ORPHAN BLACK Scoop: Ari Millen Interview

Ari Millen Orphan Black Season 3 Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

Season 3 of ORPHAN BLACK is just as spine-chilling and spine-tingling as ever. With the Season 2 reveal that there are male clones in addition to the female clones already introduced, the world as ORPHAN BLACK has expanded considerably. It is no longer just the tale of the sister clones: Sarah, Cosima, Helena, Alison and Rachel, it is now about the brother clones: Mark, Rudy, Seth, and Styles — all brought to screen by the incredible Ari Millen.

In a recent press call, Ari Millen talked about the various male Castor clones he brings to life on the show and what Season 3 of ORPHAN BLACK holds for all the characters, clones and humans alike.

Because the Castor clones were made self-aware, how does that change who they are to each other and their brotherhood when it compared to the Leda clones sisterhood?
ARI: The fact that they’re self-aware means that they did grow up together and they have a very close knit wolf-pack sort of military upbringing. Just like any stretch of brothers, there’s a real closeness. They like taking the piss out of each other, they can be vicious but there’s also a lot of love there. But compared to Project Leda, who are just sort of learning who they are in front of us as the season progresses, Project Castor is definitely going to hit the ground running as far as making it very difficult for Project Leda. We have a certain better understanding and we’re more cohesive. Whereas, Project Leda has always been I mean not only are they learning who they are but they’re also figuring out who they can trust and who they can’t trust. But Project Castor is all on board with themselves and their mission. So they’re a very strong foe, right off the bat.

Who is Paul (Dylan Bruce) to the Castor Clones? What can you tease about what we’ll see with him in the male clones? And do they trust him?
ARI: Without giving away spoilers, I think at the end of the season we now know that Paul knows more than what he was letting on and I think he might have been playing both sides. So as the season progresses, we’ll find out more of what Paul knows and more of his motives and sort of who he is to Project Castor. But I don’t know if I can say more than that at this point.

With the female clones, there’s kind of a spectrum of sexuality because there is Cosima, who is lesbian and there is a trans-clone. What would you say is the sexuality spectrum for the Castor clones?
ARI: They’re ultra hetero. Well for the most part. Good question, I think part of how they wanted to position Castor this year was as this sort of testosterone menace and I think that aspect plays itself out through their sort of ultra-sexuality, sort of frat boy mentality. But that is just one part of them and on the complete opposite side of that you have Mark who is almost virginal and almost innocent to it so I think there’s some interesting dichotomies with them but the sexuality will play a big part for this season that’s for sure.

Because you worked on the show in Season 2, you have had a chance to see Tatiana Maslany in action.  What has been the biggest challenge for you this season, since you’ve been having to do much more than you did last season?
ARI: I think the biggest challenge was like because we know that Project Castor is self-aware and they grew up together, the biggest challenge for me was finding the differences within the similarities. Finding the little nuances that make Rudy, Rudy; that make Mark, Mark; that make Seth, Seth.  And on a multiple clone day when I was playing more than one of those Castor guys, just making that switch because they were so similar just trying to drop one and pick up the other depending on how much sleep I got the night before might have been a bit more challenging. But yes it was a really fun process of just trying to portray these guys within their brotherhood.

Of the clones we kind of know there’s Mark, there’s Rudy, and there’s Corporal Styles. Which of them would you say was the most dangerous and you wouldn’t want to encounter in like a dark alley?
ARI: I think the obvious answer is probably Rudy, but I think Rudy to a certain extent he wears his heart on his sleeve. Mark, I think Mark is the more dangerous one because he’s very good at hiding what he’s feeling I find a lot of the time. And you don’t want to cross him. You don’t want to threaten what he’s going for because he will make you pay.

What is going on with Mark and Gracie? Are we going to be able to see them soon?
ARI: Yes, Mark and Gracie have just eloped at the end of last season and they’re trying to make their escape, they’re trying to hide from the Proletheans. And now with this new revelation of Project Castor we find out that they’re also looking for Mark as well.

