What, you've never heard of "Orphan Black"? Or maybe you know it as "that clone show" that aired after "Doctor Who" on BBC America earlier this year. Or maybe you've heard about the fantastic performance of the show's star, Tatiana Maslany, who's already won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, has been nominated for a Television Critics Association Award, and sparked a lot of chatter about her Emmy-worthiness in the lead actress category, as well?
We, and hoards of fans at Comic-Con, will confirm that Maslany (and at least one of her co-stars) is absolutely deserving of any accolades she racks up this awards season and "Orphan Black" should absolutely be on your radar. In case you're still not convinced, Yahoo! TV talked to "Orphan Black" co-creator Graeme Manson about the perfect casting of Maslany, his commitment to making sure that fans get answers to the many mysteries that the show introduces, and where "Orphan Black" will pick up when Season 2 starts next April.
(Oh, and warning: If you haven't watched the show yet but definitely plan to, there are storyline spoilers ahead. If you have already watched Season 1, there are Season 2 storyline hints ahead ... you're welcome.)
What sparked the idea for the show? Why clones?
We didn't actually set out to create a show about clones. The inspiration for the show came from the concept of the opening scene, where a woman steps off the train, sees her doppelganger on the platform, and their eyes meet. In that moment, the doppelganger commits suicide. [Series co-creator John Fawcett] pitched me that scene in about 2003. I said, "That's great. That's a really great scene. What's the story?" We just latched on to it from there. That opening scene led us to clones. Being genre fans to begin with, fans of thrillers, fans of conspiracy and this kind of sci fi thriller stuff, we gravitated naturally to clones ... for myself, because of the really rich psychological terrain, to write the character drama that is based around clones. Then for John, he got really excited about the visual challenges and motifs in doubles and doppelgangers. We realized pretty quickly we could have a lot of fun doing the kind of switcheroos and things that we do.
That opening, by the way, is one of the best pilot openings we've seen since "Alias." In the same way that the "Alias" pilot did, it just completely locked us in on the show.
That's great. It's great you mentioned "Alias," too, because "Alias" ... in terms of how fun "Alias" was and how much we liked watching it for its just, like, pulpy goodness, it was a real inspiration.
Like "The Walking Dead," even if you're not a zombie fan, or "Game of Thrones," even if you're not into fantasy and period pieces, "Orphan Black" is appealing even for nongenre fans because the characters and the storytelling is so fun.
I think one of the things that we enjoy and are probably most proud of is this complex tone that allows us to, with each character, enter a little bit of a different show within the same episode or within the same series. You get your comedic, suburban respite. You get a geeky sort of science student, as well as a "Bourne"-ish thriller identity with Sarah. The mixing of the tones and the blending it all with black humor is something we worked really hard at doing.
How far did you have the story planned out when you pitched it? How far do you have it planned out now?
We were pitching something that we thought sort of had a perpetual story engine. However, we did pitch a loose, say, three season arc. That is essentially the conspiracy, the mystery, the "Who am I?" question, the "Who created us, and why?" We do know all our answers. But, God willing, we'll go three seasons. Then we will have to decide whether we give up those answers at the end of three seasons and reboot, or do we stretch it out and hold off on those answers? Luckily, I think that the concept is elastic enough. We're determined enough to give satisfying answers ... and some of the great, big questions, I think, some of them, just like life, are unanswerable. But we don't like dangling question after question and not giving any answers.
Have you found, then, that even going through the first 10 episodes, you tinkered with things or maybe stretched things out because, as the story went along, it required it?
Yes, but we knew our endpoint. We were always pushing to the endpoint. We knew that Kira would be missing at the end, and that, in a large part at the start of Season 2, Sarah would be back in exactly the same shoes she was when she stepped off that train. Without her daughter, on the run, and with limited resources.
Speaking of the end of the season, we know Kira is missing ... are Felix and Mrs. S missing, too?
Oh, well, that remains to be seen at the top of Season 2...
The writers' room, and keeping track of all the characters and their interactions ... we're picturing a giant wall filled with multicolored index cards and red strings leading from everything. How crazy is it to keep all of these things straight?
(Laughing) There's no easy way to break these episodes. They take a long time. I've had the writers locked up for two months already. We had to spend a good two or three weeks talking about the big picture before we could go to the beginning and start it. Then we break out two or three stories or a loose idea for five. Once we start digging into the first ones, everything else gets kicked down the road. Then we have to come back to the next set of episodes and look at the big picture again and see where we've gotten to. Because it's all about information. It's all about who knows what, when. In terms of the plotty plot stuff, the character stuff is actually a lot more fun. Because once those characters are up and running ... it's the mystery that's hard.
I've read a lot about ["Breaking Bad" creator] Vince Gilligan, about how he breaks down story, breaking a season of "Breaking Bad," and ... there just is no easy way. I feel the same way here. We wrack our brains. We don't quite have strings connecting the cards. It's not quite "Se7en," psycho killer territory. But we work on great big whiteboards, and we keep running index-card boards as well. We actually have two rooms right now, which is kind of cool. We can jump from the whiteboard room to the index card room.
