A Chat with ‘Orphan Black’ Creators Graeme Manson & John Fawcett about Saturday’s Game-Changing Episode
[Photo by Nadia Chaudhury]
Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the most recent episode of Orphan Black. You’ve been warned!
At the 3rd annual Austin Television Festival this past weekend, Orphan Black creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett screened that night’s episode, which saw the introduction of a new clone, as well as hosted a post-screening Q&A. Among things that were brought up included:
-Manson said that Helena proceeded from a place of love, but she doesn’t know how to love.
-Tatiana Maslany (the clones, this time as Tony) and Jordan Gavaris (Felix) were dying to kiss.
-Fawcett jokingly suggested that Donnie be the one to kill Dr. Aldous Leekie, and then they went about every possible way to get rid of them, and then settled back on Donnie. That scene was a Pulp Fiction homage.
-They’re currently writing Season 3.
-Alison is the easiest clone to write for.
-The show has a science consultant, Cosima Herter (the clone is named after her). Herter went to a science conference where there were two academic papers based on the show.
-The duo came up with the idea of the show with the very first scene on the subway platform, but they didn’t know it would be clones at that point.
-Fawcett’s favorite clone is Alison, because she’s based on his sister. Manson’s favorite is Cosima, because he likes “her vibe and her mind,” and her hippie/geeky persona. His second favorite is Sarah because of her attitude.
Then, I spoke to Manson and Fawcett about the development of a trans clone, Tatiana’s acting approach, the difficulties of filming clones, and more.
Why did you decide to bring Tony into the show?
Graeme Manson: We knew we wanted a new clone to come in. We already had a new clone for season 2, because we introduced Rachel at the end of the first season. Rachel’s big in this story. She occupies a lot of space. We still wanted to bring in someone else.
In a show about identity, it occurred to John and I and to the writers’ room that a trans clone was very interesting person to explore and very tied to the themes of our show about identity. At the end of the first season, we approached Tat [Tatiana Maslany] with the idea and she literally said, ‘We’re thinking about the same thing.’ Her and her hair and makeup team come up with this very idea. We’d go out to the parking lot and there would be the latest version of tony leaning on a truck, giving us the [he nods his chin up] ”Sup?’
How long did it take to refine Tony? Did it take longer than the other clones?
John Fawcett: It did. It probably took the longest of any of them. We experimented with a lot of different looks and wardrobe.
Manson: And Tat did a lot of research.
Fawcett: We photographed every stage of the hair and makeup and tried to settle on something we’re all happy with. It was totally top secret, even the crew didn’t know what we were doing until we literally had to distribute scripts because we had to shoot the episode.
Manson: We had a conference call with GLAAD actually to just say, ‘This is what we’re doing and we don’t want to fuck it up,’ which was great. Tat was on that call.
It’s an especially timely plot during this time where everyone is questioning equality, transgender politics, and what defines a person.
Manson: Laverne Cox is on the cover of Time.
Fawcett: It blew me away, that cover of Time and just knowing what our episode was this week. It was gratifying to see that we were creating something that was on peoples’ minds already.
Manson: And hopefully contribute to the conversation, and help the struggle for equality.
Do you approach directing Maslany differently depending on which clone she is playing at that very moment?
Fawcett: You have to, because she’s always in character, always. When the cameras aren’t rolling, if it’s Alison, you’re talking to Alison. If it’s Rachel, you’re talking to Rachel. It’s a very different energy that she comes to set with depending on the character. Cosima’s probably the most fun to direct. [Manson laughs.] She is, ‘cause she’s bouncy and talks with her arms.
Manson: And then if it’s Rachel, John’s like, ‘Hey I’ve got one, umm, no, maybe not.’
Fawcett: Back in season 1, everyone was afraid to talk to her when she was playing Helena. They’d just leave her and she’d be in a chair [mimicking Helena] talking with her ukrainian accent…
Manson: …Standing, watching the monitor, and everyone stayed back because she’s looking at the monitor like she’s never seen one before. [Both laugh.]
Fawcett: Directing her, it just makes my job so much easier in a lot of ways, and harder in a lot of ways. As a director you want prep, you want to know what you’re doing, you want to get there and you want to keep everything moving because you’re on a clock. So you want to have a plan. But the way that I work with Tat and Jordan on the floor, is really: You go with a plan, you block it, they bring elements, we collaborate. Then, a lot of the time, the plan changes, or you just working in the moment. I think that that’s how we manage to capture so much of this feeling of spontaneity, and this feeling that things are occurring right now and it’s all very fresh and alive.
What’s great about Tat and Jordan is that you just don’t know what they’re going to do. There’s something really thrilling and exciting in that. I say to directors when they come in, ‘Don’t direct them too much at the beginning. Let them do some things, and then start to see what they’re doing and contribute to that.’ If they’re kind of in a wrong direction, we can nudge them back in the right way.
That actually leads into my next question. I know Maslany has an improv background and I was going to ask if you utilized it.
Fawcett: So is Jordan. The line at the end of episode 8 is a Tatiana-improvised one, ‘The one with the soccer ball looks like a bit of a douche.’ We laughed and laughed so hard when she came up with that in the blocking.
What has been the most difficult scene to shoot?
Fawcett: They’re all very challenging, certainly from a technical point of view. That has its own level of challenge for me. And then, for her, it’s trying to still keep the characters alive and feeling spontaneous under this very rigorous technical process that we’re putting her through, acting to tennis balls and eyelines when there’s no one else in the room. You’re just hearing the voice in your ear. The more clones you put in one scene, the more complicated it gets, and then add another living person in there.
Sometimes it can be a real headscratcher, and I don’t know if there’s one specific scene for me as a director. I suppose anytime we did scenes with the three girls. Like at the end of the episode 10 in season 1, there was a big long one-r where we poured some wine, Sarah got up and answered the door, Cosima was there, and they moved around each other and then hugged, super complicated. And then, in season 2, we did another complicated scene where Sarah pulls the gun out of the flower pot, and Felix is standing there with a computer monitor that’s got Alison on Skype and it’s kind of a threeway clone scene even though Alison’s not in the room. Any of those, they’re really fun, but they’re challenging and time consuming.
Manson: Other directors will come in and they get their scene and they want to do something cool and one-up it a little bit. In episode 7, Ken Girotti put two clones together and a mirror in the background. I’m sure John was like, ‘Ahh, why didn’t I think of that?’
Fawcett: [Girotti] kept saying, ‘I was the first one to put four clones in one scene.’ No, no you’re not. He did do a great job. It’s nice to have a healthy level of competition amongst the the directors, that’s for sure. We’re like that also. ‘Okay, what haven’t we done? What will be the next cool thing for the audiences to see? How can we make this even more of a mindfuck?’
Is there a master storyboard anywhere of all the different timelines, histories, and plots anywhere?
Manson: It’s in our minds mostly, and in the writers’ room. There are writers with different areas of expertise. ‘What was that again, Chris?’ and someone has that area carved out.
What do you mean by areas?
Manson: ‘Here’s the science part of the mystery. What’s the science part again?’ ‘Okay, delineate it down.’ ‘This is where we’re at with the science…’ Someone else has more Dyad canon. There isn’t really a master mythology document.
Fawcett: Ultimately, we know where we’re going, which is important. Because it’s so intricate, you have to really know where you’re going to be able to tell this kind of mystery. But no, there isn’t one big giant thing that’s on this wall. That’d be cool, that’d be a good bit of wall art.
Manson: It’d just take too long.
Fawcett: What if it fell into the wrong hands?
Manson: Nadia snapped a picture of it.
Nadia Chaudhury’s favorite clone is Sarah, because she kicks butt.