Talk Nerdy With Us had the pleasure of speaking to Canadian actor, Kristian Bruun. Kristian is most well known for playing Donnie Hendrix on Space/BBC America’s hit sci-fi drama Orphan Black. Read our interview below. We discuss Orphan Black, Murdoch Mysteries, Comic Con, and Kristian’s upcoming projects.
Follow Kristian on Twitter.
Can you tell us a bit about how you auditioned for the role of Donnie?
“It was one audition, there was no callback or anything like that. They’d been looking for Donnie for a while. They’d had a series of auditions, they hadn’t found him yet. My agent actually wanted to put me in earlier for it but I wasn’t available due to a play that I was doing at the time.
Just before you open up a play, you have tech week and it’s just crazy long days, very laborious! You’re in the theater just setting up every single light, all the lighting cues, sound cues and practicing. You just do every technical aspect of the play so that everybody can be on the same page. Then you kind of go into previews and opening night. It’s all very important that everybody’s there the whole time and these are like twelve-hour days and I just wasn’t available.
I was doing tech week and I couldn’t audition for this show that my agent really wanted to get me on called Orphan Black, which nobody knew anything about because it was a brand new show so, it was like any other audition.
My agent called and said, “Yeah, it’s a new show, we really want to put you up for this role.” I said “Well I’m not available until next week.” Luckily, they didn’t find a Donnie and the next week I was able to go in.
It was one of those situations where I was asked to audition like around 5pm for a 10 am the next morning audition. There was three scenes to prepare and I was doing a play at night, because the play had already opened so my days were now free. I got the audition, I was like, “Well I can’t really worry about this now, I’ll just give them a quick read, I’ll go and do my play and then you know, I’ll focus on Orphan Black at about 11 pm when I get home.”
That’s what I did, I just kind of went off, did the play, and went home with the scene. I was just memorizing and preparing plus I needed to get some sleep. I just memorized it as best I could and then just went in there. I went by the gut on it more than anything else. It just went really well, and it clicked, and that was that!”
Donnie has, I think, changed the most from who he was in season 1 to who he is now in season 3. Did you know from the beginning who Donnie really was? Did you ever think he was a bad guy?
“Here’s the thing, nobody knows anything on the show except for John and Graeme. What’s really cool about the way that they work is that they are as collaborative as hell. They’re willing to switch things up and change things if they need to. They knew that everybody was going to have a monitor but not who that monitor was. They wanted to figure out who that would be, who’d be the best person for that.
They floated around lots of options and it pretty much came down to Donnie and Aynsley, the neighbor. I think they saw the opportunity in Aynsley to use her as a red herring a bit and also have fun with Donnie. He’s a bit of a lovable dope I guess. So, yeah, they just kind of took advantage of the situation.
They didn’t really know me, but when I first signed up for the show, they were like we don’t know if it’s going to be three episodes, maybe it will go to six, we’re not sure. They had sort of planned out the whole season and they were just kind of adjusting it as scripts were being written. Some things just kind of grew organically. We got used to each other. They got to know me, they got to know my humor a bit and they saw, I think, an opportunity for a comedic relief with Donnie.
That was it. It just kind of grew naturally. I didn’t know I was a monitor until I read the script. Until I read the last episode of season 1, I didn’t know I was the monitor. I was hoping! I really wanted to be a bad guy because I thought that would be a fun twist, and lo and behold, that’s kind of what happened. A temporary bad guy, if you will. [Laughs].”
Now, very redeemed.
How are you two similar and different?
“Well obviously, I bring my own sort of mannerisms to Donnie, but I’m generally very different from him. First of all, I don’t have my own kids or my own nutcase of a wife. [Laughs]. I don’t have adopted kids. I don’t live in the suburbs. I’m a downtown kid and I’m a bit of a nerd and I wear glasses. I play a lot instruments and I geek out a lot.
