Orphan Black left us dizzy after ten episodes of great conspiracy television—and left us with a lot of questions. We sat down with one of the show's creators and learned a little bit about what's ahead for Sarah and the rest of Clone Club.
We spoke to Graeme Manson, who co-created Orphan Black with John Fawcett last week during Comic-Con, to find out more about the show's origins, how the characters evolved through the writing process, and what we can expect after the dramatic finale.
There are spoilers for Season One of the show as well as some teases for Season Two. If you haven't been watching Orphan Black, you should get on that. For those folks who have finished watching Season One, we're especially excited to see what's ahead with Rachel Duncan, the proclone.
We also spoke to both Manson and Fawcett on video during one of the Orphan Black press events, as well as to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Felix, and Dylan Bruce, who plays Paul. Those videos are embedded throughout the interview.
How did Orphan Black come about?
Graeme Manson: John [Fawcett] and I were at film school together, not in the same year but at the same place, the Canadian Film Centre. So we were friends, and had worked together a little bit. We were always trying to do something together and we really had the same taste in genre stuff. He came at it from a little more pure horror than I did, but we share a real dark sense of humor. So we were trying to find something to work on and constantly throwing ideas at each other.
And then John threw the idea, the opening scene: A girl gets off a train and looks across the track and sees herself. Their eyes meet. And in that moment, the doppelgänger commits suicide, which was just such an awesome opening scene. But we had no idea what it was about. So we went exploring and we talked to twins and we just pursued that mystery, and that led to clones.
That was 2003. And we tried to make it work as a feature film first. We worked at it for a couple of years and just couldn't contain it. So we didn't set out to write a show about clones, but that suggested itself very early, and as we both looked into it, we both found things that really turned us on about clones, the genre stuff. We didn't feel that it had been done well. It had certainly been done, but the tropes of clones had not been really worked for character. You know Sean Young in Blade Runner as the replicant? That was the moment we were most interested in, that moment when her eyes fill with tears when she realizes what she is. The way the replicants were treated in Blade Runner is probably the closest that we could think of and just go for the emotion, go for the nature/nurture.
For me, it became super rich thematically, the nature/nurture and what you can do with character and what happens when you strip away your self-perception and you exist in biological multiplicity. What does that do to your self-perception? And then for John, it was all the challenges of shooting them and all the fun you can have with doppelgängers and the shocks and surprises, the switcheroos and stuff. So, as the television landscape changed, as we started watching Six Feet Under and Dexter and The Sopranos and all the cable stuff, we were like, "This is how we can tell that tale." If anything, we've got to go long with this thing. But also, mix it up with it network shows we loved like Alias and X-Files to make it fun and make it accessible.
Video: Why has this show captured people's imaginations? Is there a wish fulfillment aspect to meeting your clone?
How much does your research into genetics and epigenetics inform the plot?
A lot. Without losing the fun of the show and becoming ponderous on the science, we do want the science to be as accurate as possible and then we don't mind taking those leaps of science fiction. But the show has always been set right now and the conspiracy, the paranoia, comes from that: What's going on just behind the lab door? What don't we know? Do you think someone's attempted to clone a human before? I do.
You dropped some major bombshells on us at the end of the first season. Does this mean we're going to delve more into Dyad?
We are. You don't snub Rachel. Suffice to say, Sarah and Rachel, they'll come to terms. We're really interested in exploring that character, that really powerful, corporate-driven character. And as we sort of hinted in the first season, she's a child of Neolution. Within the clone pantheon now, we're starting a class structure, which I find really interesting.
What do you mean by a class structure?
She's quite elite, Rachel. I think she's been raised that way.
So she feels that she's better than the other clones?
Well, obviously not biologically, but yes, very much in a sort of class way, because she's been self-aware for always. So she's like, "Oh, you little children."
Does she see what she might consider the more positive aspects of Neolution?
Yes, she does, but unlike Leekie—although Leekie is ruthless, he's a bit of an idealist. And Rachel is far more on the corporate/big science side of things, whereas Leekie has a philosophy and is a believer. We can just say that the conspiracy extends far beyond Dr. Leekie.
So Leekie is as minor a player as he claims to be?
Well, he certainly won't be minor in Season Two. We love Matt Frewer. He's a good villain, but one of the things I'm interested in is, in all these characters, he's not just a villain. Despite all the ethical problems with this vast sociological experiment that they're performing, he is an idealist, and he does believe that he has their best interests at heart and the interests of human evolution at heart, which is a very egomaniacal thing. But I think that's interesting.
That's what I loved about Helena in the first season. Despite being a killer, she seemed so innocent and child-like. I just wanted to hug her.
That was always our idea, was to create this terrifying villain, and then make her sympathetic slowly. I mean, Tatiana [Maslany] did such a wonderful job with her character, and it was Tatiana who—we knew where we were going with the characters, and we knew we wanted her to be sympathetic as we moved on. But it was Tatiana who, in discussing the character with the writers one day, said that what she was doing—and this is maybe just after we introduced the character. She said that Helena proceeds from a place of love, not from hate. And there was a lightbulb for all of us, we were like, "Oh yeah!" So she loves Sarah. She doesn't know why and she doesn't know how to love. She just feels this bond, like when that crazy person looks you in the eye and say they LOVE you. Love that Helena. Rest in peace.
