Orphan Black, the hit BBC America series about clones on the run, is hardly the first TV show to cast an actress (the incredible Tatiana Maslany) in multiple parts, or to employ camera trickery so that a performer appears to be carrying on a conversation with herself (or in many cases, her selves). It may be the only one in recent memory, however, in which an actor has both murdered himself and engaged in one of the creepiest threesomes ever committed to film — two distinctions which Orphan‘s newest addition, Ari Millen, can now add to his resumé.
Welcome to Clone Club 2.0.
To OB fans, Millen’s preternaturally high-cheekboned mug had already made quite an impact in singular form. Cast as Mark Rollins, a devoted member of an extreme religious group — the Proletheans — the 33-year-old actor instantly became the second season’s resident go-to psycho, the kind of villain whose creepy-as-fuck smile and wide-eyed sense of craziness suggested a seriously unhinged zealot. And then, just as the show’s sophomore run drew to close, viewers learned that Mark was simply one of several lookalike loonies on the loose — the military-experiment-gone-awry, XY-chromosome siblings to Maslany’s genetically identical band of sisters.
“We wanted a weird bad guy,” says John Fawcett, who co-created the series with Graeme Manson. “When I watch television, so often I feel like a lot of the casting feels generic. I’m looking for a mix of something compelling from a physical point of view, which makes you just want to look at them, and someone who brings an energy or interpretation to a character that you weren’t expecting. That’s what I got from Ari.”
Millen has been making the small-screen rounds since graduating from Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre School in 2007, with a handful of one-off roles in such series as Nikita, Rookie Blue, Reign, and 12 Monkeys. He’d already unsuccessfully auditioned to play a drug-dealing ex and a morgue worker on the show before Fawcett and Manson chose him for the holy-roller bad guy. And just because he had the qualities the showrunners were looking for didn’t mean that his character was going to stick around: Mark was originally supposed to shuffle off this mortal coil before the season ended. “As we started shooting with him, we actually began developing him more,” Fawcett admits. “We liked him too much. He felt too intrinsic to kill.”
Plus, the showrunners had a more important matter on their minds: How to introduce the existence of a second set of “boy clones” known as Project Castor. Though this additional wrinkle weren’t revealed until the Season Two finale, the idea of disrupting the storyline with the evil flip-side of Maslany’s sorority was “in the mix even at the beginning, when we were pitching the show,” according to Fawcett. “We just didn’t know who that was going to be.” They soon realized the solution had been (intensely) staring them in the face all along.
Millen, meanwhile, had no idea that the season would culminate in a collision of clones, or that he was being groomed to extend the multi-role tradition. “We were partway through [shooting the second to last episode] when Graeme dropped the news on me,” the actor recalls. “I only found out that there was going to be a Project Castor about two weeks before we shot the finale — let alone that it was going to be me. If I had known when I got cast that it was going to be this big a role later on, I think I would have played him much differently — I would’ve played the end a bit too much.”
“I assumed the technical side would be the difficult part and the preparation the easy part — but it was the complete opposite.”
Whereas another actor might’ve been intimidated to go head-to-head (to-head-to-head-to-head) with the show’s lead, Millen was more concerned “that I was too excited.” It helped that he’d has known Maslany since high school. “There is something called the Canadian Improv Games, and both of our high schools made it to the national tournament in Ottawa,” Millen recalls. “We played in the finals of that tournament together.” They both also relocated to Toronto shortly thereafter, where the actor is still based with his fianceé and baby daughter.
And as high as Maslany has set the bar for playing multiple characters, she’s also been an invaluable resource for the actor. “The clone dance party was the first time I got to watch her work, knowing what my future was going to be,” Millen says. “I really watched how she navigated it all: Each character is different and you’ve got to approach it a different way. I assumed the technical side would be the difficult part and the preparation the easy part — but it was the complete opposite. When you watch Tat do a multicharacter scene and see Project Castor interacting with themselves, the writers and director take real care in making sure that you are seeing them in the scene together, interacting with each other.”
But Millen’s four (and counting?) clones — Mark, Miller, Rudy, and Seth — have indeed broken new clone ground on the show. Case in point: The Great Clone Threeway of 2015, in which two of the Castor gents get busy with a young woman one of them has picked up in a bar.
“That was just…weird,” Millen laughs. “I got the script and just started shaking my head. Like, ‘You guys!’ A scene like that will always be awkward, but then add in the weird twisted incest of it all and it’s just…” (You can fill in your own adjective here.) He promises that the already-infamous scene “lends itself to a plot point that we will discover as the season goes on. It’s not just of a gratuitous nature. There is some interesting science coming out of it.”
So far, Millen has racked up a quartet of different characters; as to what the final tally will be, not even the creators know. But the actor promises that this season will deliver answers, and that there’s plenty in store for the Castors. “The plot is going to always get deeper and darker, and we are going to start learning why things are the way they are,” Millen says. “We are the quintessential dysfunctional family of the modern era, after all.”