Donnie’s kind of an embodiment of a few people I know in my life, that I kind of piece together. Then he’s also based on just an actors imagination. I’m not a method actor or anything like that, I’m not going to live in the suburbs for months to study the vibe of a suburban house husband. [Laughs].”
I just kind of lend my own timing and my own language to the character. I try and keep it all within the realm of Alison’s crazy suburb. Yeah, he’s a very different character than me.
I try to be a lot more fashionable and more on the ball than he is in general, but I really love the character. I love playing Donnie. I love being able to be a bit of a chameleon when it comes to acting. I don’t tend to normally play characters that are very close to me in general, which I really love. It gives me a chance to kind of get lost in the role a bit or explore another side of me that’s hidden under the surface.”
When you were auditioning for Orphan Black you were doing the play, and when you were doing Orphan Black you were also doing Murdoch Mysteries.
Do you like having two jobs at the same time? Does it keep you on your toes having to commit to two shows?
“Oh hell yes. I’ll take three jobs. I’ll take four jobs at the same time. I love being busy, I work best when I’m busy. My actor brain works best when I’ve got all these lines coming in and out and I have to juggle things. I have to juggle my attention. I really love that!
I’m a bit of a workaholic when it comes to this business. The truth is you spend so much time where you’re not working, so when you have it you really soak it up. I can always be busier. I always want more jobs. I’m never satisfied with the amount of work that I’m doing. I always just want to do more and more and more and more and more. [Laughs].
I’m really lucky in that I get to play these different characters. Murdoch Mysteries is a character that’s quite different from Donnie. There are some similarities for sure, but it’s a period piece so it’s a lot of fun. It’s something very different from Orphan Black. I just feel really blessed that I have the opportunity to work on two very, very different shows and two shows that are at the top of the food chain in terms of the popularity up here in Canada and around the world.
Murdoch Mysteries plays all over the world as well as Orphan Black. I just, I feel very lucky that I’m able to do that. Both productions communicate so well and are able to use me. There was one day where I had to start the morning early at Murdoch Mysteries to finish my scenes, get picked up and go straight to set on Orphan Black on the same day. That was a bit crazy, but so much fun.”
Do you ever accidentally go to Orphan Black in the Murdoch Mystery mindset and vice versa?
“No, I’m not someone who has to prepare to get in to the character at home. I’ll do it on set. I’m a pretty low maintenance actor when it comes to getting into character, depending on the character. I think if I had like a really heavy dialect and I had to use it all day I’d probably stay in that. I show up, I do whatever it takes. Each character is different, but I’ll do what it takes on set to get there. I never confuse myself.”
How much of Donnie is improvised?
“Well the writers are really cool. Orphan Black is such a good writers show. There’s a lot of respect for the writers and the writers are top-notch and they work their tuchus off. [Laughs]. One of the show runners, Graeme, is the head writer and the other show runner, John, he’s the head director. They both head the director team and the writers team.
The writers are on set for their episode and they’re always there for consultation the whole time their episode is being filmed. The directors are very good at going to the writers and being like “Is that what you’re thinking of in that scene? Would you like to see anything different?” Which you never see on any other show.
I think that’s a testament to the way that Orphan Black is produced. The writers are happy because they’re respected and we care for them. When I go and improvise in a scene, I always do it with respect to the script, with respect to the character, and with respect to the writer. I always ask them “Can I change this line?” Or they also always expect that I’m going to have some fun with it.
It’s the same with Tat, because Tat is brilliant and a much better improviser than me. We both have an improv background, but she’s really just top-notch. We love to throw things at each other in character before we start a scene. Just before they call action we’ll start improvising just to get into the mind-set so that we’re hitting the ground running when they yell action. We’ll also improv at the end of the scene. We’ll put a button on the scene and if we drop a line for some reason or we’re doing some activity and it kind of screws us up, we know that we have each others back as improvisers, and as scene partners to roll with it.
