Orphan Black returns today—and with it returns fan-favorite Kristian Bruun, who plays Donnie Hendrix, the henpecked husband of Alison. Despite being the least threatening person on BBC America’s hit clone drama, Donnie has still managed to kill some major bad guys, start a drug empire, and do some serious twerking. Bruun talked to io9 about working with a bunch of Tatiana Maslanys, what season four holds in store for the Hendrixes, and, of course, the twerking.
io9: The Hendrixes’ adventures have usually stayed sort of separate from the main clone storyline and insanity. Why is that?
Kristian Bruun: I think there are two reasons. From a storyline point of view, Alison has always wanted to keep her world separate [from the clone drama]. And I think that’s just to protect her family, and protect her children.
Alison was very wary when Sarah first came around. She didn’t trust her, didn’t like her. It took a long time for her to warm up to Sarah, and even after that, Sarah still [rubs] her the wrong way, I think. You can look at the different parenting skills between the two clone sisters, and you really see how they don’t necessarily jive.
Alison has always happy to lend a hand when it’s needed, of course, but she’s also like, “You do your thing, I’ll support you. Just don’t come to my house in the suburbs.” And then she gets mad when all these people start showing up at her house in the suburbs.
What’s the second reason?
Bruun: The second reason is, I think, because [co-creators] John [Fawcett] and Graeme [Manson] and the writers saw the opportunity pretty early in season one that Donnie and Alison could lighten up things every once in a while. To give the audience a break from all the drama, and just to lighten the mood, because it is needed. The show does get pretty dark, and deep, and heavy.
Well, it’s not like the Hendrixes’ storylines have been entirely devoid of darkness or drama.
Bruun: The world of Orphan Black being what it is, you never have safety. You never have that. Last season, we saw so much craziness going on in the suburbs, with their drug trade going on out of the back of Bubbles’ place, and of course, Alison running for school trustee, and Donnie trying to work for the Portuguese mafia... It’s quite obvious that safety is very difficult to come by, [even] in the world that we live in.
I mean, Alison did torture you—Donnie—with a hot glue gun in season one.
Bruun: Actually, the torture scene was part of the audition.
Bruun: They wanted to see how different Donnies could take the torture. And [John and Graeme] said no one else they saw really did it for them. “When we saw you, that was what we wanted.” But John also said that three to four days before they had to film the character, they still hadn’t found anybody, and that’s why I auditioned. I hoped I didn’t get cast out of desperation, but the writers and the creators really seemed to love my audition. And when I was hired, they weren’t sure whether Donnie would be in three episodes or more.
Did they tell you that you were Alison’s secret monitor at the very beginning?
Bruun: I had no idea. And we were shooting this crazy glue gun torture scene where Alison’s doing all crazy stuff, and d I would go to John and Graeme, and I’d be like: “Guys. Do I know? Am I a monitor?” And they would always kind of look at each other and be like, “Just pretend you’re not the monitor. Actually, we don’t know. Uh, you’re not.” I was like, “Okay! Okay.”
That gave me no choice but to deny being her monitor, with as much honesty as possible in the situation. And then it wasn’t until read the last episode that I found out I was. And I don’t know when they decided. I think it was later on in the season, because they were still toying with killing me off—having Alison kill me off. It was between me and [the neighbor character] Aynsley. But I think they quickly realized that there’s some fun comedy to be mined between Alison and Donnie and that they could really build some fun, emotional arcs for us.
It seems like the more insane things that happen to Donnie and Alison, the more solid their relationship seems to be.
Bruun: Yep. Totally. I think that’s a fun way to look at it. I think any relationship is like that, especially if it’s kind of gone really stale or boring, like it could happen in the suburbs. I’m not saying all suburbs are like that, I just think the more things get shook up, the closer people are naturally going to get drawn together.
But you two started off with such a rocky marriage, and now you’re dealing drugs and occasionally murdering people, and you guys seem great. Are Alison and Donnie secretly the most twisted characters on the show?
Bruun: I think what makes it so surprising to people is that we are two genuinely milquetoast innocuous characters—just this standard, suburban couple—and under the surface, all this crazy shit is happening. It’s just too much fun to play. And I just feel really lucky to be a part of that. It’s just absolutely ridiculous stuff that they have me do.
This season is no exception. Like, every year I challenge the writers to try and top whatever insane idea they came up with last season. They also kind of like to see bad things happen to Donnie. I think with season four, fans won’t be disappointed with some of the hijinks that Donnie gets up to with Alison or Helena, or even other clones...
So what does season 4 hold in store for Donnie and Alison?
Bruun: And we’re going to see Alison and Donnie really try and get back to what they had before, and that security and safety, but, of course we have Helena living with us now, and that will throw a few wrenches into things. And there’s a lot of stuff that’s happened in the past that we’re potentially going to have to deal with. I can definitely tell you that Donnie’s going to be working with a couple other clones he’s never worked with before.
