'Orphan Black': Dylan Bruce on Paul's big moment
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Saturday’s episode of Orphan Black, “Certain Agony of the Battlefield.”]
Ground control to Major Tom. Unfortunately, Major Tom will not be answering that call after he was just stabbed, shot, and then blown to smithereens by a grenade (that last part was his own doing). Yes, Saturday’s stellar episode of Orphan Black ended with a shocker—the death of Paul Dierden.
On the show from the very beginning, Paul was perhaps the most mysterious of Orphan Black characters as you never quite knew his motivations, whom he was really working for, and how far he would go to help or hurt the female clones. But Paul went out a hero when he turned on Dr. Virginia Cody and her plan to weaponize the defect in the male clones of Project Castor. Paul helped Sarah escape the compound—professing his love for her in the process—but took a knife to the gut. He then set out to complete his mission by blowing up Cody’s valuable research, in turn blowing himself up as well.
We chatted with the man who played Paul, Dylan Bruce, to get the exclusive inside scoop on when he found out his character was being killed off, the request he made on how to go, filming his emotional final scene with Tatiana Maslany, and what he will miss most about working on the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, sir, tell me how and when you learned of Paul’s doom and the end game here.
DYLAN BRUCE: I knew the writing was on the wall for Paul. My intuition told me that a major character was going to die this season, and Paul just seemed like a logical choice. And I talked to [co-creator] Graeme Manson, we had a couple of beers at Comic Con [last July] and I just looked at him—I think we were at the Nerd HQ party— and I said, “I’m dying this season, aren’t I?” He looked at me and goes, “Yes.” (Laughs) It wasn’t that much of a shock to me, but I was like, “Holy crap. Okay, okay.” And then when we got back to Los Angeles, he had a house in Hollywood that he was renting, and he invited me over and we had a glass of wine. We kind of just talked about it and he was very forward and open to me about what they wanted to do with the character and why Paul was going to die.
But my only request upon learning of Paul’s demise was, “Please make it impactful, Graeme. Please do right by the character. Let the audience see this guy was cut from the good stuff.” The questionable things and tactics he used in the first two seasons were for a reason—to cure these men that he cares about. And when he finds out that Cody’s trying to weaponize the virus, and her reasons are iniquitous, that’s when he knows he has to right all the wrongs he did. Not only for Sarah and her sisters, but for the greater good. Aubrey Nealon just wrote a fantastic script and when I read it, I was like, “Okay, thank you for listening to me, Graeme, and doing right by this guy.” You learn so much about Paul in that episode, and I just think they couldn’t have written his exit any better than they did.
Sarah has a line early in the episode where she tells Paul, “You’re the worst of them because I don’t even know where you stand.” How often during these three seasons did you even know where Paul stood because he was the ultimate “is he good or bad” kind of guy?
As they’re writing—and with any TV show—it’s very malleable. It’s changing and it’s always altering. I knew my arc from the beginning to the end of this season so it was much easier for me to flesh out the character and make strong, meaningful choices. When playing the double agent in the first two seasons—I didn’t even know I was a double agent—and not knowing the character’s direction in the first two seasons, it was much more difficult. And I always had to play things very close to the vest, very emotionally uninvested. So it seems like he was doing all this stuff—you didn’t get why he was doing it and you’re like, “What the hell is this guy doing? It seems like he’s flip flopping left and right.”
But when this season finally came around, I was like, “Okay, he loves these Castor boys. He’s doing everything he’s doing to cure these guys.” So it made a lot more sense in the first two seasons once you watch season 3, but while I was filming it I was kind of like, “What the F man?! What’s going on? What is this character doing?” So I mean it was really hard for me, but that’s why I just love this season because I knew my arc from the beginning to the end and you could flesh out the strong character with strong choices. It was such a different experience for me, and I loved it.
How important do you think it was to get the answer to that question of whether Paul was good or bad by having him go out a hero, sacrifice himself and blow up that research?