Sometimes there’s some really fun stuff that gets found through happenstance, through accident. For example, in season two when Donnie and Alison are wrapping up Dr. Leekie in the garage, the whole prepping the body, to dig the hole and bury the body, that whole section was improvised.
T.J. Scott, the director of that episode said, “You guys are miked, you have your microphones on, you’ve got a boom mike, we’ve got cameras here, here and here. Um, there’s your body. There’s all your implements you need to wrap the body. I’m just gonna roll the cameras and you can say whatever you like. You can do whatever you like, just get that body rolled up and prepped.”
They let us improvise that whole scene! It’s such an amazing thing for us to do because a lot of television shows don’t want to rely on actors to just come up with dialogue right then. It’s a huge amount of respect that goes around from every department to let Donnie and Alison, Tat and I, improvise. It’s almost kind of been worked into the scripts that we get to have some fun with things. We’re also the comedic relief, in a sense, on the show. Improv naturally lends itself to comedy and they trust us with that. Long answer short! [Laughs].
At the end of the day, we respect the script and we follow the script. We always take the first takes of the script and then we’ll kind of explore a button on the end of the scene or a few things here and there. It’s all very collaborative and I couldn’t put it into a percentage. It’s an organic process that just happens on the day, but it’s one of the most exciting aspects of the job for all of us, that we get to do that. It’s a huge risk and it’s a huge respect thing that they do for us and for the writers. It’s just one big happy family. Which is nice.”
Dylan knew that he was going to be killed off. When did you guys as a cast find out that you were going to lose a vital cast member?
“I found out with Dylan at San Diego Comic Con. Not this year but the year before. We know that if we need to get a bit of information out of Graeme, we’ll catch him at the right moment when his guard is down and we did that at San Diego. [Laughs]. We were just hanging out and it came out that he, Graeme, told Dylan “I’m sorry bud, but he’s going to be, he’s going to die.” Dylan and I were both kind of shocked. I think he told Dylan individually first and I think he broke it in a really nice way.
At the end of the day, this is a show where nobody is safe, not even Donnie, not even one of the clones. If it’s for the good of the story then there’s no argument against it. If it’s just to get rid of someone then yeah, that would be terrible, but it’s always story based. Everything that happens is with respect to our story and… what we’re telling. Dylan took it like a man.
Nobody wants to lose their job, nobody wants to walk away from this show. It was really upsetting when Dylan shot his last days because he’s such a pal of ours. I never actually got to work with him but we became close just hanging out and working on the show. He’s just such a great guy. Hanging out at conventions and things like that.
It is something that is treated with a lot of respect and a lot of heart. It is difficult to see that happen. Sometimes you find out when you read a script, sometimes you find out if you’re on set and the word comes down the line but yeah, it’s always sad to see that happen. It could very well happen to any of us at any time. That’s kind of also the exciting part of working on a show like this. It’s finite.
Any show is, but you know, on a kind of a thriller and a show like this there’s danger in it. There’s danger in being an actor on it and that you could be out of a job the next year because of story. That’s how we roll and you know that going into a series like that. Just like on a series like Game of Thrones. No one is safe. It keeps us on our toes, keeps the audience on their toes and the writers as well.”
Do you find yourself going through scripts to see if at the end of it Donnie is alive? Especially after season 3 where there were two main character deaths?
“Right. Well, I never go into a script looking for that. I’ll usually get a warning from the writers if it’s a particularly Donnie heavy episode. Every once in a while there will be one of those crazy episodes where everything just goes insane and Donnie ends up on the wrong end of a paper-cutter or something like that.
I’ll get a warning from the writers, usually like “Oh, pay attention to this episode, gonna be fun.” And I’m like uh-oh, what’s this entail. [Laughs]. That’s the most of a warning I’ll get. I’m pretty sure that if I was to ever get bumped off, I’m sure Graeme and John would come to me and warn me first. I hope.
