10 Things We Learned About Orphan Black at PaleyFest 2017Imeh Bryant for the Paley Center TV Lists Orphan Black
Orphan Black wrapped its fifth and final season on Wednesday in Toronto, and by Thursday afternoon, the cast and creators were in front of an adoring audience at PaleyFest 2017 in Hollywood. BBC America’s sci-fi hit has been lauded for its diversity as well as for its thrilling adventures, featuring Emmy winner Tatiana Maslany’s Sarah Manning and her clone “sestras.”
Paste had the chance to interview some of the cast backstage, while Michael Schneider, of IndieWire and Variety, moderated the discussion onstage—asking the panelists to reflect on the impact of their series, their favorite moments and even their favorite clone.
Lately, Orphan Black is all about Rachel, Rachel, Rachel…
That trend will continue in Season Five, and Tatiana Maslany is just fine with playing baddie clone Rachel. “I feel like Rachel’s had one of the biggest arcs in terms of characters for the clones,” Maslany told the PaleyFest audience. “She’s had a lot of things happen to her that changed her power entirely, so seeing her clamber back into that power was really interesting to me.”
Of course, the panel was stingy with Season Five morsels.
The creators and cast were tight-lipped about the upcoming season, but they dropped a few hints during the panel. “There’s a lot of character-specific episodes where we really get to dig into who they [the clones] are,” Maslany said.
Series creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson were asked about P.T. Westmoreland, leader of the Neolution, who’s apparently nearly 200 years old and still around. “Well, I guess John and I knew for a long time that in this feminist show, there would be a man at the top,” Manson cracked, before getting serious. “The science we looked into this year was a lot of prolongevity.” And the elements of The Island of Dr. Moreau in Orphan Black aren’t coincidental.
Everyone picks their favorite clone(s)…
Schneider asked each of the panelists to name their favorite clone. Here’s the rundown:
Fawcett: “Alison kind of started as my favorite clone… It’s changed a little bit. But I have to say I’ve kind of switched. My favorite clone is Rachel.”
Manson: “Well, I was always team Cosima, but as we wind to a close, I throw my chips on my nemesis Sarah’s side. She’s the hardest one to write. She’s the spine of the show.”
Kevin Hanchard (Art): “I still have a soft spot in my heart for Katja Obinger… Her flame was snuffed out way too soon.”
Kristian Bruun (Donnie): [In Helena’s accent] “You threaten babies?”
Jordan Gavaris (Felix): [in a Valley Girl voice] “Crystal.”
Maslany: “It’s really hard to say goodbye to Alison because I will never get to play that character ever again, and she was really hard for me. And Rachel, too, and Helena…”
Kathryn Alexandre (Acting double): “MK.”
Maria Doyle Kennedy (Mrs. S): “I’m going to miss my fake child, Sarah.”
Evelyne Brochu (Delphine): “I’m not saying it because I have to, [Cosima’s] my buddy.”
Ari Millen (Castor clones): “To my dying day, Helena.”
Josh Vokey (Scott): “My sister from another mister, Cosima.”
Tatiana Maslany discussed how she plays clones impersonating clones.
An audience member asked Maslany about the difficulty of playing a clone masquerading as another “sestra.” “It’s always starting with the character who I actually am,” Maslany said. “So, if it’s Sarah playing Alison, it’s always staying in character as Sarah… and then when we actually roll, just going with the idea that Sarah would have about Alison, so all of her biases about Alison, all of her judgments about Alison… that kind of approach. So it is like this thing on top of the true character. It’s so embarrassing to do. It’s always the biggest mindfuck on the planet.”
Donnie Hendrix provided five seasons of comic relief.
Donnie Hendrix, Alison’s husband, has often served as the comic fodder for the show, but once in a while, Donnie had to be the heavy—killing Dr. Leekie, fighting with drug dealers and telling cops and snitches to stop tailing his wife. Bruun relished that range between comedy and drama. “It was so nice that they gave me the opportunity to play heavier moments and more dramatic moments. That’s a dream that I got to mix up, doing some comedic relief on the show, because the show needs it. It’s quite heavy and it’s a thriller. You need those breaks and you need to laugh once in awhile.”
