Canadian actor Ari Millen is poised for great things. From one viewpoint, his position is enviable: he’s playing the new male clones (all four that we know of!) on sci-fi TV zeitgeist Orphan Black and is the focal point of Season 3. Looking at it another way, it’s downright terrifying—his performance(s) will be a make-or-break scenario for the show, and he’s stepping into some gigantic shoes after castmate Tatiana Maslany expertly played more than six different clones for two seasons.
TV, eh? spoke with Millen in a dark-lit apartment in Toronto. Simply put, Millen is an absorbing man, very passionate about his roles, and his eyes have that thing where they stare directly into your soul. His gaze never wavers, and his slow, deliberate tone foreshadows what’s most likely going to be an intense season of Orphan Black.
Trained in classical theatre at Toronto’s Ryerson University, Millen brings a solid repertoire along with his striking look. Yes, he’s not just a pretty face. Maslany, also schooled in theatre and improv, transcends the typical TV actor in the same way. Together the duo are a formidable pair, and on screen they deliver the goods. There is a tangible exchange between the two, and Millen did his best to learn the tricks of playing multiple clones from his predecessor.
If they were the Seven Dwarves, Seth would be Dopey. I look like my maternal grandfather with that moustache, it’s kind of scary.
“I sat in on the clone dancing party shoot in the Season 2 finale, just to get a taste of what that sort of scene is like, where you play different characters,” says Millen. “No one spoke to me about how to do it, I kind of learned through osmosis. All actors have different ways of getting into things, but I definitely learned from watching Tat.”
It is quite the challenge. Millen is playing four Project Castor clones—probably more as the season progresses—and like Maslany’s characters, they vary wildly. There’s Mark, who we already know, who’s run off with Gracie. Rudy, who we saw in the Season 2 finale, is the “alpha-male peacock” (Millen’s words) with the scar, always looking to push somebody else’s buttons. Seth is the moustachioed clone, the goofball.
“If they were the Seven Dwarves, he would be Dopey,” laughs Millen. “I look like my maternal grandfather with that moustache, it’s kind of scary.”
Perhaps the most intense and multi-faceted character Millen is going to play this season is Miller, a military-minded clone who lost his leg in the field. He is sharp, refuses to take any pity, and still resolves to be the best soldier he can be. Despite his disability, he yearns to be top military brass. From these four characters, it’s apparent there is a wide spectrum of personality traits Millen has to hit.
“For me, the whole process was done completely in reverse,” he says. “Normally I would develop the character after reading the scripts and figure out who the person was. When the guys were introduced, the two ones at the end of Season 2, I don’t even know if the writers or producers knew who they were, as characters. I only had visuals on them for most of the summer leading up to shooting. I knew Mark, obviously. For Rudy, Miller and Seth, it wasn’t until I sat in the makeup chair and they adjusted the hair or added the scar or moustache, then I could figure out who they were.”
Millen has been appearing here and there in a number of projects over the past couple of years. (“I died six times last year!” he jokes.) Again, like Maslany, who starred in several independent films before making waves at Sundance and ultimately getting the gig on Orphan Black, Millen has appeared in several TV shows (and a couple films) in small-yet-diverse roles, often starring next to some of Canada’s finest talent.
I was so excited to get to play more than one character, sometimes in one day. I can’t wait to explore different parts of my personality, and make them bigger.
He played The Shadow King in Reign alongside Megan Follows, deliciously chewing the scenery as a fraudster. He played former CIA analyst and whistleblower Adam Wexler (think Edward Snowden) in 12 Monkeys, and had bit roles in both Nikita and Rookie Blue. Film-wise, he appeared in retro-horror movie Hellmouth and the as-yet-released werewolf flick Hunter’s Moon, which stars none other than legendary actor Colm Feore.
Weirdly, Millen’s acting trajectory looks very similar to Feore’s, and that is not lost on him.
“Colm Feore is definitely someone whose career I admire,” says Millen. “If I could emulate his career, I would count myself very lucky. That, for me, is the pinnacle of making it —someone who can do a healthy balance of film, television and theatre. And it’s on the world stage too.”
All of Millen’s experience culminated for Orphan Black, and he poured himself into the roles with every single ounce of energy.
“It certainly is a challenge unlike any other that I’ll encounter in the acting world, but it’s been nothing but exciting,” he says. “I was so excited to get to play more than one character, sometimes in one day. I can’t wait to explore different parts of my personality, and make them bigger.”
He still considers himself somewhat of a rookie in the industry, and is set to do what is probably the right thing—ignore the Internet—when it comes to comments or blogs about the show. Knowing how rabid Orphan Black fans are, and how critical they can be, Millen doesn’t want it to colour his performances in any way going forward.
“I’m going to ignore a lot of it,” he says. “Positive or negative. Thankfully we’re done shooting. The danger might be, if I read it, if it was positive, I’d be like, ‘Yeah I’m doing great!’ and then lose sight of what I’d found. If it was negative, I’d start changing the way I approached it. I’m not going to go looking for it, that’s for sure. I’m too green. I haven’t built up a callus yet. I need more time in the industry before I can laugh it off.”
But he couldn’t be happier being a part of Orphan Black. As most of the cast and crew have attested, the feeling on-set is one of harmony, a collective group giving their all to deliver.
“It’s very seldom that you get the entire package,” he says. “This is one of those projects where everyone across the board is equally enthused about bringing the product to life. It’s never going to work on Orphan Black unless everyone is invested. It’s a very good, supportive and healthy atmosphere.”
And what can we expect from Season 3?
“It’s a really exciting season. The introduction of Project Castor is forcing Project Leda to batten down the hatches and become more cohesive. It’s really challenging Sarah and her sisters. They’re nobody to mess with!”
Orphan Black returns Saturday, April 18, at 9 p.m. ET on Space, CTV, Bravo and MTV.