Interview: ORPHAN BLACK's Ari Millen Talks New Clones And Surprises For Season 3
When Ari Millen started out on Orphan Black in the second season, he was most definitely in the background as supporting character Mark. There's no doubt he had a confident and attention-grabbing screen presence, but there was still little to suggest he'd be involved in one of the most important twists on the show so far, as his one character became many with the revelation of a line of male clones in the Season 2 finale.
His character was originally meant to die a few episodes into his arc, and it's no understatement to suggest that Ari essentially worked himself into the role by bringing so much more to Mark than was on the page. Now, though, he's got a big task ahead, continuing to play Mark, while adding three new characters, in the new season.
Navigating the time difference between London and Toronto, I caught up with Ari in January, when he was about two thirds of the way through filming Orphan Black Season 3 - to talk his career so far, what's on the horizon and to learn a few tidbits about the upcoming season of Orphan Black and his role in what's next for the Clone Club and its new members.
ScreenAnarchy: You've done a fair bit of work for Foresight Features in Canada, and that has been stuff with a darker edge, more horror fare. What's the appeal of that for you?
They've got their hooks in the genre world. The two main guys who are the writers - John Geddes and Jesse T Cook - they'll write and then they'll direct their own movies so that within the genre they've got their own feel. If you've seen his most recent one, Hellmouth. I mean, I'm still trying to figure out what happened. I know I like it but I don't know why. Basically, it's like Faust meets film noir meets this epic journey... Whereas with Cook, if you see Monster Brawl, it's very comedy-based. You would look at this stuff and it's as low-budget as low-budget can get. But there's a skill to it. They're using the Red digital video camera and they're begging, borrowing and stealing as much as they can. And those movies look like multi-million dollar films but I don't think they made anything for more than $300,000. That was their top budget years ago and now they're making stuff for way less.
Well, I'd be the first to say that a massive budget doesn't necessarily beat practical effects that truly feel like something real. It's a big part of the difference between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films...
Yeah, it's amazing, the difference as far as I'm concerned between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I love The Lord of the Rings, and I was just talking with my fiancé today about how we still haven't seen the last Hobbit and that's just attributed to how disappointed we were with the first two. We would always see that, over Christmas, we'd be first in line at the theatre. And this time around we were saying "we should get around to that, before it's out of the theatre", and a lot of that has to with how much they were saying with The Lord of the Rings. I mean, each orc was created to look different and then in The Hobbit, well the story's way off and, yeah, it's just too much CGI.
And you've got a film coming up too, Hunter's Moon. It's looking fairly mysterious and secretive at this point, although I gather it's about werewolves?
I wasn't sure if I was able to say that... So they're dropping that there's a werewolf? Basically, what I know about the movie, what I can say about it anyway, is that it's like Scooby Doo meets werewolves. I play a character named Remy, who is sort of a PR representative, hand-holding and keeping the reigns on an eccentric billionaire who invented the original [werewolf] card game and has now turned it into an online media experience. He's launching it online, so the movie takes place at the launch party, and all of a sudden people start disappearing and appearing to be killed by a werewolf. And it's about the unravelling of that mystery. Is it a werewolf? Who's the werewolf? It kinda fits the game, so it's like life imitating art. But, it's a really good time. The werewolf is pretty spectacular for sure.
So let's talk about some of your other TV work. You've had appearances on Reign and Nikita, and more recently 12 Monkeys?
I mean, 12 Monkeys, growing up that was one of my favourites. Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, 12 Monkeys, these were all huge movies for us at that age and it was something we watched all the time and had aspirations, in our wildest dreams, to do something like that one day. When the opportunity came, all of a sudden I got to live out that dream and I really hope it does well with fans. [In March, the series was renewed for a second season to air in 2016]
So the supporting roles and the one-off appearances you had in shows like Nikita and Reign, these are now building up into something more substantial?
Thankfully yeah. I guess, if you're lucky that's how it goes. You build yourself up to the bigger roles and then you get to do the exciting stuff, and with Orphan Black they took the leap of faith with me and it's the biggest thing I've done to date. And because of that the opportunities are now coming.
I was just rewatching your very first appearance on the show the other day, and there's something striking about the intimidating presence on display when you enter that opening scene. I've read that the producers considered killing you off, so I guess you just had to put your best foot forward?
Yeah, originally Mark's arc was for six episodes. And then it went as far as John Fawcett introducing me to Dylan [Bruce], who plays Paul, and saying "Come here Ari, I want you to meet the guy who's going to kill you". Because I think they had a bad experience in the first season of not telling someone that they were going to be killed off and it didn't go over well. So they wanted to make sure that I knew right away so there were no surprises. But then the surprise was that I didn't die!
Well I suppose being told you were going to die made you motivated to work that much harder and change their minds?
Yeah, I guess. It was a blindside for sure. Project Castor was never something that was hinted at to anyone, it just really became something, probably just in the season finale, I'm not even sure if they hint at it in episode nine, it's really just the last episode. It was really a small handful of the writers, Tatiana [Maslany], maybe hair and makeup and wardrobe, and then me, because they had to make sure I wanted to do it!
How late in the game did they even tell you that this would be happening?
Two weeks. Two weeks before going to camera for those scenes.
Were you nervous about it?
Well I put it all into working out. Because all I was told was "work on your pull ups", so that's where I dedicated my nervous energy.
So how much of Season 3 have you filmed at this point?
We're on episode 7 now.
How are you finding the increased workload?
