Interview: 'Orphan Black''s Graeme Manson reveals origin story plan
With a break-out hit in "Orphan Black," co-creator Graeme Manson could be forgiven a smug attitude about creating such a smart, fast-paced series (full disclosure: I'm a fan), but no reason -- the friendly, easy going writer-producer still seems a little stunned by the show's success. When I got a chance to talk to Manson, he enjoyed talking about all things "Orphan Black," including the science and politics driving the plot, challenges facing our favorite characters in season two, some possible plans for an origin story (!), and he even gave a few hints of his master plan for the series. This is a long interview, but if you're a fan you'll want to read it through to the end, promise.
HitFix: I still remember worrying that "Orphan Black" was going to be like a '70s scifi movie.
Manson: No, no, not a room full of stasis tubes!
HitFix: Obviously, the show is so much more than that. You're grappling with big, current issues, namely intellectual property rights. Was it always your agenda to make intellectually challenging issues
Manson: I mean, I found it super interesting territory and I always, you know, I always like that. I like the existential sort of conundrum that that stuff provides. It’s like self and ownership and free will, freedom, you know. Going back to Aldous Huxley and great writers like that. I mean, since I was a teenager I was like an existentialist. So, yeah, I’ve always liked those kind of mysteries. But the key to them is that it’s not really what the show’s about, right.
Manson: It’s that those are big themes, and we don’t want to get bogged down in them.
HitFix: It does feel like this is a way for us to understand current, complex issues that we need to understand.
Manson: I think so, yeah. You know, we have a science advisor on the show, the real Cosima. Did you know that? Cosima Herter is in Minneapolis, and she has her post-modern television character named after herself, which is kind of cool. But when I first came up with the concept with John Fawcett, my partner, I was trying to wrap my head around the themes of cloning and what is cloning. She was the first person that I went to. So, I’m thinking about this clone stuff and she just immediately goes, “Oh, it’s so fascinating. Synthetic biology and all of this stuff.” And starts to put it in a wider context. She’s a historian of science. She’s also very good with story and pop culture. So we just end up in these long conversations that are truly fascinating and inspiring for us both. I bring her to the writer’s room at least three times a season to just talk about the season and the big picture and what she’s seeing so far.
So she reads the scripts all the time as we go through and she’ll say, “Do you know what you guys are doing? You are on these themes and this and all of the feminist themes running underneath it.” She helps put those things in focus, so that we can weave them into the show… and I like them to be woven into the show in action and in discovery rather than just in like...
HitFix: … having a character stop and deliver a monologue.
Manson: Yeah, exactly.
HitFix: It's always a little miracle to get a television show on the air, and it's impossible to predict how long you'll be on the air once you're own. So, back when you were developing this, how far into the future did you plot it out? Do you have a seven year or a ten year plan? Because I think you might need it.
Manson: When we were pitching it, we had our pilot script and we had a bible. You know, we had a pretty elaborate bible because it’s a complex pitch. My pitch was sit down and talk for 20 minutes. This was not an elevator pitch kind of thing. It was a sit down and build the world, this is what’s happening pitch. And this is why it’s perpetual. So I had to be able to say, “And in the second season we could go here, and in the third season, this is why it could keep going – this is why it could keep spinning.” So we do have our big picture. We’ve always had our big picture. It’s just now that we’ve got, you know, a second season and fingers crossed that the third.
HitFix: I don’t think you have to worry about that.
Manson: That third season, it’s like we’d imagined a three season arc. Now we can go okay, if it’s three seasons, we can look at pushing that sort of endpoint, that answer, those answers – some of those big answers that we want to get to. We push them down the road or we get to it and figure out a way to reboot the series in a way that’s not all new characters or anything like that.
HitFix: A complete reboot? Oh, oh no.