'Orphan Black': Jordan Gavaris talks Felix and having the best fake accent on TV
When people meet Jordan Gavaris for the first time, the reaction is usually the same: “Wait, you’re not British?” But don’t feel sorry for Gavaris. He brought this all on himself with his flawlessly flamboyant portrayal of Sarah’s foster brother Felix on BBC America’s Orphan Black. The accent employed by Canadian born and bred Gavaris to play the English Felix is so convincing, in fact, that even after hanging out several times on and off set with Gavaris, I’m still not entirely convinced that it’s not his normal accent that he’s faking. The distinction became even murkier when I caught up with the actor in his trailer on set of filming for season 2 on Orphan Black (which returns on BBC America April 19), because when Gavaris is filming scenes as Felix, he stays in accent all day long rather than flipping back and forth. He also uses different words and employs many of Felix’s mannerisms to help stay in character. So, essentially, you’re talking to Jordan as Felix. Or is it Felix as Jordan? Like I said…confusing. In any event, here’s part of our chat in which Gavaris talks about meeting the fans, understanding the scripts, and trying to convince people on his show that he’s not actually from the U.K.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do people still get freaked out when they find out that you’re not actually British and that is just a phony accent you use for Felix?
JORDAN GAVARIS: Oh, yeah. Michiel Huisman is playing a character on the show and he was notably frightened when I turned it off at the end of the day. At the read through I’m also in character because…well, I’m just a weirdo. Even the way I interact with people and the gestures I use are different. But to answer your question that I’ve prattled on about, yes, they get weird.
EW: Michiel really didn’t know?
GAVARIS: No, no idea. Even Jerome Flynn [Game of Thrones] thought I was English. This was last year. I saw him again at TCA and he thought I was English. Maria Doyle Kennedy [who plays Mrs. S.] thought I was English in the read through. When I turned it off after the read through, she was very taken aback. But I love the accent. It’s given me freedom to go after other roles and auditions, to experiment with different voices. This role has been by far the most liberating experience that anyone my age could have.
EW: How many times do you have to read an Orphan Black script before you fully comprehend what the hell is going on?
GAVARIS: I do have to read it a number of times. Generally, I read it alone and then we do a read through and we’ll read it collectively, but then I’ll usually need another 3 or 4 times because we’re not laying the pipe anymore, we’re not doing exposition, we’re not doing the backstory of Sarah taking this person’s identity. We have all these different characters — clones — that we’re exploring independently. And it’s tough to keep it all straight in your head, especially when you’re interacting with the lot of them.
EW: How far in advance do creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett clue you in to either big events coming up or just general season-long storylines?
GAVARIS: It’s very circumstance specific. Most of the time we learn when we get the scripts. But that’s me. Tat [short for star Tatiana Maslany, who plays all the clone characters] tends to know things in advance because her stuff requires more prep. If there is a story point that requires mental preparation then I’ll be notified several episodes in advance, so that discussion can begin between me and my scene partner, or if it’s independent it’s just work I do myself. The majority of the time it’s need to know and eyes-only. Half the time if there’s stuff in the writer’s room that we discuss, you see it on the board and that’s it. It doesn’t get written down. It doesn’t leave the room. You can’t copy it. The majority of the time I learn with the scripts, but that’s a really exciting place to be for an actor because you’re not at risk of telegraphing something that you shouldn’t be telegraphing episodes in advance. There’s a thrill in flying by the seat of your pants – trousers actually, pants in English means underwear — because most shows don’t operate that way. Network shows are repetitive. Procedurals dramas — for good reason — have a formula that they work with that people like. But this little show that came out of nowhere, we burn bright when we shoot and then we all need to collapse afterward. It’s a fun place to play. You’re not overthinking anything. You just get it and respond, react and go.
EW: Which clone do you like working with the best?
GAVARIS: They all offer me something different. Alison offers me the opportunity to showcase the comedic side of Felix, the lighter side that has silliness. He finds her quite amusing and the situations that she gets herself into are often quite amusing. I think Sarah offers the opportunity to be very raw and real and the theatrics. He talks in a different register. Cosima offers a new relationship, which is always exciting.
EW: What’s it been like hearing the accolades from the fans and other famous peers?
GAVARIS: It’s absolutely surreal. I’m a bit of a geek and I really like Buffy. You were there at the Nerd HQ party when I was falling all over Joss Whedon. To hear Amy Acker, Emma Caulfield and Alyson Hannigan are watching and tweeting about it – that is quite a coup. Time just named us one of the top ten shows of 2013. Time magazine! If you had told me when I was 15 that I would be part of a project, even in a small way, that would see recognition from Time magazine, that we would be part of pop culture — and not me personally, but the show — I would have called you crazy. Tat and I have had many a conversations about it. As incredible as it is, we really try and keep our heads on straight and block out as much as we can because when we were shooting last year we were under the impression five people would watch this show. Maybe we’d get one or two seasona out of it. But we thought it was wonderful. The characters and the scripts were great, so we were glad to be a part of it. The fact that it’s caught fire is a whole other demon. We’re trying to do this season like we did last year, as if no one is going to see it and we’re just doing it for the love of it.
EW: What’s your best fan story?
GAVARIS: Well, there are a couple. One time I was literally stopped on the street, literally and physically, whipped around by this guy who looked at my face and was like, “Are you Felix??” I looked very different then. I was like “Yah…Oh yah!” I was stunned and slightly frightened. He was a nice man. The other really cool experience was getting stopped at the San Diego airport on the way back from Comic-Con by people who had been to both panels, and we talked for an hour waiting for our delayed flight. Usually with fan experiences you talk to them for two minutes, but this was nice. After an hour, you get to know them and hear why people connect with these characters. We are in it, so we don’t get to see why. I know why I connected with Felix. I know why I connected with the show. We are all ardent film geeks who work on this show and we are not the majority. I thought what a colorful character, what an interesting career choice. But the reason why they like him, why they like all the characters is very different. They were lovely girls and very voracious.
Check out Orphan Black on the cover of the new Entertainment Weekly, and buy the issue right now by clicking on the cover to your left. And for an exclusive photo of Maslany as three of the clones, be sure to like Entertainment Weekly on Facebook. Plus, for more Orphan Black intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.