That kind of says it all, right, that this requires two rooms to keep everything straight?
Everyone had been blown away by Tatiana's performance — or performances, with all the various clones. What was the process of casting her? Did it take a long time to find the right person?
It was a really long, challenging process. Part of the challenge was, for our financing model, we had to cast a Canadian lead. We couldn't cast a net wide enough to include [actresses from] England or the States. We had to do this at home. [Tatiana] was someone who was on the list from the very beginning, someone who John had worked with before and who Temple Street had worked with before. But we needed to leave no stone unturned ... we saw absolutely everybody, regardless of country, as long as they had a Canadian passport. (Laughing) Then we whittled it down to, over a period of a couple of months, five favorites and put those people on tape multiple times. Then we brought them to Toronto for a two day session where we did a little bit of hair and makeup on them so they could switch between characters. We made them play at least three characters. Then we also did chemistry reads with two or three ideas that we had for Felixes.
[Related: 10 Kids Who Coulda Shoulda Won an Emmy]
Tatiana, throughout the process, had shown herself to be a real chameleon, someone who could shift gears from character to character right before your eyes in a pressure situation, in a room with a dozen executives sitting in it. Being able to switch gears, then being able to take direction within the new character and switch again for performance ... a lot of that comes from her background in improvisation. She's very quick on her feet. She combines that with incredible technical skill, because she's been doing film and TV for a long time now. But I must say that that moment when Jordan and Tatiana did their chemistry read together, I think that might have been the moment that pushed the two of them over the top. Because we saw Sarah's heart. And they were very familiar and very funny together.
At the end of the day, Tat was a unanimous choice. It's lucky, because, of course, the financing was cast dependent. If we didn't find someone that everyone agreed on, we might not be having this conversation.
You mentioned Felix. Jordan Gavaris is equally fantastic as Felix, so funny and sweet. Was casting him as long a process as casting Tatiana?
Yeah, it was difficult, too. I think we had three or four [options] when we brought them in for the chemistry reads. Again, we saw many, many people. Jordan really just inhabited that character in such a regal and haughty way that I saw right away how much fun he was. He managed to do something that, in my mind, might have made him a little closer to Sarah, actually, as in a little bit more punk. But he also brought this regal kind of aspect to it, and he's stylish and creative, and can still be a part time rent boy. Just that unapologetic, and proud, thing ... I just loved it. Then he's got terrific comedic timing. I love writing one liners for Felix. We all do.
The storytelling and performances are great, as is the visual look of the show. The scenes with multiple clones must be especially intense to pull off, and that season-finale scene with Alison, Sarah, and Cosima and the wine pouring...
That is really John Fawcett's drive. We're constantly challenging one another to do things we haven't seen before or just make it better. How do we push this scene over the top, storywise and visually? But for John, from the very beginning, he said, "I want our special effects to go by unnoticed. To be completely smooth and not hit anyone over the head." It is extremely technical and time consuming to do those two clone scenes, let alone the three clone scenes that we did. Very time consuming, very tough days for Tat. We have to be really judicious. We knew we needed one three way scene off the top, where they met and were all in a room together. We were patient enough to hold off until Episode 3 to do it.
[Related: Biggest Emmy Winners of All Time]
Then we knew we had to have one in the finale. John was wracking his brains about what we could do, what can we do to push this over the top. He came up with two things for that scene: one, a hug, and two, the wine pour. The hug is ... there's a cut cheat in there. But the wine pour, there isn't. The wine pour is a continuous, motion control shot with Tatiana playing three roles over the course of nine or 10 hours. It's really technical, what she's doing ... hair and makeup changes ... Tatiana's double. ... [Tatiana] plays the scene empty. ... We have a computerized motion controlled dolly. It's called a Technodolly. Basically it's the biggest dolly you've ever seen, with more tech guys and monitors around it than you've ever seen, and this big, long arm and a giant piece of track. The camera can move, it can dolly, and you can arm the camera, as well as do all the focus pulls. Clone stuff has often been done in split screen, and it often feels quite static. This motion control, it's not like we're the first to do it. But we're [among] the first to really melt it, I think. I don't know. We're not the first to do it, but it is a major [production] for everyone. (Laughing)
Looking ahead to Season 2, is it safe to assume that most of the major characters we know from Season 1 will still be in play, will still be in the clones' lives?
There's some changes. But our core three girls are definitely in play, Alison, Cosima, and Sarah. I think it's safe to say that, as I said earlier, Sarah finds herself largely in the shoes she was in at the beginning of Season 1. She's resourceless, she's on the run, and she's missing her daughter. I think it's safe to say that we hit the ground running in Season 2. We're not skipping ahead a year or anything like that.
We saw soccer mom Alison doing her workout ... who's the Hip Hop Abs fan on the show?
(Laughing) John Fawcett! And a little piece of trivia: John actually wanted to [have Alison doing] Zumba, but we couldn't clear it. So we went to Hip Hop Abs.