If I read it in a script I would just be like jaw-dropped and heart-broken, nobody warned me. I think at this point when you’re sort of so ingrained in the family and everybody is so close like we are, there is a respect behind that. I don’t know. I’m not worried, but I’m also worried that at the same time you never know. You just never know.”
At the end of season 3 there was the beautiful dinner scene and you actually got to have a scene with everybody, almost. Who in season 4 would you like Donnie to have more scenes with?
“I’d like to explore some time with Art. I think that would be really cool. I love Kevin Hanchard. We love hanging out and it would just be to cool to work with him more. More time with Felix would be nice.
I would just like to meet and spend more time with the other clones. More time with Helena, because Helena is just so much fun to work with. That would be fantastic, that’d be perfect.”
If Donnie wasn’t married to Alison, which clone would you want him to be married to?
“That’s an interesting question. Donnie seems to operate well in the realm of not being the person who wears the pants in the relationship so he could very easily end up with someone like Rachel. I don’t think Rachel would ever have someone like Donnie though, so that wouldn’t happen.
I think the funny, weird, awesome choice would be Helena to be honest. Cosima’s too cool and also gay, so that wouldn’t work out right there. Sarah is way too cool as well and way too street and that just wouldn’t work. With Helena there’s just such a weird vibe between the two of them that maybe … it would work?”
If Donnie, Paul and Felix were in the Hunger Games, who would die first?
“I mean I don’t want to say Donnie. Paul would last the longest. Felix is very much a city boy but he’s also a survivalist and he’s wily as hell. I feel like he would last longer than Donnie. I think Donnie would die first. Ah that’s so sad. That hurts me because I think Kristian would last longer than Donnie at least, but nah, Donnie would probably sadly perish the soonest.”
What is your favorite Canadian show on the air right now excluding Murdoch Mysteries and excluding Orphan Black?
“That’s a very good question. I just watched Killjoys recently, which is a new sci-fi series that is really, really, really, really cool. I’m enjoying that quite a bit. I like watching Lost Girl when it’s on. Although I haven’t followed the storyline all the way through, I just kind of, when I see it on TV I watch it because I like it. Those are definitely both up there. I mean, I’m a sci-fi nerd, I do like my sci-fi.
Oh, 19-2, I effin’ love 19-2. 19-2’s a cop drama out of Montreal and there’s an original French Québécois version, and then they’ve made an English remake. I’ve only watched the English remake, but the premier episode of the second season is on of the best episodes of television I have ever watched.
Enough so that I’ve recommended people go and watch. I’m like “I’m not going to tell you anything about it. It’s a cop drama. Just go watch the season premier of season two and get your mind completely blown.” It’s incredible.”
You went to Comic Con and The ATX Festival. Do you enjoy going to fan-based events?
“They’re wonderful. Our fans are what make the show possible and I’m a fan of television myself so I can relate to people. I’m also a comic-book nerd and I can relate to going to conventions because I used to go to conventions as just a consumer. It’s kind of cool for me to go to things as work, as part of what I do. I feel completely lucky, I’m like “Oh great, I get a free pass, and a free trip somewhere? Hell yeah.” [Laughs]. Getting a chance to interact with the fans, especially all at once in a group is just so special. I wish we had even more access.
I try to be quite responsive on Twitter and things like that. It’s a great, easy way to be accessible and to get in touch with fans when they have questions for you. It’s a bit hard to keep up because the fans are very, very good at social media. That’s one of the reasons why Orphan Black is so successful. They are honestly the best.
I really genuinely love going to these conventions because they’re just so much fun and meeting fans is just, it’s inspiring. It’s what keeps you going through those long, long tough days on set. Or any of those times when you start to second guess your acting or something like that. It’s the fans that keep you going.
Going to Cons is a thank you to them. It’s really our way of being like “Thank you so much”. Thank you for letting us do what we do, because without you we got nothing. Cons are the best, I really love doing them”
Are you the type of actor who enjoys watching himself or who doesn’t?
