What if you suddenly saw your doppelganger? How would you react? And what if, the moment after you saw her, she threw herself in front of a train? This mind-bending event was the original idea that brought to life Graeme Manson and John Fawcett’s hit series Orphan Black. Starring Tatiana Maslany, the show explores the impact of nature and nurture on the lives of various genetic copies - of the same woman.
First a feature film idea, Manson and Fawcett knew the story could go much farther than a two-hour script. Graeme developed it into a TV pilot while running the Canadian Film Centre’s showrunner in residence program. When they approached Kerry Appleyard at Temple Street (a division of Boat Rocker Media), creators of Being Erica, she “fell in love with the possibilities of the idea; loved the mystery. And the women at the centre, exploring ‘who am I?’, their identities. If I’m not in control of my freedom, who am I?”
Together Kerry, Graeme and John worked on the pitch and took the concept to various Canadian and US broadcasters. On the first round, all of them passed. But eventually they got interest from BBC America who were ramping up their original production, and from Rogers in Canada. With BBC and Rogers on board and the Canada Media Fund providing resources for development of a story bible and two scripts, the show was on its way. When Rogers changed direction to pursue comedies, Space saw its opportunity and came aboard as “the perfect partner. The stars had aligned!” From closed doors to airing in over 150 countries, fans are grateful for the tenacity behind this strange and innovative show idea.
Yet it was mid-way through the first season before the team started to recognize that this show was largely about a sisterhood forming. Autonomy, the ownership of your body and other powerful and timely themes just came out of the show naturally. “We weren’t overly conscious of those themes. They are an authentic component – part of its DNA” explains Kerry. Tatiana’s portrayal of such strong female characters put this female-centric show on the map: Sarah, our brave leader; Helena, a redeemable monster; Alison, a suburbanite inspired by a crafting sister; Cosima, the west coast Bohemian resembling the show’s consulting scientist, plus corporate queen Rachel and introvert MK. They all ultimately overturn stereotypes of femininity in their own way.
Another important consideration for the show is its diversity. They are “colour-blind and cast accordingly.” Issues of sexual orientation are also at the forefront, garnering an additionally supportive fan base. And all of this diversity extends beyond the set, with a variety of perspectives in the writing room. Kerry discloses that, along with Tatiana winning an Emmy, what she’s most proud of is “seeing all the young women in the room – furthering them along and giving them chances to succeed. Mentoring from coordinator to writer.”
Shooting in Toronto, BBC America initially wanted to make the city unidentifiable for the sake of relatability and selling internationally. Yet, fans and Torontonians alike can parse out the various hallmarks of the city, even without a shot of the CN Tower. Working here also has its benefits for Tatiana, being her home base. Playing all of the sister clones can be quite taxing as she appears as more than one character in many scenes. The male clones joining the story in later seasons helped, as did Tatiana’s amazing acting double, Kathryn Alexandre. When not on set, the leading lady also has rehearsals, additional lines to record and ongoing publicity. Remaining remarkably humble, she’s taken a page from the clones’ playbook and makes sure her life continues to be her own.
Over the last four years, Orphan Black has been nominated for the gamut of major awards including three GLAAD Awards, two Emmys, a Golden Globe and numerous Canadian Screen Awards. In 2016, Tatiana won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Overall the show has had 59 wins and 69 nominations. Press continues to abound with poignant features in the New York Times and innumerable Tumblr fan blogs.
Since the first season, fans (known as the #CloneClub) have championed the show. Huge crowds gather to see the cast at Comic Con, Fan Expo and other events. To satiate fan appetite, the team created the CloneCast, a podcast where cast and crew take turns diving deep on episodes, themes and creation details. In addition, Space produces After the Black, an after-show recap and discussion. One of the only Canadian shows to have an after-show, the team is thrilled at the ongoing desire from the community and support from the broadcasters. In fact, the fan artwork is so amazing that BBC used it for its Season 4 promotional poster. On top of that, the show continues to host set visits and create walk-on roles for contest winners. Completing the collection are Orphan Black T-shirts, fashion apparel, comic books, clone dolls, Bobbleheads, a board game, and the newest addition, a digital adventure puzzle game.
Just finishing the final episodes of the final season, it’s a proud and emotional time for everyone. The team envisioned the program as a five season show that has now come to its natural end. While fans wish the clones could go on forever, Kerry confirms that “conspiracy answers must be arrived at; a personal quest must come to an end.” The final season of Orphan Black airs this June on Space Channel and BBC America. Watch Seasons 1-4 again on CraveTV or iTunes and join the #CloneClub on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.