Yeah, absolutely. You know that he has to right all the wrongs that he did. He thought he was doing something good. He was doing it for a reason in the first two seasons. When he finds out that it was for nefarious purposes and that he was being duped himself, the only choice for him was to make the ultimate sacrifice, and that’s what he had to do to make the rights of all the wrongs that he did. Helen Shaver—who’s just wonderful, I can’t say enough about working with her; I absolutely adore this woman—she’s such an amazing director. And we met a week before just to kind of talk about it because it was such a big episode for me and for Orphan Black and killing off a major character. I’m sure Graeme and John never took that lightly. She let me know, “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Paul’s not feeling sorry for himself. This is his mission and he has to get it done no matter what the cost. So always have that underlying theme throughout this episode—more so towards the end.” It was a really cool experience.
There’s also that scene after Paul is stabbed and he puts Sarah through gate leading to tunnel for escape and says “It was never Beth I loved.” How much of everything Paul did was for Sarah?
I think a lot. In the first few episodes of the season, you can really tell there’s an underlying tone. I try not to express it too broadly, but he does really care about this girl. And he gives her ample opportunity to get away, but he knows that she cares about her sister so much that she can’t stay away. I really think that that’s a big thing for him—even though he hasn’t known her for the longest period of time, he feels her plight and I think he also feels guilt over his involvement with Beth and possibly attributing to her suicide. I think he does love her.
It was amazing shooting that scene where he says that to Sarah because we’re shooting my perspective before he turns away and walks off to commit the ultimate sacrifice—Tatiana was just sitting on an apple box next to the camera and she was just crying. Her eyes—she was so focused on me and she was just giving me so much to react off of. She’s such a giving actor. It’s not even her perspective. It was beautiful for me to play off that emotion. And another wonderful thing was, I told Helen Shaver at the beginning of the shoot, “Push me hard and I trust you and I’m not going to take any notes that you give me personally.” Literally probably did 50 takes of it. She was so great because she just gave me every opportunity to get it right and get it in as many ways as we possibly could, and to finally pick what would be the best way to portray the emotion that he had for this girl. But yeah, a lot of the gals and guys that were on the set that day said there weren’t a lot of dry eyes in the house, that’s for sure.
Was that your actual last day? Tell me about your last day on set and saying goodbye to this cast and crew—your family for the past three years.
Yeah, that wasn’t my last day, but the last scene we shot right before breaking for Christmas was Paul with the grenade hidden under the towel, and then dropping the grenade. We shot the scene with Tatiana immediately proceeding that. That kinda felt like that was it. It was kind of weird, I came back [after Christmas] and had to shoot a couple smaller scenes where Paul’s getting out of the Jeep when he first gets back to the camp and finds that Sarah’s not in her cell. And it was kind of weird because I literally had to fly back—this was early January right after we came back from Christmas—and I had to fly back to Los Angeles the next day to network test for a brand new pilot, so it was almost like I didn’t have the opportunity to really process being done with Orphan Black. It was like, “Okay, I’m done now.”
And everybody was amazing: Kevin Hanchard, Kristian Bruun, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Jordan Gavaris all came to the set to say their goodbyes to me. Kevin even put a couple of beers in my fridge that I could drink at wrap but I was taken immediately to the airport. (Laughs) But then I went straight and tested for this show that I didn’t end up getting. And then a week later it really started to sink in and I really started to think about how special it is to be a part of something from the start. A project that everyone involved is so passionate about. We all care about Orphan Black and are so proud to be associated with this not-so-little show anymore. It‘s a great sense of comradery and family, and I count my lucky stars every day to have been blessed with this experience. I’ll miss it dearly, I really will. It is like saying goodbye to your family. It’s kind of a weird experience—there was a little moment of depression for a while after that.
What will you miss most about playing Paul and being on Orphan Black?
I’m going to miss a lot about him. I’m going to miss being on that set every day and to work with, arguably, one of the best actresses out there right now, if not the best. And just to see the energy that she brings every day—it’s incredible to watch because this girl never falters. She’s just the sweetest girl and it really trickles down from her It’s such a healthy environment to be on that set. I’ve been on other sets where that’s not the case. I’ll miss that mostly. And I’ll miss playing a badass. I hope that I’m now cast as a badass for the rest of my acting career. (Laughs) He was definitely a fun character to play, I really had fun researching him and researching military guys and how they operate and how they think. It was just a really, really life-altering experience that I’ll never forget.
Make sure to check out our interview with ‘Orphan Black co-creator John Fawcett about the episode. And for more ‘Orphan Black’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.