Orphan Black creators break down the season premiere prequel
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Thursday’s season 4 premiere of Orphan Black.]
Orphan Black turned back the clock for its season 4 premiere. The episode was actually a prequel installment, going all the way back to before the events of the series debut as we saw what led Beth Childs to throw herself in front of that train— the event that led to protagonist Sarah Manning assuming Beth’s identity.
Not only did we get our first-ever Beth-centric episode, but we met another new clone (the mysterious M.K.), saw many familiar dearly departed faces (Olivier, Paul, Dr. Leekie), and met a potential new foe (Detective Duko). EW spoke to show creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson to get their take on the season premiere throwback. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, you all told me we were going to link back to season 1 in a big way, but what you didn’t tell me is that you were going to kick things off with a huge prequel episode showing the events leading up to Beth’s death, which happens in the very first scene of the pilot episode. Where did that idea come from?
GRAEME MANSON: I think we sort of got it in our pockets near the end of last year.
JOHN FAWCETT: We have been talking about a Beth episode since the very beginning. I mean, I mentioned it to you at our very first Comic-Con in San Diego. I said that maybe we should do a Beth episode, and it got a massive cheer from the audience. So just from that experience back in summer 2013, it was pretty clear that that was an idea that I know we were interested in, and it sounded like the fans were interested in.
MANSON: Then, as we decided that season 4 would be a return to the roots, it really made sense to set the table with a pure Beth episode. To keep that secret was a challenge.
How much fun was it to bring back people like Olivier and Paul and Dr. Leekie that we haven’t seen in a while?
MANSON: That was one of the big exciting things for us about this episode. It was like we could go back to the well of these characters — some of whom met horrible demises — and we could resurrect them and put them back on their feet.
Pretty much all of them met horrible demises, let me just say.
FAWCETT: Well, it’s that kind of show.
MANSON: But it was a very different experience, writing this as the premiere, because we always end a season with a number of climaxes and a number of story threads. Having been the writer on the first episode, it was a great relief actually picking up all those threads to the second episode, and this one was really able to standalone. It was a lot of fun to write, and a lot of fun for John to direct.
FAWCETT: I remember just reading Graeme’s first draft of it too, and every three pages is a character from the past. So, going to shoot that was really fun because it was kind of like old home week, right? It was kind of a little weird reunion. My first day of shooting was with Matt Frewer.
Who is so great as Dr. Leekie.
FAWCETT: He showed up on set and it was this amazing reunion. He was really excited to be there. Our crew has been the same for pretty much the whole time, so it’s like everybody knows each other. It was great.
Did you guys talk about also re-staging that train sequence that kicked off the entire series again? Did you think about re-staging that from Beth’s perspective? Was that ever something you guys talked about?
FAWCETT: Yeah, we definitely have talked about it.
Clearly you all are playing coy on that one. Fair enough. Was there ever any concern or discussion about essentially sidelining your main character of Sarah for pretty much the entire episode until that very last scene?
MANSON: I guess we found the whole concept of having Beth back too interesting, and too much of a cool setup. We know that Sarah is going to hit the ground running when she lands in the story, and she’s going to lead us through. She’s our main girl. So no, we thought it was a cool break, actually.
FAWCETT: Super cool break. We loved the idea that the opening episode was a flashback. We were going to be stealth about revealing it, but the important thing for us is that it wasn’t just a super cool thing to do. It actually is part of the story, the fabric of the season. It’s a little bit about Sarah. Things that we see and discover through Beth’s eyes in the opening episode, we will need later. It was always about putting Sarah in Beth’s footsteps, so it felt like the right thing to do.
I think it’s nice because we really like the idea of returning to a feel of season 1. The world had gotten very big with us. Our mythology had gotten very big through season 3. We wanted an ending at the end of season 3 that really left us in a somewhat safe place, a place of resolution, so that we could re-set in a scarier place where Sarah was in season 1. She just didn’t know what was going on, and the best way to do that was kind of a Sarah-Beth reunion in a way.
Let’s talk about the introduction of M.K., who clearly has intel on what is happening with Neolution but is very skittish as well. How did you all and Tatiana Maslany come up with her look, sound, and backstory?
MANSON: It starts with John and I, and with the writers in the writers’ room, really. It’s a clone show. We’re always looking for a new clone, but we don’t overdo it. It’s not a clone of the week, so we’re careful about introducing them. It really starts with those early discussions with John and the writers about what is the story function. What is the practical need of this character? Once we have an idea of what we sort of need them to do, and loosely what a character might be like, that’s when we go to Tat.
Where does it go from there, John?
FAWCETT: Well, with M.K., there were a lot of discussions about her background, a lot of backstory, where she grew up, accent, how does she dress, mannerisms, that kind of thing. And then taking the script and rehearsing it. We did a lot of rehearsal for M.K.. The voice itself was difficult and complicated for Tat. I think she did a remarkably great job with it, but it wasn’t an easy fit. It took work. It took a lot of work. I’m really proud of this character. I think we’ve got something that is new, and I just think that Tat did a great job with this weirdo. She sort of reminds me of a strange [obsessive compulsive] kind of teenager.
MANSON: Yeah, then there’s a real cool part of the process a little deeper into it when we’ve had a lot of conversations with Tat, when her hair and makeup team gets involved. That’s when we get called out to the trailer, and can walk in on a character that is coming together. We’ll do that several times with wardrobe as well trying to capture it, and John worked really hard on capturing that vibe with Tat.
FAWCETT: One of my favorite things about M.K. that I noticed that Stephen Lynch, our makeup guy, brought was the idea that because we kind of liked the idea that she felt a bit like a teenager, that M.K. actually had some acme, so we kind of gave her some acne.
MANSON: And the rolled-down socks.
FAWCETT: Yeah, the sock doughnuts. Anyway, so it was just fun. It’s always great collaborating with Tat on a new character.
They nailed it with the haircut too. So, Art and Beth. You touched on this in season 3, but did you guys always have it in your mind that they may have had a romantic or sexual relationship?
FAWCETT: There has been an awful lot of talk about Beth right from the beginning for us because we kind of had to figure out who she was right from the very beginning. There has always been a lot of conversation about who she was, what was she addicted to, would she have been in any kind of relationship beyond a professional relationship with Art? Those things I think we discussed a lot along the way. It was really interesting in season 3 to have Art come out and tell Sarah that yeah, there was some stuff, right? Like, things happened. Here, we really get to see it happen, and whom hasn’t Tat kissed? At this point, we were just lining them up.
MANSON: In season 3, I think it helped the audience really understand why Art was as invested with Sarah and with her sisters. Then, to be able to go back and see that moment was one of those sort of exciting things about doing a flashback premiere.
Let’s talk about another new character. What can you tell us about this Detective Duko guy that appears to be in cahoots with the Neolutionists?
FAWCETT: Played by Gord Rand, a really great actor that we really enjoyed working with. He’s clearly running his own agenda. He’s got things going on the side. He’s not on the up and up, clearly, and more will be revealed. That is kind of an important character for us this season.
MANSON: Yeah, and it’s nice because a lot of the other characters on that episode, we know were not going to necessarily be seen again in the future because their future has already been written. It’s a little ghastly, but maybe another connection we see here with someone else.
FAWCETT: It’s interesting, though, that Neolution has gotten its hooks into the police department as well. It’s kind of setting up this thing that you don’t who the foe is.
Okay, we’ve just finished this prequel episode. Give me a quick tease. What can we expect coming up?
MANSON: Sarah answered the phone, so I think we can expect Sarah to jump back into the story feet first.
FAWCETT: It’s definitely time to return our gang from their Icelandic holiday.