So is Rachel someone who is very upfront in her dealings, or does she have her own secrets?
With Rachel, we're really interested in the character, and we have a very interesting backstory for Rachel that we will be exploring. Peeling back the layers of Rachel and having her and Sarah in opposition is going to be a strong thread.
Video: Does each clone have her own theme music?
I've been wondering if Orphan Black isn't somehow a sleeper superhero show. After all, we've seen some amazing things from Helena, and Kira somehow survived her horrifying impact with that car. And Kira's amazingly intuitive, especially when it comes to the clones.
I think superhero sleeper might be a little too far. We want to keep the science on the believable side. There's science and then there's the human side. Actually, the human side, it's the intuitive side that's really quite interesting. Kira is very intuitive, very preternaturally wise. Is that her genetics? Is that epigenetics? Is that just a human element, that X-factor that's the human mystery? So those are interesting things. And the fact that Sarah and Helena are twin sisters and that they have this mental connection, and that Kira is Sarah's child, what did they each end up with? What didn't they end up with? They're really interesting things to explore and I think it's sort of based in genetics, based in biology.
And what about Art and Angie? If they find out the truth, will they continue to work within the law enforcement system?
Art came four seconds from being told the truth, and we are keeping Art and Deangelis alive. Art's a smart cop who hates a mystery. It won't stay a mystery to Art forever. And Kevin Hanchard's a really wonderful actor; we haven't quite got enough out of him and Inga Cadranel. They're both really good. So we'd like to challenge them a little more, see them outside those traditional cop roles.
Until she learned about the IP claim in her genetic code, Cosima was playing with the idea of working for Dyad. Now she has her own problem, and the solution to it may be in Dyad. Is that going to be a major issue for Cosima?
Definitely. She's sick. There seem to be some respiratory problems. She's a really brave character, and while she's sick she's definitely going to delve into her own science and her own health and biology. And in doing that, she's doing that for all her sisters. I love Cosima. I love that character. It was very hard to make her sick.
And Alison went to a very dark place this season.
Alison went to a very dark place, was hilarious in doing so. We always knew that character was going to go somewhere dark, because we've always said that she's the most conservative and is a control freak. She is the least prepared to have her self-perception turned inside out. So it's a lot of fun to watch Alison struggle to hang on to her fingernails.
She's surprisingly resourceful, though.
Surprisingly resourceful and a little bit crazy. I think if there is a biological arc—one of the real nature qualities that they all share is bravery, determination, and rash behavior.
And a desire to be loved.
That's true. That's true. And the capacity to give love. It's very human. Although perhaps not Rachel, or maybe that's her problem.
I do love Alison, though. I never imagined that someone would turn their craft room into a torture dungeon.
Alison is really John Fawcett's favorite clone. He loves the suburbs. He loves that dark suburb. Well, he grew up with them, the suburbs of Calgary, so he knows it well. But poor thing, we're awfully mean to her. And we've had some of our executives say that we're being too mean to Alison. We're always like, "You can't be too kind to Alison."
And Felix proves to be the stabilizing force in all of that.
Don't you love that? You know, the chemistry with Tat and Jordan, we loved that it transferred to Alison and Felix. Sarah and Felix, it's the strongest bond on the show. It's their heart. Anyone with siblings can recognize that, that, "I'm the oldest." Tat's an oldest as well. The fact that they extended that chemistry to Alison and Felix, we always wanted to pair with them, and we liked the idea that Felix, as an orphan himself, discovers more family. And it's nice to see a guy who can be very haughty and judgmental and superior, to show his soft side and really become a rock to these girls, but also find fulfillment in that. So we're interested in having Felix hang out with Cosima a little more this.
Video: What will Felix's interactions with Cosima be like?
Video: Will Felix interact with Rachel?
Will Vic be losing more body parts?
I don't know if he's going to lose more body parts, but you know, Michael Mando is a really good actor. We hoped we would find someone who could do that, who could bring that sympathy for it, and he was great! It was such a tall order, what we got him to do. "You are the goat." You come storming in, and it's a character that the audience isn't going to like, but then he became likable. I love the tough guy who just bursts into tears. And he's so driven by love! It's awesome.
So, Mando is coming back. And we will definitely be exploring him. The last time we saw Vic was in rehab, so it may not be exactly the same Vic we meet next time.
How soon are we going to learn about Siobhan (Mrs. S.) and where she stands in all of this?
We love Maria Doyle Kennedy, and her character is a sleeper, was sleeping through the first season. So it's safe to say that she has a lot of secrets, and it won't be long before we start to peel back a few of those secrets.
Now that we're delving into Dyad, will we be meeting other clones within Dyad?
I wouldn't say necessarily in Dyad, and we really don't introduce new clones lightly, but we are a clone show. We would like to meet another clone this season, but like I said, we don't create them or kill them lightly, because they are characters in a character drama. They've got to play into the whole. They've got to be really interesting. We develop characters now with Tatiana. So I'm sure we'll be meeting another clone this season. Where they are in the scheme of things, you'd better wait and see.
All videos by Charlie Jane Anders.