New Clones in Town: An Interview with Orphan Black’s Ari Millen

The Clones are back in town tonight with the Season 3 premiere of Orphan Black! And we have a very special treat for you — an interview with the man behind the Project Castor clones, Ari Millen. We first met Ari as Mark in Season 2 of Orphan Black, and then there was the huge reveal in the season finale. In this interview, we talk about his beginning in the industry, a couple of his other recent projects, and of course, what’s in store for Orphan Black this season.

Before we get into Orphan Black and all of the other exciting projects you’ve been working on, let’s go back to the beginning. I read that you had wanted to be a hockey player at one point. When did your path take you into acting instead?

I think like everybody, at least [every] warm blooded Canadian, I wanted to be in the NHL. And then, as high school progressed, I started getting into improv and some shows, and at a certain point I had to make a decision. A lot of my friends were getting into film and that was kind of my passion, too. I always had fun playing around with that kind of stuff, so I guess around OAC (the Grade 13 year that Ontario high school students used to have as an option). We were lucky that we had that extra year, otherwise, speaking of this, I would have been lost. I think I probably would have had to take a year off to figure out what I wanted to do. So, luckily, I had my OAC year to sort of focus in on that. I did a course called “Theatre Complete.” It was a way of taking all of your high school credits each semester, focusing in on theatre. So, I did that all of my OAC year and then ended up at Ryerson and graduated. I guess six months out — I can’t remember the exact amount of time — I had my first union credit with a small role on Regenesis, and then kind of built from there. I was on Nikita, I did Rookie Blue, I was in a couple of movies by the Foresight Features guys who are great — and I am sort of talking with them right now about another project coming up — and then I was on Played.

Was it always going to be TV and film for you, or was theatre your first choice? I know Ryerson’s program is really focused on theatre. 

What’s great about Toronto is there’s increasingly more and more exciting things going on, so it’s easy to be drawn into [the film and TV] world. I think if I could choose my career, I would love a healthy balance of both. I mean, I did a show almost a year and a half ago, but it seems like yesterday, at the Fringe Festival called The Oak Room, and that was one of the favourite things I’ve ever done. Period. So, I really hope that I get to do both.

There aren’t many details about all of the roles you’re playing on Orphan Black in the coming season, but it sounds almost like you’re getting the chance to play all of these different character types, all rolled into one show.

Definitely, yeah, I mean, it’s funny – I can’t remember who said it. It might have been Kristin, the make-up assistant on the show, Kristin Wayne, I think she said the great thing for Tat [Maslany] about this show is that she will never be type cast. Right? Looking at my resume, I tend to get a lot of the bad guys, the small time criminals, and, certainly with Orphan Black, the way it’s looking, it’s no different. But with Mark, as he developed in the second season, there is more to him than just two-dimensional bad guy. He is really someone struggling with identity and he wants something different. This is how he’s been raised and it’s sort of instinct – or nurtured instinct – as opposed to as who he really is. So, thankfully, for me, coming up we’ve got Rudy – or Scarface – who at the end of the second season is presented as this sort of crazy bad ass, for lack of a better word. But then you’ve got Mark, and then you’ve got Miller who is the military guy who you will see is very sort of straight-laced and by the book and a soldier’s soldier. He is very intent in climbing the ranks and, therefore, will follow the chain of command. Yeah, I definitely have gotten to flex my acting muscles this year and I’m very grateful for it – that it’s not all the same sort of character.

Before you were cast on Orphan Black, was this something on your radar as an actor in Toronto? Were you watching it, or hoping you’d get the chance at a role on it?

Yeah, definitely I was a fan of the first season. My fiancé and I watched it every week as it was coming out because we really, really enjoyed the show. And obviously, yeah, if it’s a show filming in your city then there is always that hope. But, first and foremost I was a fan. I was a fan of the show and I would like to think that that helped me book the role. At the audition the sides that we were given were coded – the real names weren’t used when I went in. So, I read the scene, I read the scenario, and I was able to [figure out] “Is this person this person?” And then they could say, “I can’t tell you yes or no, but you’re on the right track.” So, I knew in the audition who I was speaking to, so that definitely helped and thankfully I got the role.

Mark wasn’t supposed to last long. When did you find out he was sticking around, and that he was in fact one of the male clones?

I was initially slated to die in Episode 6, and then I read Episode 6 and I wasn’t dead, and as each episode came, I’m like, “What’s going on?” I mean, this is exciting, but what’s going on? I guess they’ve got something else in store. And then, I guess partway through filming of Episode 9, I got a call from Graeme Manson, one of the co-creators, and he let me in on the secret, and then I had to keep a secret for a little bit longer until the script was released – the season finale was released to everyone and then I got to sort of have fun. I basically kept the secret right to the very end. I had about two weeks’ notice before I had to do those other guys.

I did not see that turn of events coming at the end of Season 2. It was such a delightful surprise.

Yeah, and that’s just a testament to the writers. I mean, I think Project Castor was always going to be a part of the lore of the story, but, I guess they hadn’t decided who it was going to be so, yeah. I get sometimes those surprises are best kept. And I think too, had I known, I don’t think Mark would be the same character. I wouldn’t have developed in the same way, so I’m kind of happy that I didn’t know. I am very happy that he got to be his own person first.

