The panel for the Orphan Black cast and crew at San Diego Comic-Con was a bittersweet one, as the show airs its final season next year. Despite knowing that it’s all coming to an end, the assembled stars and creators were lively and had lots to share with fans about what’s come before and what’s next.
One of the primary topics of discussion at the panel was Beth, one of the first clones shown on the series but one with the least amount of backstory revealed until last season. Beth was the starting-off point for protagonist Sarah to realize the clone conspiracy, but until season four fans were left in the dark about her.
“I remember being here at Comic-Con one year and jokingly saying we were going to do a Beth episode and everyone went crazy in the room,” said John Fawcett, the show’s director.
“All the other characters had such reverence for Beth it was time we showed what was going on with her,” agreed Graeme Manson, the show’s main screenwriter.
For Tatiana Maslany, who portrays all of the clones, playing Beth was a unique challenge because she hadn’t gotten much time to invest in the character prior to her special episode.
“The only thing I’d done of Beth is that moment on the train platform where she turns. We were unsure about everything, her motivation and where she was coming from. She existed in this kind of myth world, through the way Sarah saw her.”
Despite the character being so integral to the story, Manson said that “it was about the hardest thing that we’ve ever done in the writer’s room.”
“In season one we talked so much about Beth and what Beth knew. We imagined that there was a lot more story there so it was definitely complicated but it was an exciting challenge,” Fawcett said. “Beth was someone we wanted to know more intimately and we believed she had clues that we needed. To go back and get those clues from the past so we could move forward was fascinating.”
Felix and Sarah
In addition to fleshing out Beth’s backstory, season four also introduced a biological family member for Felix, Sarah’s foster brother. Initially, the writers had been considering a romantic subplot for Felix, but decided that bringing in his biological sister would stir things up more between the characters and further his personal arc.
“What does it mean that he has a sister that’s not his blood? It’s just proof that no matter how well you think you know the characters, attempting to come to it without any deep preconceived ideas, they’re just always expanding the characters you think you know that well,” said Felix’s actor, Jordan Gavaris.
“Shooting those scenes where Sarah and Felix are at odds, the whole time my heart was beating so fast because it was just scary. It was scary and interesting and exciting to sit in that dynamic because we have never really done that before.”
One scene in particular involved flicking mashed potatoes, though originally the writers had much bigger plans. What was first written as a massive food fight became a simple flick of spuds, though it was more accurate to the sibling relationship Sarah and Felix share.
The crew also got to explore Sarah’s personal boundaries a bit more in an episode where she hooks up with another woman. For Maslany, the decision to make Sarah interested in both men and women was a no-brainer.
“Graeme kind of asked me, ‘girls? boys?’ and I said ‘obviously both’. It seemed from having played her for four seasons it felt correct, it’s who she is,” she said. “Not that she had to define herself a certain way, it’s just who she is. It wasn’t because she was drunk and high, that’s just her persuasion.”
All About Tatiana
Playing dozens of clones is no easy feat, and it’s no real surprise that Maslany has been nominated for an Emmy once more for her role(s) in Orphan Black. The panel took some time to discuss shooting the clone scenes with clone stand-in Kathryn Alexandre, as well as Maslany’s unique talent for accents and unique characters.
To display Maslany’s unique skills, the panel host told her which character to do each scene in and she was given small improv ideas. Sarah gave Art directions on getting to Wal-Mart, Helena and Alexis ordered appetizers at TGIFridays (which drew a heavily accented “If you don’t watch your back, you will be appetizer” from Maslany), Crystal describing her favorite part in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 to Felix, and Allison and Donnie at a Trump rally.
The creators also talked about how Maslany would arrive at her auditions on roller skates, and that her turn in the indie horror Ginger Snaps impressed them from the start.
Despite practically being an acting superhero, Maslany can’t be in two places at the same time, so Alexandre steps in to take on the non-speaking roles of the clones when they interact.
“Sometimes I’m there just kind of in the wings in case I’m needed and then I’m thrown into whatever the situation calls for. Usually, it’s pretty planned out if we don’t get rehearsal for a clone scene we kind of have an idea, the script is there. We get to step out what both of the clones or all three or four of them are going to do in that day,” she said.
Alexandre’s family enjoys watching the show and picking out which shots are of her and which are Maslany.
“I usually know what’s me. The hand in the background will be me. Now I can go ‘oh that’s me, that’s my hand. It’s more the amusement of my family, they say ‘oh that’s you I know the back of your head’.”
Each of the stars had their own ideas about what’s next for their characters, ranging from ridiculous to depressing.
Kevin Hanchard: “Art will either get some peace of mind or he’ll get dead.”
Kristian Bruun: “If you’re gonna kill Donnie off, you’ve got to make it a good death. He’s stuck in the forest right now, he’s gonna grow a big beard, be a big burly man.”
Jordan Gavaris: “I want (Felix) to have an exhibit. I want him to exhibit his art. Something will go awry, something happens to the canvas because of Crystal’s press-on nails.”
For Tatiana, there are too many characters to consider, but she would like to see 12 clones in one scene and do a long take shot like those in Birdman or True Detective, regardless of the logistical nightmare.
To wrap up the panel, the cast tried to come up with the best “worst” final line the show could possibly have, and Bruun nailed it:
“I guess this truly was a game of clones.”