'Orphan Black': Maria Doyle Kennedy talks about the mysterious past of Mrs. S
Orphan Black is a show about an unraveling mystery involving clones. But the most mysterious character of all may be Sarah’s foster mother, Mrs. S. As if Mrs. S’ relationship with Sarah is not complicated enough, questions were raised at the end of season 1 as to whether she may have been involved in something called Project LEDA that may be somehow connected to the creation of the clones. EW sat down with Maria Doyle Kennedy — who plays Mrs. S (or Siobhan) — on a couch in Felix’s loft during a break in filming on season 2 (which premieres April 19 on BBC America) to chat about her character’s past, present, and future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Mrs. S is one of the most mysterious people on the show, so tell me about how and when you get information about your character and what is coming up.
MARIA DOYLE KENNEDY: It’s all taken off so hugely now, so it’s quite different. I think they’re under a lot of pressure to really up the ante with this season so they’re really working on scripts up until the last minute, so a lot of the information you get at the last minute, I have to say. But I did know from the beginning she was going to be interesting and that was obviously very attractive to me in wanting to do this. In real life, I don’t think anybody is all one shade. People who are perceived to be really good have bad thoughts and inclinations that they sometimes act on, I’m sure, and people have different sides to themselves. They’re never always good or bad or melancholy or angry, but you often don’t get to show that, particularly on television. They want to put people in a certain box and have them in a certain way or represent one emotion or shade. So it was pretty clear to me from the beginning that she wouldn’t just be that, and that was great. [Co-creator] Graeme [Manson] told me that and one of his inspirations for Mrs. S was Patti Smith, so that sealed the deal for me. I was like, “Okay, I’m in!” [laughs]
EW: I feel like there is still so much more to this character we have yet to uncover.
KENNEDY: There’s a lot of information she hasn’t given out yet, but her very active past is referred to a lot in season 1. You do get to know she was one of those people who was a protester and an activist and who squatted and who was constantly fighting. Sometimes, I think, her actions maybe didn’t achieve the outcome she wanted, or perhaps were even misdirected but you know she always had a very good moral compass. She was always on the side of the underdog or she was certainly fighting the good fight. But also you get to see the incredible maternal and tender side of her, as well, particularly in the way she reacts and interacts with Kira and her protection and her very loving care for her, and you get to see her be nurturing. I think in season 2 you get to see more of what she was like 20 years ago — what she was as a fighter, as an activist, because the pressure’s on, that’s required again, so she’s able to slip into that pretty easily.
EW: What does that mean for her clearly very tense relationship with Sarah? What’s the ultimate motivation for her?
KENNEDY: They’ve always had a very difficult relationship, but I think that they’re very alike. That’s one of the things that’s always been very difficult between them. Mothers and daughters often have a particularly difficult time, anyway, certainly as their daughter is coming into her own power as a woman. There often is a lot of friction. I personally only have sons, so it’s quite a different thing, but I know from my friends who have daughters and for my goddaughters, the dynamic can be very fractious — particularly if they’re alike. And I think that’s one of the things about them, that Sarah is really like Mrs. S. She’s a rebel. She’s absolutely stubborn as stubborn is or stubborn can be, so they’re just constantly like that anyway. If there were no other drama going on, there would be that constant butting of heads. I think it’s clear there’s still a very deep love there, but I think Mrs. S’ priority is constantly to keep Kira out of things, to not put her in danger. She’s still young enough that she hasn’t been touched by any of this, she hasn’t been affected, she still is truly a young innocent. And I think that’s constantly her main motive, is to keep her away so that she doesn’t become tainted from everything that’s going on.
DR: What’s it like working with Tatiana?
MDK: I absolutely adore her, she’s fantastic. She’s just jaw-droppingly good. She’s absolutely brilliant. It’s not an easy thing to do well, you know? It really isn’t easy to be different people at the same time. I was in a film this summer. I was a Russian cleaner. It couldn’t be more different from Mrs. S. But I wasn’t in the same headspace, I wasn’t in it on the same day, several times. I think it’s just an enormous testament to her that she pulls it off. I think the whole show hangs on it and if she wasn’t as good as she is it wouldn’t have worked. It’s only getting the recognition and success because she’s that good, I think. It’s brilliant, and it’s fantastic to watch. You learn something every day.
DR: How much do you understand the first time you read an Orphan Black script?
MDK: The “isms” are the things I don’t understand, the Neolutionists and the Proletheans. But at the same time I understand them because there have always been fundamentalists around the place, particularly religious ones. There has been a lot of documentation about those cult/religious things. So you have kind of a notion about that. And the other stuff, the idea about cloning itself, the basis of the whole thing, that is something that’s been around certainly. It’s always an incredible ethical and moral question that everybody has such huge notions about it. I suppose it’s where our generation went after the abortion question. There’s always been trying at some stage to design people. And it will always be presented initially as a positive thing, as a way to weed out diseases. Of course you know it ultimately will be used in a bad way too, to create slaves or servants. Maybe it depends on what you think about the human race, but I think it depends more on the example of what you’ve seen already.
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.