inquiring minds

The Orphan Black Showrunners Answer Vulture Readers’ Burning Questions

Photo: BBC

Earlier this week, Vulture asked readers to come up with questions for Orphan Black showrunners Graeme Manson and John Fawcett. And you did! They didn’t answer every question, of course — especially ones that would spoil season-two plot points — but they did respond to several frank inquiries. It goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t watched the entirety of Ophan Black’s first season. Read on to find out about Cosima’s sexuality, the tricky wine-pour scene, and when they came up with the idea to give someone a tail.

First, there were several questions about two topics. Here’s what they had to say about:

the death of Helena.
Fawcett: It was a very difficult choice to kill her, but in season one we were building to that. We loved her. We always knew she was Sarah’s twin, and we loved the idea that she’d start as a serial-killer assassin, someone you were afraid of, and then we were gonna try and twist things and make her sympathetic. That was a challenge. Tatiana killed it. She really brought that to life and really made that work in such a deep and complex way. That’s why I see these questions about Helena and it’s so gratifying to hear. It was a lot of work.

… and Cosima’s sexuality being different from that of the other clones.
Manson: Delphine, a conflicted straight girl, gives our thesis on sexuality in episode eight, when she says “… as a scientist I know that sexuality is a spectrum, but social biases codify sexual attraction, contrary to the biological facts.” So, yes, the biological facts: People are definitely “born this way.” That’s the nature side, whether it’s genetic, or epigenetic, or whether womb chemistry plays a part. As each of our clones were carried by different surrogates, that could explain differences in sexuality. But who wants to run around blaming mothers and their hormone levels for the sexuality of their children? Haven’t we had enough of that, since, like, forever? Maybe it was the lipstick in Daddy’s glove box? Or Great Uncle Arthur’s? Okay, then how about the nurture side of things? Cosima grew up in the Bay Area, in a permissive community and a progressive home fostering intellectual and social tolerance. She learned to approach sexuality without shame, with curiosity. I think Cosima’s been “bisexual” (if you had to codify it), but maybe she’s ready to self-identify as gay. She would defend her freedom to choose, no matter where nature placed her in the spectrum. And Delphine too makes a choice to follow her heart for an individual, even though she’s always been “straight.” Awwwww … isn’t that sweet, shippers? So, sexuality is a spectrum of many factors, and even though we’re a show about clones, we celebrate individuality and the crazy contingencies of nature. And just to keep it all in perspective (season-two spoiler!), Cosima will remind us at some point next year: “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me.” Okay? There, jeez, keep it in your pants (or your lab coat)!

The best of the rest:

How much of the story’s arc and overall mythology is planned out versus made up as you go along? Do you have an endgame planned? —WING_GUTS
Manson: We had such a long development period with Orphan Black. John and I were working on it together — our concept of clones and the depth of what the conspiracy might be and the Zeitgeist issues of the day around cloning and genetics — so we have a really good idea of our long game. The trick is, of course, you don’t know how many seasons you’re going to run. So we have an end point in mind, but we have to be flexible enough to have that end point stretch out further ahead of us and come up with more twists in the middle. We had a very good idea of what the season-two arc would be and what our goal was for season three. If we get to season three, that’s when we go, “okay, that end game we had in mind — do we push it further down the road, or do we gobble it up now and come up with something else?”

I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that Tatiana Maslany is a revelation. I’d love to know a little bit about the casting and audition process. Was there concern in the script phase that this might be too much for the actor? How early in the process did you zero in on Ms. Maslany? —AARON.S.HOLBRITTER
Fawcett: The casting process was lengthy, because Graeme and I knew the show we were so excited about was also very daunting — whether it was going to work or not rested on the casting. We spent a lot of time looking, and I think we saw Tatiana early on in the process, but we continued to look. It was complicated, because we were trying to find someone who could not only play Sarah but all of the characters. So the actors would come in and read all five characters. We’d see a lot of talented girls, but ultimately there’d be something like, Well, I didn’t buy their British accent or I didn’t like their version of Alison or They’ve got a strong Sarah, a strong Cosima, but I didn’t buy her as Beth. In the end, it was an excruciating process, but Tatiana came out head and shoulders above everyone else.
Manson: We also brought in a few different Felixes to read with a few different Sarahs, and Jordan and Tatiana’s chemistry read really knocked it out of the park.

Any idea how many new clones we will see in season two apart from more of the deliciously evil Rachel? —DEARDARKNESS
Manson: We can say we’re definitely looking forward to more of the deliciously evil Rachel. Sarah’s definitely got her in her sights. We are also interested in developing a new character. We don’t introduce new clones lightly. It’s a big decision for us, because it’s a character-driven drama. We don’t want these clones to be cannon fodder. Now when we get these ideas for characters, John and I go to Tatiana and we start discussing early about what that could be and get each other inspired.
Fawcett: It’s fair to say there are more clones out there. We don’t know how many, but it’s very likely that we’ll meet a few more of them along the way.

