After a nearly two-month hiatus, Fringe is back, with what promises to be six freaky episodes. The J.J. Abrams-produced, Fox-airing mindfuck stars Anna Torv as FBI agent Olivia Dunham, who's assigned cases of a particularly "unexplained" nature. Working with her is Walter Bishop, the loony but brilliant scientist responsible for his own share of Jekyll-and-Hyde experiments, and Walter's son Peter, brilliant in his own right, but with a sketchy past due to years of trying to escape his father's lunacy. Oh yeah, and they have a pet cow named Jean.
We sat down with Torv a few days ago to discuss fringe science, what we can expect from the rest of the season, where her character is going, and of course what it's like to work with the cow.
What will we discover about Olivia's past?
I never know what I can and what I can't say – but we start to discover some things that happened to her when she was really little that she doesn't really remember. You start to see the stories of Peter and Walter and Olivia begin to interlace a little bit, and you see how their paths have crossed before.
Do you think Olivia could be related to them?
At this point, no, I don't think so.
Do you know who or what The Observers are and what the motivations behind them are?
No, but we're shooting the final episode, and we're starting to get a little bit [of info]. We're starting to get more of a glimpse into what their function is.
Which do you enjoy more as an actor: when you get to an episode in which Olivia gets lots of action, fighting, gunplay and so on, or when the crazy science elements of the show take center stage?
I love it when I'm in motion. I love doing the rough and tumble, running and gunning. I know that when we're in the lab, I just get to be the question machine. I get to watch the boys have fun at "The Walter and Peter Show." I like that for different reasons. I don't know which would be my favorite.
Do you like doing scenes with the cow?
Yes! I don't get to do that many scenes with Jean, unfortunately. Usually it's Walter milking her or Peter getting him in trouble for having her in the lab.
Is it just hysterical when the cow is on the set?
Usually when we have the cow on the set, we have a whole lot of other animals because we're in a laboratory. We'll have monkeys or little hairless rats, so it just becomes a menagerie.
Is it easier or harder now that your husband, Mark Valley [who plays John] is not on the show? Did he distract you or boost your performance?
All the scenes that we had together were kind of odd anyway. We were always in a dreamscape, not quite sure what reality we were in, so I don't really feel like we actually got a chance to feel opposite each other. I was always saying, "You're a ghost," and he was always saying, "No, I'm not."
Now that Fringe is being broadcast in your native Australia, what is the reaction there?
It was on for a little while, and then it went off, and I actually didn't know that it had gone on again. I haven't been back since we started shooting the show, so I don't know. I know that my mom is thrilled.
What are some of your favorite characteristics about the character of Olivia? What about her do you really like to explore?
Her sense of duty. I like that I play a character where I go to work and I put her armor on, her dark suits and her badge and her gun. I like that
The show has been interrupted a few times on air, and it can be hard to catch up, but what has it been like production-wise? Have you had stops and starts, or have you been constantly filming?
No, we've been constantly filming. We shot the pilot in Toronto at the beginning of last year, and then we had a month where we waited to see if it was going to be picked up. Then when it was, with the exception of, like, a ten-day break over Christmas, we've been shooting nonstop.
Do you think it has stunted the show's momentum, or maybe alienated fans, having these long breaks between episodes?
I don't know. I hope not. I really, really hope not. I think we're lucky in that if you are following it, there are things to follow, but if you are just dropping in, I still think that you're going to be able to get your head around it. You'll be able to grasp where we're at. I've been on a couple of different shows that have had really big breaks and then come back, and it hasn't affected it at all, and some that it has. So I'm really hopeful that people, tune back in and go on the journey with us.
When Harris came on to the show, there was mention that he and Olivia had a history of some sort. Will that be explored further?
Yes. We actually just finished shooting an episode last week where we do go a little bit into the Harris character, and we find out what side he's on and what his motivations really are.
I know you can't say a lot about plot points, but looking at the final scripts and filming the final episodes of the season, what is your reaction? Are you surprised? Are you excited? Can you tell us a little bit about your feelings reading those final scripts?
Yes, I'm really excited. We shot an episode a little while ago, directed by Akiva Goldsman [Oscar-winning screenwriter of "A Beautiful Mind" who wrote and directed the episode "Bad Dreams," airing Tuesday, April 21 at 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT], and I think that pushes it into a different direction but not into a different world. It pushes us a little bit deeper into some of the things that we've been touching on. I'm excited at the prospect of where the show could go. If we're lucky enough to shoot a second season, I think it's going to be really great.
