Interview: Jordan Gavaris on Orphan Black’s feline Felix

ORPHAN BLACK Episode 103


Jordan Gavaris, named one of Playback Magazine’s Top 10 To Watch in 2010, is being watched a whole lot in Space’s new hit Orphan Black, which was the highest-rated original series debut in the channel’s history. TV, eh?’s Martha Marcin talked to him about his inspiration for the character of Felix and his astounding costar Tatiana Maslany.

Martha Marcin: When I watch Orphan Black, I actually forget that I’m watching a scifi series. That element is really subtle and in the back ground, do you agree?

Jordan Gavaris: It is, we call it the “gateway scifi show”. It’s scifi for anyone who thinks that they don’t like scifi. I think it does a lot of what the more iconic scifi shows do, by blending social fears into the storyline. Right now I think that the big one we are all having is the identity crisis. Who am I? Who are you to me? What does it all mean? And with the advent of technology we can be anybody we want to be. There is an anonymity behind the computer screen, and I think it’s getting more difficult as the years go by to be a genuine human being. I think (cocreators) John (Fawcett) and Graeme (Manson) have done a really nice job of blending those issues into the script.

Yes I did notice, even though it is still early in the show that there is an underlying theme of identity running through it? The identity of Sarah as one of, apparently many, clones. Will Felix be wrestling with his identity going forward as well?

Yes, Felix and Sarah are both orphans, so they are inherently outsiders, but Sarah all of a sudden stumbles onto this lineage and these familial bonds that she has, this connection to something bigger that herself. Now, in spite of the fact that it is a very strange connection, it is family in a sense, there’s someone that she has a tie to, and Felix still doesn’t have anybody. So the further she becomes invested in this mystery, trying to figure out who she is, and where she comes from, the further she gets away from him, and I think that frightens him a little bit. So he does grapple with his identity in that sense.

What was your first thought when you were introduced to Felix’s character? What did you think of the character of Felix. Inspirations?

Well my initial inspiration was, believe it or not, a feline. He was sexualized, he was quite irreverent if not bitchy, he was only nice half the time, he is very dominant but in a graceful way, he’s very territorial, quite impetuous. Then I started trying to move like a cat; they enter a room and they look at everything like they own it, and that’s what gives Felix his presence, that oomph on the screen. It’s me playing a cat.

What was really important and what came naturally was the relationship between Felix and Sarah. I have two older sisters myself, and I was able to project all these feeling onto Tatiana (Maslany) because she is so open, and so lovely that it came naturally. Those were my real inspiration points.

This is a very complex and wonderfully convoluted story we have here. How do you keep things straight? Are you privy to all the twists and turns before you shoot an ep?

Oh my word, it’s hard! There are times when Tatiana will come out, and … it’ s so embarrassing! When she is playing the clones there is a clear delineation, but occasionally we will deal with characters becoming other characters, and it does get confusing. You have to stop yourself and ask her, “Which one are you again?” Trying to keep the story lines straight is a task, but the writing is so good that you don’t have to look very far. And I was impressed at how fast paced and sleek and stylish the first few episodes were, and how much information is thrown at the audience, and you keep up, you get it all, It’s a testament to John and Graham and the creative team…and the audience as well. We are obviously attracting a very smart group of people.

Absolutely, there is a huge amount of information, there is a lot going on, and I was never confused and always entertained. That is a huge testament to the writing and the show in general.

That’s so great to hear.

I don’t normally talk about costars but I have to in this case: Tatiana Maslany is amazing. OMG!

Oh yes, I know!

The way she keeps all those different clones mannerisms and accents. I think in the 3rd episode she played 4 different clones, including Sarah who’s pretending to be a 2 more clones on top of that. I was blown away because I kept forgetting it was the same actress…even when there were 3 clones on the screen together, at the same time. Each with distinct mannerisms, accents, bearing.

I’m not sure what you read about the casting process but John and Graham knew if they were going to move forward with the show it was going to take a very special actress to be able to do this. Because when you are in a situation where the actor is very good, but is only good at playing shades of themselves, and doesn’t have the same breadth or range, then you’re in a situation where you basically get a glamourized CW show. And this show is so much more than that.

When they found Tatiana and I tested against her, it was magic. I walked into the room, and I had read that scene a hundred times, and I had gone over it and over it, and I walked in and she was standing there with a bourbon in her hand (it wasn’t really bourbon) and she was Sarah and I was Felix, and it was this lovely moment where everything sort of fell into place and we connected and it sweeps you away. I owe the part to her as well because my test was good because of her. She is one of the most extraordinary women I have ever met and one of the most extraordinary actors I have ever met. She is just an extraordinary human being.

You can totally feel the chemistry the two of you have together on screen, it draws you in and it feels totally effortless.

It was crazy. I sort of like to pretend we were brother and sister in a past life, or something. Or maybe we were married. Who knows? (Laugh). We had something, there was an almost supernatural connection. And you pray for those moments, because that generally is what sells the relationship on screen.

You touched on how the writers and producers needed to have a strong actress to portray Sarah because the entire show hinges on her. It reminded me of Dollhouse, did you ever watch it?

Yes, I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan.

Me too! I love his work, but I have to say it was the lead that just that was not able to pull off multiple different characters that she had to.

I know, and Ringer was much the same as much as I love Sarah Michelle Geller, and I think she is extraordinarily talented actress with a lot of charisma, but I just don’t think…You know, as I said it could have easily turned into a CW version of a clone show, but instead what we got was a riveting piece of drama, a character study really, a character driven piece just because of the way that Tatiana approached all these women.

Is her head exploding by the end of a shoot?

(Laugh) Oh I get the odd message from her, “Oh I’m going to crawl under the kitchen table,” or “I’m all over the map,” but I have pretty much the same ones. Before the premiere I said I was hiding in a bathtub somewhere.

I’m a bit of a TV junkie, and looking at the characters we play, I was nervous because they are not the nicest people in the world, they are sort of the anti-hero. And I made some bold character choices, some very big ones, and I was nervous that it wasn’t going to come across, that people might be put off. So I was having minor coronaries at three in the morning and I would send her little text messages and she would be doing the same.

Orphan Black airs Saturdays on Space.