What kind of advice did you get from Tatiana about playing the multi-characters if any?
ARI: Well, the first thing that happened was I think that she she knew probably a day or two before I did that it was going to be me. So the first thing that happened when I got to set after I found out and it was still a secret to the rest of the cast and crew because we hadn’t got the season finale script yet, she just sort of came up to me and gave me a little rub on the back and winked at me and said congratulations. And that’s kind of how it’s been throughout this season. I mean acting is such a private process and a personal process that it’s never something that you impose on anybody else. So I mean for the most part she’s just present and there when you’re in a scene together but if I ever had a question about how do you act with those tennis balls so well, or whatever , she would be there to answer it. But I find for me the best lessons that I can learn are just from watching people who are good at what they do, do it. So that’s what I would do when I was on set and she was on set I would just sort of watch her do her stuff and see little things that she was doing and say oh that’s brilliant what a great idea and I would go on my turn I would try that little trick and if it worked for me I would keep it and if it didn’t, I wouldn’t.  So for the most part it’s a visual process and just she’s supportive.

Did you find any little tricks that you used to get into the head space of each of the clones? Tatiana said she had certain playlists for each of hers. Did you have anything that you did to inhabit those guys?
ARI: Because they were at the end of last season it was more of a reveal but no one knew who were they were at that point — other than John and Graeme knew that they wanted male clones. So we got these wicked visuals of Rudy with the scar and a Mohawk and Miller the military guy and that’s sort of what I had to sit with during our time off.  So when it came to creating the guys it was a visual in for me. I would put on my wardrobe for the day, I would go to hair and makeup and they would transform me — put that clone on for me that day — and then I would look in the mirror and drop into the decisions that I have to make, like, “Okay this guy is like this and this is what he does.” So it was a very visual process for me. And if ever I felt like I was coming out of it I would just sort of go find a mirror and just sort of settle and take a breath and just look and drop back in.  It was a very different process for me than normal. But it still worked. It’s interesting, I had an acting teacher once say whatever works is good, right, there’s no right answer. If it works it’s good.

In season two you’re acting with other people and you’ve got people to play off of, in season three you’re getting to do the scenes essentially yourself. So what’s been the most difficult or perhaps most fun element of filming things like that?
ARI: I’ll start with the fun of just being on a show like ORPHAN BLACK, you get put in a lot of really crazy and exciting scenarios. So the fact that my screen time got multiplied this season only meant that I was going to get to do more fun and exciting stuff. And now with that came the challenge of acting with myself in a scene and the challenge was learning how to plan out the scene for both characters at once because the way obviously it’s set up is you shoot the first half of the scene as one character and then you switch over and you do the scene again as the other character.  So the trouble could be, if not handled properly, is if I only paid attention to the first character I was playing and just sort of forgot about the other guy, then those decisions I made, I would have been stuck with when we flip the camera around. So the bigger challenge this year was especially working with my double Nick Abraham and the director we would just sort of talk it out, talking it out, plan it and make sure that if it was a scene with Rudy and Seth that – and I’m playing Rudy, to make sure Rudy does this at this point because this is the moment that I want to create for Seth. So there was a technical side of pre-planning that wasn’t organic to me. So it was a very interesting learning curve to deal with this season.

Are you able to put any input into the actual characters? Did you put any of your own spin or nuance in their personalities or their looks or anything like that?
ARI: That’s the great thing about this show is there is a real fluidity to the script writing. I mean there’s a lot of frustration with only learning the next episode part way through the episode that you’re shooting but that also lends itself to things being organic and switching on the fly. So certainly Graeme [Manson] and John [Fawcett] and the rest of the writers always were happy and interested and inviting for our input. And what I found really cool too is a lot of the times I would come to them with this sort of instinct that I had about it and they’d say don’t worry we’ve already got you covered in the next episode. So it was like we were almost on the same wave length with a lot of stuff. But I think one of the greatest things about the set is that it is a collaboration. There’s not one dictator at the top, it’s a collaborative process.

