'Orphan Black' creators share their Origin Stories
Ask a director what his influences were during film school and the answer probably won’t surprise you: “At a certain point, all I wanted to make was Goodfellas, and then at another point, I was heavily inspired by Spielberg,” Orphan Black co-creator John Fawcett says. But get him to talk about the TV shows and movies he was obsessed with as a child, and that will change. (Killdozer, anyone?)
EW sat Fawcett and co-creator Graeme Manson down for our new video series Origin Stories to chat about both their earliest influences and the movies and TV series that inspired them as they developed their hit clone drama (which airs its season 2 finale June 21 at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America). Watch it below. Then read on for more about the movie Fawcett shot in high school, when they discovered they could work together, and which Breaking Bad scene Fawcett demanded Manson watch immediately.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: John remembers going twice every weekend to see Star Wars in theaters. Graeme remembers watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Jabberwocky over and over. When did you each first know you wanted to create something yourself?
Graeme Manson: I took creative writing courses and theater early in high school. There was a theater course called stage craft, where we built and painted sets, so I was like a backstage theater geek in high school.
John Fawcett: After I realized that I was never gonna play professional football by getting killed on the football field, I decided to join the drama class. There was no film class in high school, so it was really about directing theater because it was the only real thing available. Though I shot a 2-hour epic feature on VHS called The Eye of Acerik, which took three years to complete and is heavily inspired by The Goonies.
Manson: And how many children died during the filming of your epic?
Fawcett: Nobody died. But you know, a few people that I made do stunts hurt themselves quite a lot. My best friend, who’s a camera operator in Toronto, was the one who did all of his own stunts. Many, many bicycle stunts went badly.
Manson: I’ve seen Eye of Acerik. It’s brilliant, in fact.
Fawcett: You kinda need to smoke a bit of a spliff before you watch it though, to really get the full [effect].
When did you realize you could work together?
Fawcett: Graeme and I had been buddies before we decided to work together. We’d known each other for five or six years. You know when you like someone, you go out for drinks and you kinda get along. You sorta think he’s funny. Sort of. He’s funnier when he drinks. But he had done this big huge pass on Vincenzo Natali’s first feature film called Cube. I had read many drafts of that, and that script really came to life with his dialogue in there. I really liked the voices that he wrote and his sense of humor with the characters. I really kinda went, “Wow, not only do I like hanging out with him, but he’s a really, really good writer.”
Manson: At pretty much the same time, he was making Ginger Snaps with [co-writer] Karen Walton, a great friend of both of ours and a writer on the first couple seasons of Orphan Black.
Manson: We knew we were interested in kind of the same stuff. Then I came in to do a rewrite on a TV movie that John was directing [2001’s Lucky Girl], and we took a “teenage girl gets addicted to gambling” TV movie and pushed it as far as we could into the dark zone. Which was waaaaay further than we expected to be able to go.
Fawcett: That was just a very kind of average script to begin with that I was really proud of in the end—I thought we made it into something super, super cool and something people hadn’t seen before.
Manson: And cast Elisha Cuthbert.
John talks about 1974’s Killdozer being a movie that terrified him, and how putting himself behind the scenes while watching it calmed him down. What other movies scared you growing up?
Manson: I remember being really frightened by a version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. There’s the big scary part where he’s fighting the warlocks underground and then he hammers the time machine down and the warlock decays before your eyes—that’s the moment I realized what death actually was.
Fawcett: There was a movie called Black Christmas, which is a Canadian film directed by Bob Clark. That one is a psychotic thriller and is kind of a masterpiece, really. I went back and rediscovered it when I was in film school and as an adult, and there’s some beautifully shot scenes. As a really scary horror film that pre-dates movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th, it was really unbelievable.
John likes to say he sorta brought the Battlestar Galactica to Orphan Black and you, Graeme, brought the Breaking Bad.
Manson: We love painting our characters into a corner. I loved Breaking Bad. Every minute it’s, “How’s Walter gonna get out of this?” “How are Walter and Jesse gonna get out of this?”
Fawcett: I was more thinking about, “How’s Vince gonna get out of this?” I was like, “Vince is screwed now.”
Manson: But he never was. I remember John actually saw the first season before I did, and he came at me going, “You gotta see this scene where they put a guy in a tub full of acid and he comes through the floor.”
Fawcett: [Laughs] That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. But that was exactly our style of humor.