'Orphan Black': Sarah was not originally British (and more fun facts from the creators)

Orphan-Black

Image Credit: BBC America

In what city does Orphan Black take place? What is the process of mapping out an entire season? And why the heck is Sarah British? While sitting in their joint office on the Toronto set, show creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson shed light on all of these topics as well as several others in preparation for season 2, which premieres April 19 on BBC America.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Season 1 for any show is all about getting viewers to come sit at your table. Now that you’ve got them there, season 2 is about keeping them there. What’s your approach this year to keep everyone at the table, and hopefully bring even more people in?

GRAEME MANSON: We tried to shoot above our own expectations as usual. The sense of momentum of the show is something we wanted to keep. If we can keep the pace and we can keep the revelations and we can keep people on the characters, then that’s part of that battle. Then it’s just about really tricky storytelling.

JOHN FAWCETT: It’s really tricky storytelling. A couple times we’ve painted ourselves into a corner and only managed to get out by the skin of our teeth, but for the most part there hasn’t been any shortage of ideas. It’s the concept that allows it to live in this place that’s real, kinda. It’s reality, but it’s our heightened science and our heightened sense of humor. A paranoid mystery that we keep mining. It doesn’t feel like we’ve hit a bottom yet.

MANSON: We sit down on the first day at the writers room and go, “ok, now what do we do?” Because of the show’s long development period, we’ve had a pretty good sense about where we could take it and where we might wind up at the end of season 2 and where we might go beyond that.

EW: How do you guys map a season out?

MANSON: We all sit down at the beginning of the year and we include the science advisor, the real Cosima, and we say what’s the season about, in broad terms? John always has a few key tent poles that he wants to do with his stuff.

FAWCETT: Well, you and I had spent a week together hashing out the big ideas and then it was bringing everyone together and going here’s what we got. We’ve got these big ideas and these themes, and two thirds of it is great and some of it is ludicrous.

MANSON: So we have a whole that we’re looking at but we know where it might end. We try to go three or four stories ahead and of course you get caught up in those and they get detail and once they become scripts, then we move forward and we back those up against what we’ve got already. So we do it in chunks.

FAWCETT: The way we work, we have an idea of where the story is going, but there is an organic process to building these things. I like this environment. I feel like the show could almost go in a whole bunch of directions. We know what the end destination is, but we go: What is the wildest way we can get there? What is the most satisfying and grueling way that we can get our character there?

MANSON: That flexibility that John is talking about is about the characters. What would they do? How would they react to the craziest thing you can throw at them? And that’s how we get a lot of our left turns.

EW: What do you feel you could have done better in season 1 that you’ll bring to season 2?

FAWCETT: I think that the biggest thing is that we want to expand the world. We spent a lot of time in season 1 trying to show everyone what our world was. Here is the world. This is the story. This is the beginnings of it so people understand what we’re trying to do. But now we want to expand the world, make the show a little bigger, make the show a little badder, make the show a little more off center. It does feel like the world has grown. There’s more cast. There’s more mystery. There’s more rabbit holes to go into. Now it’s time to see it less cloistered.

MANSON: we pushed ourselves to start shooting a few weeks earlier this year. So that the world wasn’t just expanding story-wise, but we could take the show outside. So we could film outside before the weather turns out here in Toronto. We could kinda take the show on the road; get a good chase going early on in the season.

EW: With all the technology you have to use and now being out on location more, were you up against more budget issues?

FAWCETT: It’s our constant battle, never feeling like we have enough money to do what we want to do. But thematically the story is being hunted, it’s on the run. Where we begin with Sarah is not like last time. There is an on the run feel to Sarah and the people with her.

MANSON: The show is obviously a scheduling nightmare and luckily we have such a strong supporting cast. But Tatiana has got to be in almost every scene and she can’t work 24 hours a day everyday. It takes about an hour and a half to change her to a new character, so it was part of our mandate to let our great supporting cast carry some story too, some interesting story that informs and complicates the other story lines.

FAWCETT: Plus, one of the other things we have this year that we’re really excited about is we have some new bad guys.

MANSON: It’s safe to say that our Proletheans continue to be the bad guys. The religion side of the divide between religion and science is very much alive this season and it becomes a broader, more interesting world, populated by more characters with more agendas.

FAWCETT: It’s essentially that science versus religion has become a war. Essentially, last season it was Tomas on one side and Leekie on the other. Now, this season, Tomas represents an old order of Prolethean, and what we have this year is a newer order of Prolethean who is maybe less afraid of science. That has been extremely fun. We have such a good cast. There’s a cast of characters involved in that plotline that every time they’re on screen it’s just unbelievable. It feels fresh, certainly fresh to this show. It’s nice because a lot of those storylines with the bad guys don’t take place in the city. And that’s an example of the world expanding. It’s new to be out on the road, out in the country. It’s new for us to be in small towns or redneck bars. We want the characters to evolve and expand. We say, “What is the craziest thing we can do with this character, just for fun, so the audience can have a gas?” And it makes us laugh everyday. Tat loves every stich of it.

EW: People often ask me, where does the show take place? There are little clues that it is Toronto, where you film, but you seem to really play that down. Are you specifically making it a very generic place?

MANSON: A) It’s the reality of international co-production. Different people in different countries need different things out of the show. And B) it adds a certain universality to the show that we’re looking for. Since we don’t mind the audience being off-kilter or off-step, it works for us.

FAWCETT: To be honest, we don’t want to say we’re American and alienate the Canadians, or say we’re Canadian and alienate the Americans. The bottom line is we’re one big happy family. We’re just a little bit further North than you. We like the strong international flavor that we have too. It’s something we throw our arms around and embrace wholeheartedly.

MANSON: An interesting example of that is that when BBC America originally became interested in the project, Sarah was not British. BBC America being the American television with a British accent, asked “Can one of your characters be British?” And they weren’t pushing us, but we were like, “That makes sense.” For one thing, it helps delineate these characters. It makes Sarah even more of an outsider. So despite sometimes having to walk the line of awkwardness with the international aspect, in many ways it’s paid off for us. That was a compromise that played in our favor.

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