In finale of last season, obviously that moment where Mark and Gracie are getting married and eloping that’s a huge moment. Once you knew what Mark really was, did that make you modulate how you played that scene? Was there more menace to it? Or was it more protective? How did you want us as an audience to know with what was coming how we were supposed to look at Mark in that moment?
ARI: One of the things I found most exciting and I enjoyed most about this season was the rediscovery of Mark because I didn’t know what we all know now last season. So specifically in that scene I think I was still in the mindset of who Mark was from the point of view of last season. And I think also it’s dangerous to play the end in that. I think it was more important just to see him getting what he had always dreamed of. I think that was the most important thing like that’s what he always wanted. He always wanted sort of that fairytale of disappearing out of wherever he came from and just going forward with the white picket fence, the wife and hopefully soon children.  And so in that moment it’s just pure happiness for him and I don’t think he was thinking about anything else other than this is the woman that I want to marry. Castor wasn’t even factoring in at that point.

What was the conversation with John and Graeme via the script on which visage to kind of show to Sarah in that really intense moment? What was the conversation in terms of what would make the best visual?
ARI: The little that they knew about Rudy at that point is they wanted him to be a little unhinged and I think that was really the only concrete direction. And then we probably did ten different takes in ten different ways of that reveal and that’s the one that they chose. They were all different — similar but different. So I don’t know.  It was doing something like that was so cool, right, I don’t know. It was no inhibitions.

Will we see conflicts within the Castor clones?
ARI: Yes, they’re brothers, they fight. I mean that’s kind of a generalized way to say it. But certainly Mark has his own ideas of who he wants to be and where he sees himself going, and his brothers and Project Castor are gunning for him. They’re not going to let him go without a fight. So there’s going to be some conflict there, there’s going to be some butting of heads and fights. But within the other guys they’re reaching a certain point in their life and I’m going to try to be as vague as possible without giving spoilers but they’re reaching certain point where something is becoming very, very important. So there is a certain amount of stress that they’re all under that bickering will start.  But for the most part they’re a cohesive group and they’re all working towards a common goal and even though brothers fight there’s ultimately love and family and that’s the most important thing.

Which clone do you find the most intense to play?
ARI: The answer is Rudy. What’s really fun about Rudy is it’s often a game to him to try to push people’s buttons and sort of knock people out of their comfort zone. So when we see him with Sarah and then we’ll see him with some other people where he’s just trying to get under people’s skin and that sort of antagonistic approach is I mean that’s kind of fun to play around with. And along with that comes becomes pretty intense scenario. So the answer’s Rudy.

What sort of physical preparations or training did you do to prepare for that challenge?
ARI: I had to go to the gym every day, I had to look like a military man. It was good motivation to get off the couch that’s for sure. And other than that just my diet. I mean it’s amazing what kind of willpower you can have when you’re motivated that way. And unfortunately it doesn’t last but I was in the best shape of my life for the first little bit.

What was your approach to actually playing all these clones?
ARI: Going back to the fact that they were self-aware, I mean the best way to describe it is if you’ve ever met twins or triplets or I mean I’ve never met quadruplets but if you don’t know them that well you could very easily confuse them. Until you get to know them and then you get to know their sort of individual personality.  And so one of the set PA’s on our show, he’s one of triplets and I also worked with him and his brother Anthony and mistook his brother for him on a different show that I had done earlier in the year. And it was a really good lesson. I was like okay so how do you find the differences within the similarities. Like what makes this guy uniquely himself?  So that was the biggest challenge is because they were so similar.   Okay, Mark’s like this, so what motivates Seth to do something like this, where in this scenario Seth would do this but what would Rudy do? Or what would Miller do? So it was just sort of comparing them against each other and finding those little things. Whereas Project Leda obviously is they group up in different parts of the world so they can be as drastically different as possible and intact and have free reign and explore and have fun with these huge differences.