“I have a dark sense of humor, but I also love to undercut the seriousness of situations with humor, both in my real life and also as a character, so that’s something that I’d love to keep doing, if I’m lucky.“
Delphine and Cosmina are the romantic heart and soul of the show.
Brochu was definitely a fan favorite at Thursday’s panel. For much of Season Four, fans were kept wondering if her character were dead or alive. Brochu herself wasn’t sure: She recounted that on her last day of Season Three, Manson cryptically said, with a wink, “I’ll see you soon.” She wasn’t sure what he meant, but when she got the call later, she was glad to not have to lie for too long to friends and fans (who are totally shipping #Cofine).
“[Their] main romantic focus is that it’s two girls in love with each other, and their main problem is that it’s not two girls. I think that’s super liberating and fantastic,” Brochu said. Their relationship, she added, encouraged some fans to come out to their friends and families. “When fiction inspires reality to be more than what it should be, then there’s so much pride. It’s been one of the important—if not the most important—character that I’ve gotten a chance to play.”
Manson added, “I think there’s actually a lot of love stories on Orphan Black, but they’re mostly familial. And this was certainly the most romantic… it speaks to the heart of the show. It’s a clone show that is about diversity… but at the heart of it, it should have the same weight as any other straight relationship.”
Josh Vokey’s one day as Scott stretched into five seasons.
Vokey, who plays Cosima’s friend and fellow researcher Scott, was originally slated as a day player on Orphan Black. “I was supposed to be here for one day, five years ago. My very first scene, the ‘You can have sex with yourself’ scene, was the only day I was ever supposed to work,” he told Paste backstage. “From there I did another day, and then another day.” In Season Two, Fawcett pulled Vokey aside and told him that he had a lot of ideas for Scott, completing the work triangle of Cosima and Delphine. It was a gentlemen’s agreement that Vokey would keep working. “I shook his hand. There was no contract, no nothing.”
As an aside, in real life, Vokey looks and acts nothing like his nebbish character. No weird haircuts and nerd glasses here, though Vokey said that playing Scott was freeing for him: “I can take all the insecurity I have in myself and all the social anxiety and let it go and let it be free, and that’s been a crazy experience.”
The Mrs. S character was based on a badass woman.
Kennedy, who plays Sarah and Felix’s foster mother, Mrs. S, revealed to us backstage the woman behind her character. She said Manson developed Mrs. S as “not all one thing or all the other. That’s how people are, we’re complex, even contradictory… and then he told me the inspiration for S’s character was Patti Smith, so once he told me that, I was sold.”
What’s it like being Tatiana Maslany’s acting double(s)?
Every time Maslany played more than one role in a scene, Alexandre, her acting double, joined her. Alexandre dressed in the wardrobe and wig, acting the same parts with the needed accents and dialects opposite Maslany. “So I play one of her characters and she plays the other. Then we film it all like that and then we flip, and I play the character she just played and she plays the other. So it’s a really technical, unique experience,” she explained to us on the red carpet. Sometimes, viewers see Alexandre’s full body (but never her face), “and basically they’ll put Tatiana over me in the final edit and they’ll paste the two together.”
What was it like on set filming the series finale?
“We wrapped at 4:30 a.m. yesterday [Wednesday],” Bruun said. “We stuck around [giving speeches], crying, all that stuff, until 5:30 and maybe got an hour of sleep. We then got picked up and were taken to the airport. And we’ve been zombies ever since.”
Kennedy was a little more circumspect about wrapping the series. She revealed that the cast who were still in Toronto, but not involved in the last scene, somehow made their way to set at that ungodly hour on Wednesday so they could all hang around together one more time. “Kevin Hanchard made the most beautiful speech,” Kennedy said. “I made everybody sing. It was really very, very emotional.”
“We’re so bonded. It’s unusual anyway in our world anyway to do something for five years, but it’s extremely unusual to do it with a group of people who like each other so much,” she added. “I call Jordan and Tat my fake children, but I don’t feel like I’m losing them now. I think we will certainly see each other and keep in touch.”
Orphan Black returns for its fifth and final season on June 10 at 10 p.m. on BBC America.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.