Well before our Christmas hiatus it was pretty much a nine-to-five, five-day week, full-time job. It was really nice. I was exhausted but you really can't ask for more. You can't ask for more. When you get to do what you want to do for a living, it's not work.
And are you finding yourself sharing the screen with Tatiana a lot?
I would say a fair amount, maybe 50% of the time I'm onscreen it's with her, and then the other 30-35% is just with myself! Just me and one of my other clones... And then the rest with a couple of other characters I really wanted to work with this year that I didn't get to work with last year.
I think we're aware of about three clones that have appeared in the show? Can you shed some light on the multiple roles you're playing? We've heard a bit about one clone known as 'Scarface'...
Yeah, well Scarface is Rudy, so he was the one in the cell. And we've met Miller, who is the military guy. And I know there has been a teaser released for a guy with a moustache. So we know four, because there's Mark as well. But of course it's Orphan Black so, you know, there could be more?
Didn't Tatiana start with four, or was it five, back in Season 1?
It was four and that Helena was introduced.
So you're starting with a similar workload...
So, with Mark as the one who has been developed the most, do you feel a sense of attachment to his journey now?
Definitely, I mean to a certain extent they're all developed from parts of me so I feel attachment to each of them for different reasons. But I think there are certain aspects of Mark that really appeal to me and that I really identify with. You know, if he were to ever be in peril on the show, I would probably freak out the most about that because there are so many layers and so many sides to him that he's just really fun to play and there's a real darkness, and a real aspiration for a better life.
There's the draw from his old life that Project Castor has brought back in, that's developed, and the revelation that he was a clone. Because of course I didn't know he was a clone last season so I was just playing him as he was. So a large part of this season for Mark is just that add-on, and learning how to incorporate that and that has really developed him a lot too, I've found.
So how much are you getting to work with new cast members like James Frain and Justin Chatwin?
Unfortunately I'm not in either of their plotlines, although you never know. I remember coming in at the end of the day and seeing everyone be really floored by the performance James Frain was giving, and to have that kind of inspiration on set and to have everyone be super excited to be working with someone like that can only bring everyone else's game up. And as for the Justin Chatwin plotline with Alison, it's just a riot. It's just so funny. I don't know if Project Castor really fits into that plotline, but I would love to be opposite Alison for a scene or two, I think that would be great fun.
It's very hard to decide on a favourite clone, but I think Alison could be my favourite...
It is. And that's the thing, you don't have to choose because there's more than one... [laughs]
So is there any sense that the balance on the show is shifting, or will we still be getting a lot of Tatiana's characters that we have come to know?
Definitely. The story is definitely about the sisters and their journey, and Project Castor is there as just one more piece of the puzzle. It's one more piece of the mystery, we're there to antagonise, and we're on our own journey too because we're trying to discover our own things but we're so close to each that we can't not affect each other and our paths are so intertwined. We're more or less searching for the exact same thing though. Whenever Project Castor is driving the plot, it's only because it's going to help Project Leda find out something. I know there has been some worry out there from superfans worried that they're going to lose Tat and the feminist angle and, believe me, Project Castor is only there to push things forward.
The show has been so nuanced when it comes to gender issues, what can we expect it to say about masculinity through the male clones?
There are going to be different aspects portrayed, but it's my goal to flesh out characters and to not be too two-dimensional. You know, to take what's on the page and then to extrapolate and build on it. The fluidity is one of the great things about the show, and everyone's open to listening to everyone else. I'm getting away from the point but I'll come back... It's always my goal to build these guys. So, on the surface it's military, super-soldier, hyper-masculinity - because of the scenario, but that's not what I want it to be limited to and Mark is certainly not that. He appears to be that, but what's more interesting to me is what he isn't. And so he came into the show as somebody but you come to know him as somebody different.
Oh, and then the interesting thing is that the head of Project Castor is called Dr Cody, and you have the hyper-masculinity ruled by the matriarch. So what's interesting is looking who are these guys to their mother? Right? They're momma's boys. So finding that softness with their mother, finding that dynamic, the writing is really good with those gender issues.
I just wanted to ask, to finish up, what kind of ways you have of getting into character for your clones? And what you've learned from Tatiana in this process...
The way that the clones came about for me was that I learned about them and then at the end of the season we were shown them, but I don't even really think the creators knew who they were yet. So we had this visual without the backstory, and it was over the summer that I started to get hints about who they were. So how it works for me is that I put my costume on, I get into hair and makeup and then I see the guy in the mirror and it's like "this is who I am right now" and so I start from the visual and I pull it into the physical. It's almost the reverse of how I would normally approach it, which has been a very interesting process.
And and lessons that I've learned from Tat? I'd say mostly just watching her on set, and watching her work. Seeing how different she can be while still being her, and I think the greatest lesson from this series that I've learned is that the ego can get in the way a lot. You can be so worried about the final product that you're not in the moment and telling the story because you're so worried that the moment was such bullshit that it won't play right... But what I think you have to do, especially with multiple clones, is learn that you can't possibly be prepared for everything and learn to go with the flow. Just slow down, breathe, and trust that you've done it. Whatever comes out is the truth and that is real, and it'll play, and that's what I've learned from watching Tat's work. It's quite remarkable, really, it's no small task what she's undertaking.
Well thanks very much for your time Ari. It's been great talking with you and I must say I'm really looking forward to watching Season 3.
Thank you very much
Orphan Black returns to BBC America on April 18 at 9pm