How many Castor clones would you say are going to be in your core group that we’re going to see this season?
ARI: I feel like that might be a spoiler. I mean, we know of four, so I’ll talk about four.  Yes, I’ll say four.

Of the four, how many times did you have all four of them in the same scene versus what’s the challenge of when all four are in the same place or perhaps three are in the same place? What’s the toughest part when they all have to interact?
ARI: Thankfully — I mean having two in the scene is hard enough — but the difficult part of having multiple in the scene is just that sort of making sure that you’re planning and  because I don’t know, like all the acting training I’ve ever had, most people would have obviously, is just sort of you plan a scene as your character. But if you’ve got to play both sides of the scene then you’ve got to know both sets of motivations and plan out how they’re going to execute. So it’s all about that first performance and the first half of shooting that one scene is make sure that it’s open enough for the other side of it to make sense. Don’t set it in stone in the first performance otherwise you’re stuck with it.

Which one of your clones encountering which one of Tatiana’s clones is the favorite pairing?
ARI: Coming into ORPHAN BLACK first off my favorite clone was Helena and Mark got to meet her pretty quickly. And it was mostly playing off of Sarah and Helena all second season. So those two are my favorite. But then going into season three, I’ve already got to work with my favorite, so I’m lucky.

Can you talk a little bit about the audition process? What did you show them that convinced them that you can do this and take on this massive task here?
ARI: Oh man, if I knew that I would be pulling that all the time. I think I mean that’s probably a better question for John and Graeme but all I can say is that I’m very thankful that they gave me the opportunity and I’ve had the best time of my life this season. it made sense within the story as to why Mark being a clone would be a good idea. But yes I wouldn’t want to put words in their mouth, I’m just happy that they did.

What was it like stepping into this established world? Was everybody very welcoming to you?
ARI: Yes, it’s a dream set to be on from craft to the writers room to all the actors that we work with, and this is unique this is not something that I throw around lightly. Not every set that you go on is this cohesive and this motivated and supportive. It’s a very wonderful group of people to be a part of and that just makes it easier to take risks and be a clone like that’s no easy thing to tackle.

The show is nothing short of a phenomenon, what do you think it is that viewers connect so much with?
ARI: The fact that there are clones means that in one show or through one actor’s performance or two actor’s performances is people are able to find that they can relate to different clones. They can relate to the different characters. So it opens it up to a broader audience. I mean that’s one aspect, but it’s just really smart writing, I mean that’s what attracted me initially when I was watching. I just really enjoyed the plot line and I just found it really clever. I mean it’s not too over the top that it lives in the world of like a classic science fiction, it’s just, it’s really routed in reality with science that I mean may very well exist at this point. And they’re just saying it does and this is a possibility of what could happen. So it’s just giving strong voices through talented actors and I think that’s why it speaks to so many people.

If you were given the chance what would you think about transgender Castor clone?
ARI: That’s a very deep and serious question as far as the subject matter. I mean I think what Kat and the writer’s room, what they did with Tony was nothing short of  incredible but that is something that is, I mean it’s not mainstream so much yet. So it is something that if you’re going to do you have to do it right and you have to do it the proper justice. So if that ever were something that they would want to tackle with Castor I would really hope that we would do it as best as possible and I could do the most research possible. But that is not something to throw around as like a gimmick like that’s real stuff. But  I think they did a beautiful job with Tony and I think we’ll see if that one is enough for right now.

To meet the Castor clones and how they figure into the unfolding story of Dyad and the sister clones, be sure to tune in for the Season 3 premiere of ORPHAN BLACK on April 18th at 9:00 pm on BBC America.  (For those who may not receive BBC America, the ORPHAN BLACK Season 3 premiere will also air simultaneously on AMC, IFC, WE TV and Sundance Channel.)

Also to hear what Jordan Gavaris, Evelyne Brochu, Kristian Bruun, Dylan Bruce, Maria Doyle Kennedy and executive producer Graeme Manson had to share about Season 3, be sure to check-out our video interviews with them at WonderCon 2015: