Krysten Ritter Talks Stepping Into the World of Orphan Black with Spinoff Orphan Black: Echoes

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Krysten Ritter Talks Stepping Into the World of Orphan Black with Spinoff Orphan Black: Echoes

Orphan Black is one of the most singular television series of the 2010s, an addictive conspiracy thriller that wrestled with scientific ethics and human cloning as easily as it told a remarkably heartfelt story about sisterhood and found family. Its widespread critical acclaim and awards season buzz probably always meant we’d return to this universe someday, though the arrival of Orphan Black: Echoes seven years after the original concluded is a longer gap than most of us likely anticipated. More of a sequel series than a straight spinoff, it’s a drama that explores familiar themes, even as it uses them to ask more uncomfortable, even controversial questions about the limits of “crazy science.”

​​Set several decades after the events of the original Orphan Black, this latest series follows Lucy (Kristen Ritter), a woman who suddenly wakes up unable to remember who she is. But after stumbling upon a foreboding vat of electric pink goo, she learns she was printed out in a high-tech lab. Not a clone, per se, but an artificial copy of a specific person at a particular point in their life.  After breaking out of the facility in which she’s being held, Lucy manages to build a new life for herself in an off-the-grid rural community, but when her past comes back to haunt her—in the form of an attack from an unidentified thug—she sets off on a journey to find out who she is, where she came from, and who made her the way she is. Sound familiar?

But just because Echoes is set in the same universe as Orphan Black, it doesn’t mean that the show is interested in telling the same story as its predecessor. 

“It’s totally different from the original,” Ritter tells Paste. “We have some Easter eggs and fun little hidden things in there and some obvious things—a man character, who’s revealed at the end of Episode 1—that are connected to [Orphan Black] but this is a completely new show.” 

Some of Echoes’ central elements will certainly feel familiar to fans of Orphan Black, particualrly Keeley Hawes’ Kira Manning, whose emotional arc is the central narrative linchpin around which much of the series turns. But where the original series was predominantly Sarah Manning’s story and relied almost solely on star Tatiana Maslany’s Emmy-winning central performance as more than a dozen different clones, Orphan Black: Echoes follows a half-dozen central characters across multiple timelines and different kinds of relationships, from romantic entanglements to familial bonds. 

“There’s a new set of circumstances, different technology, and different characters,” Ritter continues. “And the structure of the show is completely different—I’m not playing eight versions of myself, for one thing. But I appreciated how much my character still got to do.” 

Ritter’s not wrong. From the emotional shock of realizing she’s not exactly human to more action-oriented chase and fight sequences and thought-provoking debates about memory and agency, Lucy goes through it during the season’s 10 episodes. 

“From the start, Lucy is a blank slate,” Ritter says. “She’s an experiment gone wrong, and her whole journey is a study of identity. Why was she printed, and who was this other person that she’s supposed to feel like, supposed to have these memories of, but doesn’t.”

One of the central questions posed by Echoes revolves around the question of memory—the loss of them, the fight to keep them, and how much of who we are is defined by the things we remember. And Lucy, who doesn’t know anything about the person she used to be, is determined to choose who she wants to become. 

“She’s really rebelling against the idea of who she’s supposed to be, who she’s been programmed to be, and creating her own life for herself instead,” Ritter says. “And that makes her a bit of a live wire. She has a lot going on she’s jugging and balancing: finding out why people are after her, figuring out who she is, and how best to protect the family that she’s created.”

In the years since her initial escape, Lucy has built a genuine life for herself, falling in love with former Army medic-turned-landlord Jack (Avan Jogia) and essentially adopting his deaf daughter Charlie (Zariella Langford) as her own. 

“The relationship between Charlie and Lucy was something that immediately stood out to me when I read the pilot originally and something I really responded to,” Ritter says. “Zariella, this is her first acting job, and she gave such a beautiful performance that was so easy to love and to respond to. And I’m a mom now, so I appreciated that I got to play that color because I haven’t had the chance to do that before.”

Playing a mom wasn’t Ritter’s only first in this role. The actress also learned American Sign Language to play Lucy, and is quite rightly proud of the authenticity and important representation it adds to the show. 

“That was an exciting opportunity for me and I took it very seriously,” Ritter says. “It really widened my perspective—and it was very humbling because, honestly, we should all be learning ASL! But everybody was so generous. I tried so hard because, when you’re taking on something like that, you really want to get good at it. You want to do it right. And while I had a lot of eyes on me, I also had a lot of helpful people around me—teachers, coaches, and translators. It was very special.”

One of the things that sets Orphan Black: Echoes apart from its predecessor is that, rather than feature multiple identical versions of the same character, we meet different printouts at different stages of their lives. One of those printouts is Jules (Amanda Fix), a bitchy, snarky teen who both makes Lucy’s life hell and rapidly becomes one of the most important people in it. The warm, occasionally combative vibe between the two ultimately settles somewhere between sisterly and parental, and the pair get some of the best—and genuinely funniest—dialogue in the series. 

 “I’m obsessed with her,” Ritter says of Fix. “One of my absolute favorite things was working with Amanda. I had an immediate connection with her. She’s so great and so smart and confident. And it was exciting for me just to be able to sit back and watch her because I see a lot of myself in her. And she would just have great ideas—was really encouraged to have great ideas on set, and I felt moved by that and how different that experience was from when I first started acting. So that relationship, that bond, it was very easy to build, lots of big sister-little sister energy about it.”

At the pair’s chemistry read, Fix showed up wearing a black wig, aiming to highlight how similar the two women were and how naturally they might fit together onscreen.

“She has kind of a physical resemblance to me already… that is a really f—king ballsy move and something I would have done,” Ritter enthuses. “And I liked that. It excited me about her and about working with her. I started acting when I was 23 and I was in heels and they were probably trying to give me a spray tan and short skirts and all of that. That’s how it was when you were on a show back then, what girls were wearing. And to get to see Amanda come up in a different world where she’s in baggy jeans (and a wig) and she’s just looking like Billie Eilish is super cool. I’m very excited to see where her career goes.”

The relationships that form between these women from different generations—yes, this also includes Keeley Hawes’s character and several others we just can’t go into details about just yet—give Echoes a very different vibe from its predecessor. Rather than focus solely on the mystery surrounding one woman, each of these characters is challenged morally, forced to make difficult choices about the kind of people they want to be and what they’re willing to sacrifice to do so. 

But as Orphan Black: Echoes wrestles with all-too-familiar questions of nature, nurture, and whether we’re predestined to be the people we eventually become, don’t assume you know all the answers just because you watched its predecessor. 

“This is a very different show that’s definitely its own thing,” Ritter says. “There’s something for the original fans but absolutely something for new viewers. I really just hope people enjoy the ride.”

Orphan Black: Echoes airs Sundays on AMC, streaming on AMC+. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV

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