There's a decent chance you didn't listen when I began shouting "ORPHAN BLACK IS THE BEST SHOW ON TV RIGHT NOW!!!" back in April. But in the two months that followed, as additional episodes reaffirmed my assertion, people were joining The Clone Club in droves and Tweeting about their newfound obsession with BBC America's endlessly inventive genetic mystery series. And while a huge amount of that adoration has been (justly) lavished on star, and Critics Choice Award winner, Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black would be nothing without creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson.
Inspired by a single idea -- "Wouldn't it be cool if you saw yourself on a train platform and then you killed yourself?" -- Fawcett and Manson embarked on a journey that gave birth to countless clones, 2013's best new series and one of the most unexpectedly topical TV shows in recent memory.
With season one recently wrapped and the writer's room hard at work on breaking season two, I caught up with the guys to talk about their shining star, the biggest surprise of season one and what fans can expect from season two!
ETonline: What was the casting process like for you two?
John Fawcett: We knew we had a show that really hinged on the abilities of our lead actor. She is essentially all the female leads, so we knew how important the casting of that role was -- we'd either knock it out of the park or we'd go down with the ship. So we put a lot of pressure on ourselves in casting and spent an awful lot of time seeing everyone. We saw Tatiana early-ish in the process, but we wanted to make sure we kinda saw everything. There were some very talented women who came in, but inevitably, there was always one thing missing: you wouldn't like her Cosima or you didn't buy her British accent. It was really like casting five roles at the same time. It's been unbelievable to see Tatiana received in the way she has been. She's elevated the show beyond where we thought it would be in season one.
Graeme Manson: One of the other things about Tatiana's winning of the role was the incredible sense of play she brought and her ability to shift gears between characters. To have her absolutely own that part and the technical aspects of it, she deserves every lick of recognition she’s getting now. It's great for her and it's obviously really great for the show.
ETonline: Looking back on season one, do you feel like it accomplished everything you set out for it to?
Fawcett: The thing I like about our partnership is we set the bar really high for ourselves. We want the best for the show, and it's always been us pushing to outdo one another and to outdo one episode with the next episode. We've always put that pressure on ourselves; we're kind of perfectionists. I'm really proud of season one. To some degree, I wasn't thinking about how it would be received, I wasn't thinking about how Tatiana would be received. It was about what makes us super excited and then making that as good as it can possibly be. The response to the show has been very overwhelming.
ETonline: The show has an incredible social consciousness; tackling everything from women's roles in society to morality in science. Was it important to you guys from the outset that Orphan Black "say something?"
Manson: It's really important -- our writer's room is where we set the bar high on the storytelling side of things. What turned us on in the beginning was the dramatic richness of nature versus nurture, and the longer you spend picking it apart, the more interesting it gets.
ETonline: Genetic patenting, a big reveal in your season finale, has been in the news a lot with the Supreme Court ruling that human genes cannot be patented. Talk about good marketing!
Fawcett: [laughs] Any time there's something in the news that has bearing on the direction of genetic science right now, it's fantastic for our show. We like to stay current too -- I think we use what's possible right now in science as a jumping off point. First and foremost we wanted to make an incredibly engaging mystery thriller, but on top of that, we knew we wanted to take the nature vs nurture concept and create these really interesting characters for Tatiana to play. We want to avoid cliches, and if you saw something coming, we'd go in the other direction. Graeme and I set out to pull the rug out from under people and never let them know where we’re going.
ETonline: Well you certainly accomplished that in the finale by killing Helena. I didn't see that coming at all. Even though it's unlike a traditional show where the actor stays on even if you kill their character, is it hard to say good-bye to the clones?
Manson: We don't treat the clones like cannon fodder, so death is a huge deal for us. We will not line them up and knock them down. This is a character drama and we want the audience to invest in them. It's a huge decision either way -- just like it was also a huge decision to have Cosima be sick.
Fawcett: As far as [killing] Helena, we knew where that storyline was going the entire time. We had made the decision [to kill her] in episode 10 when we started. This was a character we, essentially, set up as a serial killer, so we planned to, about halfway through he season, pull the rug out and start to make her sympathetic.
ETonline: What was a bigger surprise: the fans love for Helena or their love for Alison?
Fawcett: [laughs] Hmmmm. You know what, I don't know. Alison was my favorite when we started developing the show. I really was invested in people loving Alison because I thought she was a gas. Helena, for me, turned out to be a bit more of a surprise. I didn't know if that was going to work out. So if I'm talking pure surprise, it’s Helena. Some of the moments with her in episode 9 really surprised me -- they were so much deeper and more emotional than I would have suspected from reading the script.
Manson: And that's so much thanks to Tatiana -- the things she brought to her little monster were some of the greatest things of the season. She was the one who decided Helena was motivated by love. She was the one who made that decision and when we had that conversation with the writers, it was a moment where we all said, "Oh! That's it!" And we started writing to that.
ETonline: As her biggest fan, what excites you about where the season finale leaves Alison, John?
Fawcett: To me, Alison is very much on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She's been drinking and pill popping and still puts on the happy face for everyone ... for the most part. For me, that's a character who will always be fun to play with. She's a paranoid, conspiracy theorist, gun-carrying, pill-popping alcoholic housewife in the suburbs -- you can't tell me that in season two and beyond you won't have a blast with a character like that!
ETonline: While we've met other clones, Sarah feels like the lead of your show, and protecting Kira has been her singular focus for the duration of season one. What can you say about Kira's abduction looking to season two?
Manson: Sarah's drive to protect Kira, regardless of her methods, has been the drive of our show since day one and that was the huge cliffhanger for the first season. Obviously Sarah is going to come out of the gate in a big way next season. She's got suspects in her sights, and a big one is Rachel.
ETonline: How about Mrs. S? That character was a bit of a slow-burn for me, but it's clear she's got a lot of secrets of her own.
Fawcett: We knew there was more to do with Mrs. S from the beginning, but in developing season one, Mrs. S became even more of a slow burn than we had expected. You can pretty much count on the fact you’ll see more of her in season two and a new side to her as well.
ETonline: Can you say if season two will pick up where season one left off or if there will be a time jump?
Fawcett: We gotta hit the ground running. The bottom line is Kira's gone and that means there's a fire under everyone's ass. You won't come back into the season with a one month or six month time jump.
ETonline: We got hints of Kira's specialness all season long -- she can heal and is the first child of a clone. Will season two be about discovering what she is?
Manson: Yes. We're very interested in the biology that makes Sarah the one mother among the clones and what that means for her offspring. There's a long mystery to be followed there.
ETonline: Tatiana and I joked about this, but if your show keeps growing in popularity and in scope, there's a chance she could be asked to play dozens of clones simultaneously at some point. Do you have an internal ceiling for how many clones can be on the show at a given time?
Fawcett: There's no definitive answer to how many clones there are [in the writer's room]. I know that no one is willing to commit to anything. I can also say that as a director, trying to stick 30 Tatiana's in one scene is never going to happen ... at least until we hit the feature film version of the show.
ETonline: Is a movie something you would actually consider making?
Fawcett: I think Graeme and I could consider a feature film at some point.