Bruun: One of the clones that we do get to spend more time with this season is a fascinating, hilarious clone [who debuted briefly last season] by the name of Krystal, and we’re going to see more of her this season. Donnie is certainly going to get some time with her, which is absolutely ridiculous. And I will say—I think this has been approved to say—that Donnie and Cosima pair up as well. It’s pretty wild. It’s nice that Donnie’s part of the Clone Club,
Can you tell us what may come back to haunt Donnie and Alison? Because you guys have done some crazy stuff.
Bruun: I think everybody on the show has done some crazy stuff in the past. And you know, I think with season four has a large theme of characters reconciling with the past, and seeing if their past will haunt them more, or even help them, possibly. Every season has sort of a different feel to it—sometimes even almost a different genre to it, I think. But certainly the past, and how it feeds into the present, is a big, big theme in season four.
Obviously, here’s the most important question: What are you doing in season four to top season three legendary’s “make it rain” scene?
Bruun: First of all, the “make it rain” twerk scene... everybody’s like, “Is there going to be another Donnie and Alison twerk scene? Is there going to be another naked dance scene?” You can’t top that. And you can’t try to re-create it. It’s its own beautiful beast. All we can really do is find another ridiculous situation to put Donnie in. He always manages to find himself in hot water, and there’s a lot of that that goes on this season, and then some other really light, funny, ridiculous things that happen, too.
I’ve been checking the calendar for when certain episodes come out, and I just can’t wait to see how the fans react to certain things. But also the dramatic stuff! There’s so much this season, it’s really packed. And not just for Donnie—I’m talking about for everybody—but there’s so much ridiculous stuff that I got to do. I don’t know if it’ll ever top the twerking scene, but there’s definitely like, three or four very memorable Donnie moments this season.
Speaking of Donnie meeting the other clones, since you work mostly exclusively with Tatiana Maslany as Alison, what is it like when you encounter her as her other characters?
Bruun: It’s weird as hell. It’s so bizarre, but you do get used to it. The last season I got to work a lot of with [Tatiana as] Helena, and of course, Helena is still living in the suburbs with the Hendrixes coming into season four, so I got to work with her again. And as I said I also get to work with a couple more clones this season, so you eventually get used to it. But the first time you step onto set with a new version of Tat[iana], as a different clone, it really sends you back for a second. It’s like, “Ahh, what is going on? I’m working with my friend Tat, but she doesn’t look like Alison, this is Helena, and she’s just—” Her body movements are different, and the way she sits in the character are different. Tatiana doesn’t fully sit in the character all the time, but she certainly looks like the character, and she’s always able to instantly jump into the character as soon as she needs to go walk into a scene and shoot it.
It’s just so bizarre to be like, “This is my friend, Tat, but... who is she?” It really froze me. You do get used to it, but it’s a testament to how good she is at being these different characters. I mean, it has to be insane for her. She must feel like she has a split personality disorder from time to time because these characters are so unique and so rich that they feel real when you’re working with them.
But you’ve also been in scenes Tatiana when she is another clone pretending to be Alison, right? What’s that like?
Bruun: Yes, I have, that’s in season two! Alison is in rehab, and she and Donnie have to get up in front of everybody to talk about their marriage problems. Because of all the hijinks that are happening in rehab, it was [the clone] Sarah pretending to be Alison, but Donnie didn’t know that at the time.
In the scene, Donnie and Alison have to do some role-reversal therapy, where I role-play as Alison, and Alison plays as Donnie. So Sarah stands up and she pretends to be Alison, but she also has to be Alison playing Donnie. So you’ve got three layers of character: Sarah playing Alison playing Donnie, and then you have Donnie playing Alison in reverse to her... It was just like the craziest, most confusing character-onion I have ever seen in my life. And here’s a little fun fact: [thanks to this scene] I am the only non-clone to have played one of Tat’s clones.
But I love watching when they switch up the clones, or have a clone playing a different clone. I love how they do that. Not just because it’s some sort of a fun thing for the audience to see, but just how the writers shake it up each time.
Anything else you want to tell the fans?
Bruun: If fans haven’t seen any of the behind-the-scenes outtakes, or like the screw-ups and deleted scenes, stuff like that? There’s so much fun stuff in there, just even Tat alone doing her thing—just some of the improv stuff that we work on, try and track some of that stuff down, because it’s so fun and ridiculous.
There must be out there somewhere, a full-length song version of the twerking scene. We filmed that over two and a half plays of the song, so I think there’s an extended mix somewhere where we twerk for the full length of the song. It’s just ridiculous.
Bruun: They wanted to keep as much as possible of it in the show, but so much that goes on in the episode. People, if you can somehow get your hands on that, do it—because it’s absolutely ridiculous. I think at the end I fall off the bed and I almost bite it. I almost fell through the set wall.