So I was wondering how the clone scene in episode ten was shot, because Alison being able to pour wine in Cosima’s glass was awesome to see. Even though it was a small detail, it must have been really technical. —DABORGH
Manson: That’s a really good question, because I wrote episode ten and John directed it. We had done another three-way clone scene and John didn’t direct it, so John really wanted to do something cool in that one. It was his idea to pour the wine. 
Fawcett: In terms of designing it, Graeme and I knew we were going to have a big three-way in the final episode, and we were like, it’s gotta be great. It’s gotta be something where you completely buy it, it can’t feel artificial or that we’re flaunting the fact that we’re doing a three-way. It should feel organic. We’re basically using a piece of equipment called a techno-dolly. It’s a camera system that will exactly replicate the same movement over and over and over again. So you build the shot in layers. You’re asking your actors mostly to perform her actions using eye lines and an earpiece where she can hear what’s been recorded prior. It’s very technical and complicated, and it requires a lot of patience and time. Between building these layers, Tatiana’s got to go off for an hour, an hour and a half and change. You just shoot it a bunch. I’m so glad the fans noticed! I saw the finished product and thought, My mom won’t even notice.

How did Kira know Alison wasn’t her mother and that Helena was much more like Sarah? Will this be addressed in season two, along with Kira’s amazing healing abilities? —MOECOCO
Fawcett: The way we wanted to paint Kira was as a very smart, gifted, intuitive child. She’s not like normal girls. You don’t see her smile too often. I wanted her to seem like she was different, smarter than kids her age, more open to concepts and ideas, able to see beyond the stories that adults tell kids. She is like a young adult in some ways. The thing I was most worried about in episode four when Alison shows up looking like Sarah is, are we going to be able to fool Mrs. S? She gets through without a problem, but Kira figures it out after two sentences. 
Manson: Obviously Kira is extremely important moving forward and we will be looking at the mystery of her in season two. But Sarah is driving that investigation and the audience isn’t going to learn anything faster than Sarah does. She’ll be pursuing that and the mystery of her own biology.

One of the interesting traits of the show is how, rather than questioning things, the characters simply take what happens and react. For instance, after Cosima brings up the idea that there are people in the lives of each of the clones watching them (the monitors), the characters don’t question the paranoia of such a suggestion; they simply accept that they have monitors and that these monitors are someone close to them. From that point forward, we see characters like Alison reacting to this without any question. How does this reflect the process in the writing room? When someone brings up an outlandish suggestion like “Oh, what if this character has a tail?” do you simply take that and run with it? —NYMUSIX
Manson: John, whose idea was the tail? Was it mine?
Fawcett: [Laughs.] It was your idea, yeah. It was an idea from a long, long time ago. It was something you talked about back in 2004.
Manson: We have ideas like that. They sort of become, “Okay, that’s what’s going to happen” and you work toward it. And then sometimes you’re surprised when you get there and you’re actually doing it [laughs]. I think that was maybe how we felt about the tail. Sometimes it’s a story solution. In regards to the first part of the question, about how they accept things and move along, that’s really about the writers learning to ask the right questions in order to steer the characters into a mystery.

Does Delphine’s degree in immunology play any role next season in trying to find a cure for Cosima? —CUDDLEFUDDLE
Fawcett: It’s certainly advantageous, don’t you think?
Manson: We can say that when we introduced the character of Delphine, and we said in that first script that she studies parasite relationships, we thought it sounded pretty cool in relationship to monitors, etc. But I don’t think we really unpacked it. We just knew it was rich and it was something we could use. Now that Cosima is sick, I definitely think Delphine will be using her talents to help.

There’s a definite vein of clone-spiracy-type storytelling in the style of Brave New World, Battlestar Galactica, and Dark Angel. Have you guys developed a mythos along those lines for the series? Is someone trying to create an immortal savior to guide humanity into the future? Or [are the clones] the beginning of the end of our individuality and the start of our artificially pre-destined service to a dystopic corporatocracy? I NEED TO KNOW. PHANTOMSPACECOP
Fawcett: If we really decided to have a detailed conversation about the point of the clones here, we would be giving away a lot of the series secrets that I don’t think we want to do at the moment. Our show is very much a mystery.
Manson: We are huge fans of Battlestar and Dark Angel and other series that do have ongoing, overarching mythic conspiracies. So whenever we look at what we’re going to do, we look at all of those ideas of dystopian futures and make story decisions on how much to explore each one of them. Without giving it away, what we’re saying is we consider all those possibilities going forward.

Your Orphan Black Questions Answered