“I hate, hate, hate watching myself. I really don’t like watching myself. I do, because for my business I need to figure out how things turned out. I need to watch it and make sure that I’m on point.
I watch to make sure I’m happy with what I’m producing. To see that I’m moving in the right direction, that I’m always improving and that I’m always giving a hundred percent of what I’ve got. But, I really do hate watching myself.
It’s just the way I am. Some people can do it, I’m just not that type. I love watching a scene that was particularly difficult or wild or stunts-driven or something. Just to see how it actually turned out. However, nine times out of ten, I don’t like watching myself.”
Do you think that because of social media and live tweeting you need to watch yourself more?
“It’s tough. The game has changed a lot in terms of how we help our shows and how we market our shows. Things like live tweeting and social media events and Q and A’s and Ask Me Anything, are actually a joy to do.
I love doing them and I love getting buzz going about the show. It’s something that I just naturally do in general, even if I’m not called on to do it. If I’m around when an episode is airing, I’ll watch it and I’ll live tweet it because I think that’s a great thing for the fans to be able to do.
The one thing I don’t get about live tweeting is, if I’m watching a show I want to put my phone down and watch the damn show! [Laughs]. If the shows good you don’t need to look at your phone while you’re watching it. I don’t quite fully get how people are texting and watching shows anymore. I’d rather do a live tweet afterward. With people like “Oh my God I loved this.” But live tweeting is a total thing now and I really do enjoy it. It is a lot of fun.
It is stressful because there are times when we’ll go over to Graeme Manson’s house, a bunch of us, and we’ll live tweet an episode. It gives us a chance to hang out as well, because when we’re airing it’s been months since we’ve shot it. It’s nice just to see everybody and hang out, like I said, we all get along. We all like each other and we are a family essentially.
But, we’ll like have our face buried in our phones for the whole episode. We won’t be talking and we’ll just be tweeting like crazy. Then afterwards we’ll sit back and be like “Wow. That was insane.” I can’t keep up, you just get so many tweets which is wonderful because that means we’re doing something right. It means the show is reaching people and people are watching it and responding to it.
It’s part of the game now, it’s part of marketing… and there are audiences that are a bit more savvy than others. You know a show for an older generation might not get as many live tweeters as something like Orphan Black since we have quite a younger audience. It is really fun and I do enjoy it. It’s great to be able to interact with the fans.”
What else are you currently working on?
“Well, I just wrapped a film, an indie film written and directed by Amy Jo Johnson. She was on Flashpoint, and she was the Pink Power Ranger. She’s awesome. She’s so wonderful and she wrote this part dark comedy, part family film, family drama. I had a really wild, ridiculous part in that film that was a lot of fun to shoot. It was crazy because she had a bunch of Flashpoint alumni on the film with her! It was just this really lovely indie film. I really enjoyed working on that, it’s called The Space Between.
I’m looking forward to that! I’m just waiting to hear about festival submission for another film called How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town, which I’m also really excited about it. That’s a really ridiculous big ensemble comedy, Canadian film. I’ve seen it, it’s hilarious, it’s ridiculous. It’s all things wonderful. Don’t let the title fool you, I think you know what it’s about, it tells you exactly what it’s about in the title, but it’s wonderful. [Laughs].
I have another film called Let’s Rap, which is also a really ridiculous comedy. I play a bad guy in that, a real douche bag. I’ve had a lot of indie films that I’ve worked on in the last year which are just kind of waiting to come out.
Also Life, the James Dean biopic directed by Anton Corbijn. It’s starring Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, and Sir Ben Kingsley who I got to work with for a bunch of scenes. That was wild and insane and amazing. It’s a beautiful film that premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival last February which I went to. That’s coming out I believe in September or October. I’m just pumped for all these films to finally get out there for people to see.”