Other than meeting your husband on this thing, how different has the Fringe experience been, versus whatever expectations you had heading into it?
I hadn't done anything quite so ambitious and so plot-driven before, and when I say that, I mean the stories and the cases that you're covering. It's not what I expected at all. It far exceeded my expectations.
Co-creator/executive producer Alex Kurtzman and co-creator/executive producer Roberto Orci have said that they're gearing up at some point to get Olivia and Peter together. How eager are you to see that happen?
A couple of episodes ago, Peter was chatting up my sister, so I don't know how they're going to resolve that [laughs], but I certainly hope they wait until that's sort of sorted out.
Is it something you're eager to play? Is that something that you're interested in, as an actor, in playing?
I hope that they stretch it out as long as possible. I think that's what makes it fun, when it's like, "Oh, are they or aren't they? What's going on?" I think there needs to be a few more close calls before they start heading down that track, because then you've got to break up and get back together again and the whole bit, right?
What's been your favorite scene to shoot so far and why?
You'd think it would be some big, explosive kind of thing, but we shot a scene recently that was just in Walter and Peter's hotel room. In it, Olivia had just discovered some things about her past and some things that Walter is connected to. I loved shooting that because it was the first time that I felt like Olivia really inched her way into that dynamic of Peter and Walter. She's been on the outside, and they've got their things to deal with. She's constantly wrangling them. But this gave me a little glimpse into what could be, realizing everything is a little bit entwined. There is emotional conflict between them, and I think that's fun, particularly because these are your central three. I actually loved shooting that, but I can't say anything more because I'll get into trouble [laughs].
Have you enjoyed shooting in New York, and what are your thoughts on the potential move to Canada?
I loved shooting in New York. [With the impending move], it's the same way that we felt after shooting the pilot in Toronto. We had an amazing crew in Toronto that broke their backs making the pilot. It'll be really sad to say good-bye to all these guys who have put in all of their blood and sweat for this season.
The scenes between Olivia and Nina have been great and intense. Are we going to see more of that relationship between the two of you?
I really hope so. I love Blair [Brown who plays Nina Sharp] and I love the character Nina, too. There's, yes, a little bit more. We actually had Blair in the FBI for an entire day, which was such a treat because usually we just shoot these scenes on top of a building. She does all her stuff in one day and then we say good-bye, but she was hanging about a bit, and she's a joy to have on set. But, yes, things sort of start to – things are starting to fray, and Nina's got a lot of answers.
As we head towards the season finale, do you have any thoughts looking back on the first season? What are you looking forward to in the second season?
I'm really excited to come back with a little bit of perspective. You know, you're working, and you're so in it. We're doing ADR for one episode, we're doing B Unit work for another, and starting up A Unit on another, so you constantly have your head over these things. And it sometimes doesn't feel like anything ever gets finished. I'm excited to take a step back and look at what we've done and sort of plot out where everybody is now at the end of it.
What were some of the initial acting challenges you found, stepping into this role? How have you seen your character develop throughout the season?
There's an art to it that I haven't mastered yet. Following the trails, and yet still maintaining a sense of character, but having a focus on, "We need to find this, we need to find that." I haven't done anything with such momentum before. That's been challenging. Also, you are constantly dealing with different events each week. Keeping that in your head and knowing where you've been and where you're going, that's been kind of tough.
I think that it's taken Olivia a little bit of time to find her place in the world. I think she had lived a life that was very systematic, everything was kind of neat and ordered and organized, and she knew who she was and where she was. And I think that's actually where you met her in the very, very first couple of scenes in the very, very first episode. I think it took her a while to get herself back together. And I think, by the end of this season, that she's definitely a different person, and I think that her objectives are different. I don't know. That wasn't really very concise, was it?
What's it like as an actor to be working with all these computer effects that will be put in later?
It's, like, half-done for real, and half-done later. We have amazing special-effects guys that do a lot of the practical effects, so you'll be looking at these bodies or these guts coming out and a lot of it is actually done with prosthetics and looks incredible on set. And then they go and add to it and make it really, really special at the end [by adding visual effects in post-production], so you're always kind of a bit "Wow." So actually, there's not that much that you don't have any visual stimulus at all for, but a lot of it is a real team effort.
