Canadian-born actor Kristian Bruun has made a name for himself as a handler-turned-co-conspirator on the hit TV show Orphan Black. He has quite the resume under his belt, with roles in TV and movies dating back over a decade. In addition to the fourth season of Orphan Black, due out this week, Bruun has several short- and feature-length films in post-production, most notably the indie film Ashes, due out in the fall. Read our interview with Bruun below.
Are you excited for Season Four of Orphan Black?
“Very much so. I can’t wait for it to come out. Only two days until it comes out! Really excited this season more than other seasons, I think. I feel maybe that way at the beginning of every season. This first episode—fans are just gonna go nuts for it. I can’t wait to see what the reaction is.”
Tell us a little about Donnie’s story this season—if you can.
“Of course, of course. I think at the end of last season Donnie and Alison were kind of put through the wringer. They had a bit of a whirlwind season with trying to run a business but also having a pill operation and Alison running for school trustee. And, of course, Donnie almost getting his nose cut off by the Portuguese mafia, so he had a bit of a rough go. (laughs). I think they realized just how in over their heads they were.
In this season we’re going to see them trying to get that normal life back. Try and get their family safe. They have a new roommate; they have Helena as a roommate. There’s a lot more opportunity for some hijinks right there. She’s a strange roommate, that’s for sure. (laughs). The good thing about her is she’s probably the best security guard you could have. Nobody messes with those babies. Donnie and Alison are going to try to achieve what they had before all this craziness started going down, which is just a normal suburban life. And whether or not that happens, you know, you’ll find out.”
Let’s talk about the famous Alison/Donnie money scene in the bedroom. How much fun was that to film?
“That was probably the most fun thing I’ve ever filmed in my life. Certainly up there. It was insane. We didn’t really plan for it; we just knew we had it coming up and we knew that was going to be a ton of fun. When we got on set we were in our underwear—Tat (Tatiana Maslany) has this red plaid fleece onesie that she wears on set when she doesn’t have much other wardrobe to wear, so I went online and found one as well. We both showed up on set wearing these red plaid fleece onesies. So we’re standing there in these onesies and the director comes up and she’s like, ‘Uh, okay, so um, how do you guys want to do this? Should we choreograph the whole thing?’ Tat and I just looked at each other and we’re just like ‘Nah, we got this. Just play the music.’
We both love to dance and be idiots when we go out or even on set. Just to keep the energy up on a really late night, we’ll just throw on some music between takes and start dancing and being idiots. Which is where John and Graham, the showrunners, got the idea for the scene. They saw us at Comic-con, San Diego Comic-con or something like that one night just being complete idiots. They were like ‘We gotta use this. This has to go into the show somehow.’ They basically just set up two cameras on these U-shaped tracks around the bed and there were these two camera crews just dollying back and forth in this U configuration. One camera was going slow-mo and the other camera was going ultra slow-mo. And they just played the song that we picked for the scene. They let us pick the song. It was Riff-Raff. We just went to town and had a blast doing it.
At one point I almost fell off the bed and went through the set wall. I caught myself at the last moment. I think it’s in one of the outtakes. We’re dancing like crazy and I fall off the bed and almost do a header through the wall. It was fun. It was such a blast. I mean, who wouldn’t want to roll around in a bed of money in their underwear. That’s a dream come true right there. Right on the bucket list. Little check mark right there. (laughs).”
I’m sure you always get asked what it’s like working with Tatiana, but what about the stand-ins who take her place during the filming? Is it strange working around that, where she’s there for one scene but there’s someone else taking her place—her stand-in for the camera? What’s that like?
