturday.”

DB: Yes, it is.

BE: What is it about the series that makes it supernatural?

DB: That’s such a funny question…and another great question!…because I was talking to Graeme (Manson, co-creator), and I asked the same thing. I think we start off pretty much grounded in the real because, as we’ve said many times, cloning is very much a thing of the present. It is not something that’s science-fiction. It’s very much science-reality. I think as we go, it’s inevitable that we will delve deeper into cloning origins and how it all happened and what it means to the characters. I don’t know if we’ll see anything supernatural in sort of like a Whedon-verse supernatural sense, or something out of “The Exorcist,” but something maybe more “Fringe”-like. I don’t know if you’ve seen “Fringe”…

BE: Oh, yeah.

DB: Yeah, okay, so something maybe borders the paranormal and the scientific. Something that’s maybe more like…alchemy? Maybe. If we’re gonna explore it. But I think because most people aren’t familiar with the realities of cloning, it will seem supernatural.

JG: Yeah, like what you can do with cloning. You can clone body parts. Maybe I’ll get a certain…

TM: A circumcision?

JG: No! [Laughs.] No, no, no. I don’t know, maybe I’ll end up with horns one day on the show. You never know. That could be very supernatural. [Shrugs.] It’s a dark, sexy show. But, like he said, it’s real issues.

TM: We don’t know the origins of anything, though, including ourselves. It could be something quite supernatural. Or it could be basic science. We just don’t even know. So I think that idea of not knowing where these people come from can kind of possibly fall into the supernatural.

JG: Yeah, let’s go with that. [Laughs.]

BE: Lastly, since you guys are, for all practical purposes, going to be more or less unknowns to a lot of the audience tuning in for “Orphan Black,” I’m going to ask you to out yourselves: is there anything on YouTube that I should link to as a clip?

JG: Oh, no. No, no, no. Yes. [Laughs.] There’s a cover of me singing a song by Young the Giant called “Cough Syrup.”

TM: Okay, what I loved about that was the way you went, “Oh, no. No, no, no. Yes.” [Laughs.] “And then let me just write down the link for you…” That was awesome.

JG: Look, it’s gonna come out. I might as well give it up.

DB: Um… [Long pause.] Um…

BE: It’s not like I can’t search for something myself. I’m just trying to give you the opportunity to choose it. This is for your benefit, man!

DB: Oh, God…

JG: Is your demo reel on the internet?

DB: No, but… [Another long pause.] Well, from my soap opera days, there’s a lot of me being shirtless in and out of bed on the internet. In fact, it’s called “Shirtless In and Out of Bed.”

TM: I’ve seen that. It’s awesome. It’s, like, a montage of Dylan, and you’re just looking into space…

DB: [Laughs.] Yeah, well, it starts with one where I’m a doctor and I’m helping a nurse study for her anatomy test, and I’m kissing her body, telling her that her ankle bone is connected to her leg bone as I kiss my way on up. So go ahead and link to that. What the hell. [Turning to Tatania.] Now, what about you?

TM: Um…I did an improv monologue once. Part of this project called The Improv Monologue Project. Not a great improv monologue. [Laughs.] But it’s up there. Maybe you can link to that. That’s embarrassing enough.

BE: Yeah, but that’s pretty classy compared to the song and the soap-opera clips.

DB: I know, right? It’s, like, that’s a properly valiant effort!

TM: No. Wait ‘til you see it. [Laughs.] I, uh, do a lot of yelling and screaming.

DB: You watch. It’ll be the best one.

TM: It’s not. Jordan’s singing is gonna be the best one.

DB: Mine is definitely not the best one. Although it’s actually got over a million views.

JG: [Incredulously.] A million views.

DB: A million and a half, actually. [Grins.] Watch out, Bieber!

TM: That is unbelievable.

BE: So you’re very attractive and you’ve got a million and a half hits on YouTube. Nice one.

DB: Oh, my God, I sound like the biggest douche right now!  That’s terrible!

TM: About as terrible as my monologue! [Laughs.]

  

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