Do any of the practical effects ever shock you or gross you out?
Yes, some of it is awful. We have an episode coming up. I can't remember which, I'm not sure how many weeks in, but coming up, where there's a crash, and we end up with these bodies in the lab. And we find these things in these bodies… I mean, those bodies were revolting. Actually, one of the funniest things – this isn't gross, but I walked into the lab to do a scene, and we've got these three bodies lying in these body bags that we eventually open, so there are actors in there. I walk in, and there's these three young kids lying in these body bags. One is lying with just a head and hands out reading a book, totally out of place. [Laughs.] The other has got an iPod in and blood splattered all over his apron. You're like, "What is this show?" [Laughs.]
One episode hinted at you having "superpowers" like telekinesis. Will that be explored further this season?
We do start to find out what was done to her when she was little. And we do get to delve a little bit into that, to work out why she has that ability or superpower, or if it's something that's been done to her. Yes, we start to. I'm terrible at these plot questions because I never know how much to give away or not, so it sounds like I'm being really shifty, but I'm not. I'm just trying to compute what's illegal. No, not illegal, but what's okay to say.
Does it ever feel like Olivia is struggling with gender politics at the FBI?
I don't know, and they never make any kind of issue about it, which I've been constantly impressed and happy about, to tell you the truth. The most that she'll ever say is, "Yes, I'm sorry I wear my emotions on my sleeve sometimes." But she never says, "Is this because I'm a woman?" or anything like that. I like that that's not an issue, actually.
Are we going to see a follow-up story on Olivia's stepfather?
Not yet, no.
What has been your favorite episode so far?
I really loved filming "Bound," where she gets kidnapped, then she wakes up and they're giving her a spinal tap, and she breaks out. That was just so fun because it was so clear and concise, and it was just on the move, on the go. She gets out. Then Harris arrives. Then she was trying to find vials that she'd hidden. It was just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. I found it really easy to follow, and it was kind of energetic, and I really loved filming that.
You spoke about your favorite parts of filming the action scenes. What parts of the science do you like?
I love the stuff that delves into moral and ethical dilemmas, like what people's boundaries are, what's appropriate and what's not. How far do you go in order to find an answer. And, particularly with the Peter-Walter-Olivia dynamic, it's always changing. Each week, one will be a little bit more gung-ho about wanting to get to the bottom of [a mystery], no matter what it takes. That's probably the bit that I like the most, actually.
Is there anything about Olivia that you don't like or would like to see evolve over time?
One of my favorite little bits was really, really early on where Peter and Olivia find this girl strapped to a gurney, and Olivia runs off. Peter is on the phone to Walter, and he's getting phonebooks and speakers trying to pump this girl's heart back up, and using kind of what's around. Olivia becomes a little renegade and goes, "I'm going to do it this way." I like it when she is not as straight-laced.
Without spoiling anything, what would you use as a pitch to bring people back into the show after such a long hiatus?
Well, I think we really do start to pull ideas from previous episodes and things start to come together, but not necessarily in the way that you would expect them to. You definitely feel the momentum of the show coming to a climax, and if you've been watching, you'll like it. And I think it only gets better.
How about if you haven't been watching, what would you say to bring someone in who just has been skipping it so far? Can they still get in now?
Yes, absolutely. Now is your chance, right? Well, it's still sticking very much to the original plan for the show. I know that J.J. [Abrams, co-creator/executive producer] has been saying this for ages. This is absolutely a show that you can just start watching. You're going to catch up. Like, the first episode back, you'll catch up. You'll understand who everybody is. Usually there are a couple of different layers, there's the overarching mythology and little ongoing bits and pieces that come in. But then there's also a story that's just for that particular episode, so I don't think it's something that you have to watch all the time. If you're just tuning in, or if you're a previous viewer, I think you'll enjoy it. That's a terrible pitch [laughs].
J.J. Abrams' other show, Lost, seems to have gotten "lost" in itself, pardon the pun. Is Fringe going to get so caught up in itself that you feel like you're tangled, or is the whole storyline plotted out?
I don't know how much of the storyline is plotted out, but I know – and I've said this before – the guys creating this show are adamant about it not getting totally convoluted and have felt that [way] from the start. I think that was part of the game plan in the beginning. And I think that we are managing really well to straddle that procedural and serialized drama so that if you miss an episode, you're not going to be lost.