“Well, they only use the stand-ins when she’s doing a multi-clone scene, so if it’s just me and one of her clones it’ll always be her. But in those multi-clone scenes that I’ve worked on they’re always really in tune with her. She has one who’s her main stand-in, Kathryn (Alexandre), and they’ve been so in tune since Season One. They connected really quickly. Kathryn does all the dialect for you in the scenes. She does all the mannerisms. She knows what mannerisms Tat’s going to want as that character so she can sort of help Tat block how that character’s going to go. She’s a really indispensable part of the team. It’s tough, because she’s not on-camera. She’s always digitally replaced, but she has such an important role and she does such an amazing job. Actually she plays a nurse in Season Two into Season Three. She plays a nurse on the crazy Neolutionist farm. And she’s a big, important part of the family. There’s a lot of extra videos they’ve made of her and the work that she does because she is really important and they want people to know how hard she works for Tat and for the production. Which is pretty cool, getting to work with her as well.”
Do you ever look at the finished product and watch the show and see yourself with two different Tatianas? Does it ever seem weird to see that, having been in the filming?
“I still watch the show and every once in a while I catch myself going, ‘Oh, wait a minute, those are Tats! Those are both Tats!’ The visual effects are so good on the show that—you watch other shows that use visual effects and sometimes you can tell. Like, okay, that’s a huge Viking village but there’s no way they built a huge Viking village, that’s clearly visual effects.”
Or even shows that do doubles. You can tell that they filmed the actor twice, but Orphan Black you can’t tell; it’s seamless.
“Totally. And Jeff Scott, who is our visual effects supervisor, he and his team do such a bang-up job. It is such a lengthy process. It takes a whole day sometimes. We’ve gotten better, we’ve gotten faster—Tat has, the crew, the cameras—everybody is working faster now at being able to do it. At first it was twelve-hour days just trying to properly get it down. I really think they’ve done an amazing job on it and set the bar high for this sort of production values. You start seeing it on the commercials all the time now. People are having thirty-second little clone spots. They’re emulating that technique. I really think they do just an amazing job.
When I watch it, usually I’m pretty wrapped up in the story that I don’t take myself out of it, but every once in a while when I’m watching a special feature snippet on the background of how they did that I’m like ‘God, I can’t believe we pulled that off.’ It’s absolutely insane. If people saw the steps that are required for Tat to act with herself, for her character to pass something to herself…it’s incredibly technical, it’s incredibly hard. And just to technically do it would be a huge feat, but to then on top of it act emotionally and with such depth that she does, on top of all the technical stuff, it’s really—I don’t understand how she hasn’t won all the awards.”
I know! What is with that? It’s like Leo DiCaprio, you know?
“Exactly! She’s Canada’s Leonardo DiCaprio. (laughs).”
And what can you tell us about After the Black?
“After the Black is awesome. I’m actually really excited that After the Black is coming to the U.S. We’ve done it for the last two seasons in Canada. Space Channel, which is Canada’s SyFy Network, they’re a coproducer of Orphan Black, and so they’ve had this aftershow for the last two seasons. The hosts are awesome—Teddy Wilson, Ajay Fry, and Morgan Hoffman. They’re all huge fans of the show. They’re all great hosts to begin with; they have this really cool sci-fi/genre show called Innerspace that they do every day. I’ve been a fan of them since before I was even on Orphan Black and since before After the Black. So it’s a really fun talk show.
They get cast members on every week and get anecdotes from behind the scenes. Sometimes they come on and they do snippets of what it’s like behind the scenes. We just chat and shoot the poop and drop hints and things like that—no spoilers, but definitely hints of what’s coming up next. And they give clips of what’s going to happen in the next episode. It’s a really good show. I think fans will really, really dig it. It’s made with a lot of love, it’s charming and entertaining, and it’s a really great wrap-up after every episode. I think it’s a big deal. It really shows people how good the show is, how much we love making it, how much we care about it, how much other people care about it. I think it’s going to be a real treat for the fans. I’m really excited for it coming to the States. I think it’s awesome. It’s like a well-oiled machine. They know what they’re doing.”
And I think that, given the success of The Talking Dead and things like that, it’s going to do really well.
“Totally. Totally. I’m really excited, and I think it will bring a lot of viewers to the show as well. Like ‘Oh, they have an aftershow? Man, I gotta check out the show and see what it’s all about.’ People have two weeks to binge-watch the first three seasons. It’s totally doable! That seems to be the big, exciting news from WonderCon: the After the Black announcement. I’m excited to see how that goes.”