I was on Twitter when that big reveal happened and the response was like an explosion! And then you got to go to San Diego Comic-Con last summer. What was that experience like, interacting with the fans? Was that your first time in San Diego?

Yeah, first time in San Diego, first time at any kind of Comic-Con, other than being at FanExpo in Toronto. San Diego Comic Con is the real deal. It’s quite overwhelming and humbling to meet and see people who have so much invested in the show and it’s really quite wonderful.

I remember Orphan Black‘s first year at Comic-Con, the panel was in a smaller room and a couple of thousand people were turned away.

I think [last year] our panel, our room, held 2,000 or something like that, and we were turning people away still. They upped the room size because of the first season and then they were still turning people away so that’s incredible. Especially if they are not all from that area. They are coming from all around the world to be a part of this.

I know a lot of people like to cosplay the Orphan Black characters. Are you prepared to run into someone dressed as one of your characters?

Yes, I mean, I don’t know how I am going to handle it. I’ll take it in steps. I find it incredibly entertaining the attention to detail that they pay to some of these costumes. John Fawcett was talking about one of his first experiences with it at Comic-Con was in the first season — it was Helena dressed as Sarah pretending to be Beth to go into the police station, and then someone had that costume, and I remember him talking about how wild it was to see that. BBC America held a some special fan event that we surprised the fans with, and there was a vote for who had the best costume. There was one woman dressed up as Alison who just had it nailed like to down to the mannerisms and everything. People are pretty incredible. It’s like Halloween on crack. I applaud them. Applaud them all. It’s so incredible.

To take that one step further, Orphan Black always has such great promo campaigns. are you ready to see your face on posters and billboards?

So much of this job description, this industry, is just taking you out of real life. So, yeah – something like that definitely takes some getting used to. It’s not real. It’s not natural, right? So, if and when that day comes I will be excited and a little freaked out, I bet.

There’s a film project that you were part of that I’m looking forward to, which is Hunter’s Moon. Any news yet on when it’s going to be released? And can you tell us a bit about your character?

I believe the hope is a 2015 release. I haven’t been told specifically yet what festivals they are aiming for, but we wrapped in early September so I would imagine the edits have got to be done by now. So, fingers crossed that we get to see it this year.

Remy is the character that I play and he is sort of this PR advisor / babysitter for this eccentric millionaire or billionaire — pick your poison — who invented this card game years ago that he’s now releasing online and taking it to the next steps. At the beginning of the movie we are at the release party for this game. Everyone is having a good time and then all of a sudden people start disappearing and looking like they are having vicious werewolf deaths, which kind of fits the card game. You know, it’s life imitating art in that sense and that’s where the fun comes in. I think Matt likened to the gang from Scooby Doo meets a werewolf movie. So, it’s fun like that. We had a blast shooting that. It was all nights and we’re up at this mansion just north of Toronto that’s stuck in the ‘70s. Yeah, it was pretty incredible, so it fit the Art Hindle’s character, he plays the eccentric very well.

I really enjoyed your episode of Reign, too. That looks like it was a fun role to play.

I got to ride a horse and that’s all that matters. For the third or fourth time in my life, I got to be on a horse and I got to have a horse riding lesson. One of the scenes I shot on it and I was like, “That is the dream to live out.” To get to travel [back in time], to get to play different people from yourself, and you get to ride a horse. I think that’s just amazing. But, other than that, it’s just a beautiful costume drama. It’s sort of a modern version of the costume drama but it’s so cool. It’s so cool.

I love that so many things are filming here. Toronto is the place to be lately.

We’re very fortunate that we are on the upswing again. I think there was 2008 and then also SARS before that really took a hit to the city, but, you know, and now the dollar is going down again so hopefully more and more production comes in and we all stay busy. I’ll keep doing things and you will keep writing about them and we will all be happy.

Did you want to leave us with any final thoughts on Orphan Black, or a tease of what’s in store for Season 3?

I watched the first season as a fan and I was like, I love this. You know, there is always that sort of sophomore [slump], you know, you poor your heart into the first thing you do, and then the second season or the second album or whatever is always the hardest to do, right, because you’ve used all of your ideas. So, I watched the first season and I loved it and I was like, “Well, I’m on the show but how are they going to top the first season?” And then for me, for my money, the second season was even better. Coming into the third season, believe me, nothing has slowed down. The world just keeps on accelerating and it keeps on growing and you know now with the addition of Project Castor, not only are some answers going to be found but now new questions are going to arise out of that. Project Castor is not here to play nice. They are their own entity, they have their own set of goals that need to be reached, and Project Leda is at the centre of it. They are very interested in them, and Sarah and her sisters are not safe and need to keep looking over their shoulder while we’re around.  I think fans can only expect the same intensity and great writing and acting that they’ve come to expect. And I’m very proud to be a part of it. As long as I can keep doing what I’m doing and have as much fun as I’m having now, that’s all that matters. It’s a very humbling experience to get to do what you want to do for a living. So, I’m very happy that right now I am getting to do that.

Image Courtesy of BBC America

About Melissa - The Televixen

Melissa Girimonte, aka The Televixen, is a Toronto-based writer and podcaster. After freelancing with print and online magazines for several years, she channeled her life-long passion for TV into TheTelevixen.com, where she serves as Founder and Editor-in-Chief. She is an avid two-screen viewer and social media aficionado that adores being part of the online community. When not watching or writing about television, she enjoys travelling to pop culture events across North America.