PASADENA, Calif. – Ari Millen’s addition to the second season cast of the critically acclaimed series Orphan Black was not that auspicious. His role as the loyal follower of a religious extremists was good, but it wasn’t expected to last.
This is a show where the lead actress, Tatiana Maslany, plays at least a half dozen clones and that number keeps growing.
Orphan Black, airing 8 p.m Saturday on BBC America, deals with what happens when a corporation successfully works out the cloning process. The clones come from the same genetic material, but they couldn’t be more different, ranging from a snooty soccer mom to a mentally disturbed wild child. The battle between the clones and the corporation makes for explosive moments.
Millen’s going to get to see what it’s like to play multiple roles after it was revealed in the finale of season two that he’s a male clone created through the creepy sounding Project Castor. His work on the show resumes Saturday when season three begins.
It wasn’t originally planned for Millen to play a clone. When he signed on to the BBC America series, he was told his character would be dead by episode six of the second season.
“I was just hoping to get a glorious send-off,” Millen says.
Executive producer John Fawcett says Project Castor was part of the storyline from the beginning, but it wasn’t until they cast Millen in season two that they realized they had found the actor who could handle the clone challenge.
Once he knew that death was out and a future as clones was in, Millen decided to turn to Maslany for advice. Watching her work has provided clues on how to play multiple characters.
“When I found out, it was around the time of the shooting of the clone dance party, so I went in and I just sort of watched her do that, and that was no small feat,” Millen says. “So I think acting is a private process, and we all make our own decisions. But when you have someone doing something so unique and so technical, just watch. I just saw her ease and her just taking time to breathe and just doing one at a time, and I think that’s the greatest lesson I learned from her.”
Millen has been interested in acting since he was a senior in high school. Part of that came out of his participation in the National Improv Games where, at one point, he went head-to-head with Maslany. After graduation, Millen landed small roles in TV shows such as 12 Monkeys, Reign and Rookie Blue. Nothing has come close to the demands of Orphan Black.
It’s not only the emotional and creative challenges. He realized between the second and third season he was so physically drained that all he did was sleep and get up long enough to eat. And, the demands get bigger this season.
He’s handling the job through trust and concentration.
“I look in the mirror once the hair and makeup are done and I see this person I am,” Millen says. “Then I go into the scene and just do it.”
And, if he has any questions about how one of his multiple characters should act, Millen talks to the writers for tips.
Outside of Maslany, no one knows the challenge of playing clones better that Jordan Gavaris. He’s spent two season acting in scenes to allow Maslany to bring together her characters. Gavaris plays her adopted brother and chief confidant.
“I sent a message to him on Facebook after I had seen a cut of his first scene. I had never seen such gravitas. He has incredible presence,” Gavaris says. “I think that’s where the producers saw the potential in him.”