Speaking of WonderCon, what’s your favorite part of the convention experience, of being able to go and see the fans and everything?
“Well, San Diego Comic-Con is very different from the rest of the comic-cons because it’s the juggernaut. Every sci-fi genre—even just regular dramas and TV shows and movies are there, so I call that one ‘Nerdy-Gras’ because downtown San Diego—instead of people flashing for beads you’ve got Jawas and Stormtroopers walking around the streets drunk at night. It’s absolutely insane. Pandemonium. And there’s so much going on. It’s very hard to feel connected to the fans. All you really experience is that massive panel with thousands of people in one room. And it’s just so overwhelming and wonderful and amazing to see, but things like WonderCon and the smaller cons are a lot of fun because you actually get to do little autograph signing sessions and get a chance to shake the fans’ hands and thank them and speak with them for—even if it’s just ten or fifteen seconds it’s fun to make the connection with them and see if they liked the panel they just watched with us and how they’re enjoying the show.
The smaller cons are a lot of fun to do because you do get that connection with the fans, and that’s really important to do for the fans and for us. Because we care about the show very much. We care about our fans very much. They’re super supportive. They’re really good on social media—they’ve helped market and spread the show better than any ad campaign. It’s a chance for us to thank them. It’s always cool to see who shows up, how they show up, if they’re in cosplay that’s even cooler. There are tons of people dressed up in cosplay for these things. Then on top of that they get to ask a few questions in the Q&A period. They’ll stump us sometimes. You’re just like ‘Oh my God, we weren’t prepared for that question!’ And it’s very cool. We have very smart fans, and they’re very in tune with the show, and they know their stuff. You gotta be on your A game, and I love that challenge.”
We’re going to steer away from Orphan Black for a little bit because you’ve got a new movie, Ashes; tell us a little about that.
“Right. That’s a fun indie film where I play a stage character—one of the classic stage bartending characters, where the main character is going through this crisis, sort of tracing the steps of his parents, who are gone. When he really sort of needs some support—he finds it along the way with his friends—but the sort of sage, wise, and very simple with advice bartender kind of takes him back to some information about his parents. It’s a very sweet, tender movie. Beautifully shot. It’s got a great young cast and it was a fun thing to be a part of. I’m friends with people behind the film and I was just happy that they asked me to be a part of it. I’m very lucky that way.
I think Orphan Black has given me the opportunity to get out there more and people to want me to be part of their projects. I feel very lucky that I get to do things like independent films. It means a lot to me. It’s fun to work on a big-budget production because that certainly helps pay your bills more than anything else, but I also love doing the little gigs that have just as much heart but not as much budget.”
When can we expect to be able to see Ashes?
“That’s a good question, actually. I think it’s doing the film festival circuit now, and through the festival circuit is usually when you’re going to find a distributor coming along. It’s just finished post-production and they’ve applied to a bunch of festivals, so we’re waiting to hear back. There might even be one that’s on the list; I keep seeing announcements being emailed out every once in a while. I’m not quite sure, but if you do a quick search I think you’ll find out what the status is.”
Do you have a special message you’d like to leave for your fans?
”Yes. First of all, thank you times a million for giving us the opportunity to keep doing the show. Our fans watching it makes it possible for us to get an extension on the next season and keep creating this awesome show. In terms of season four, to quote Sam Jackson from Jurassic Park, ‘Hold on to your butts.’”
How about for yourself? Do you have any nerdy interests or any geeky things that get you excited in the way the fans at cons—do you have anything you fan out over?
“Totally! I fan out over a couple of video games that I love to play. I have a PS4 that I spend more time on it than I should sometimes. I do read comics, I’ve always read comics since I was a kid back in the 80s. I still read a bunch of comics now that I’m really digging. I’m a big nerd. I’m also a history nerd. That’s why I love the video games so much, because they’re through these awesome areas of history. You can learn all about these eras of history and explore them, and also kill a bunch of bad dudes. That really taps into my multiple nerd layers right there, my nerd onion.”