In its mind-bending third season, the Fox television drama Fringe continues to explore otherworldly cases and unexplainable science. As the events of the first two seasons unfolded, it prompted Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) to search for details about her forgotten and perplexing past. Those findings led her to uncover the existence of a parallel universe and recover her childhood ability to detect objects from that universe, which shockingly led her to learn that Peter (Joshua Jackson) is from the other side. When a distraught Peter returned to his origins to reconnect with his roots and his birth mother, Walter (John Noble) and Olivia were pitted against their doppelgangers, which left an imprisoned Olivia stuck in the parallel universe, fighting to find her way home, while Peter and Walter try to move on with their lives, unknowingly alongside alternate Olivia.
During a recent interview to discuss where things are headed in Season 3, actress Anna Torv talked about the challenge in playing two versions of the same character, the way that neither side is good or bad, and how she’s interested in the ethical and moral divide between humanity and science. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: What are the acting challenges in playing this character two separate ways now?
Anna: I was so excited when it first came up, and then we’ve kicked in. I haven’t really had the chance to play the Ultimate Olivia properly for herself. It’s been our Olivia, thinking that she’s the Ultimate Olivia. Then, the Ultimate Olivia pretending to be our Olivia. It’s been a little bit tough to work that line. What has been interesting is how clearly I am now seeing Olivia, which I don’t think you get to do. You don’t get those opportunities where you actually get to step back and look at a character from a different perspective while playing her. Each of them has their own impression of the other that they haven’t met really properly.
So, it’s been tough, but fun. The differences are subtle there. They both ended up in the same job. They both ended up to the point where they even had the same partners. It’s just gentle little shifts. It’s been fun. I think all the guys that have had that chance would say the same. It’s been so fun to play on the other side, which does feel like, “Wow, this is a completely different energy.” Then, I get to pop back. I’ve loved it.
Since they’re both in worlds that they don’t belong in, and don’t necessarily like or support, do you see any personal conflicts or maybe a changing of attitudes for either of these Olivias?
Anna: Absolutely! I think that’ll come when they both get home. I think that’ll be the test, and that’s the interesting part about this. Obviously, we’ve been following our Olivia and her team for two seasons now, so our loyalties are definitely there. But, when you start to see the other side, solving cases and interacting and working with each other, you realize that they’re both just fighting their own cause. Neither one is good or bad, and neither one is right or wrong. That’s, hopefully, the second half of the season.
Is there any particular episode or scene that came off more challenging for you than usual, in either character or mind-set?
Anna: There have been a few, but more often than not, it’s the scenes that you wouldn’t expect to be challenging. It’s the ones where they’re doing the same thing and they end up in dual crime scenes. It’s like, “How does Olivia handle it versus how does Bolivia handle it?” Or, when they’re sitting around, gathering information, I’ll go, “What are they each thinking? What’s the difference in their thoughts?” It’s not so much the bigger stuff, which is a little bit more padded.
Do you feel like there’s a greater amount of job security for you because, even if one Olivia gets killed, you’ve still got another one?
Anna: Yes, I think so. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.
What has surprised you about the other Olivia on our side, or our Olivia on their side?
Anna: I don’t even know where to start with answering that. I think everything has surprised me. I didn’t know what they were going to do when they first opened up the prospect to this parallel universe. I really didn’t know. I’m looking forward to playing them as they are, in their own world. I think that’ll give me a little bit more of an understanding.
How has it been to play a relationship between Olivia and Peter?
Anna: I think that’s so fun. Of course, you want them to be together. It’s set up that way. But, what do you do when, all of a sudden, your two guys end up together? It then just becomes romantic drama or comedy. The fact that they’ve been able to give a little bit of that and yet not, it’s one step forward and 10 steps back. I think it’s brilliant. Obviously, this is an assignment for Ultimate Olivia, but Peter’s a charmer. I don’t know what she’s going to think, after they’ve been together for a bit.
Does playing different versions of the same person put you in a philosophical mind-set? Do you find yourself musing about how fragile your reality as Anna could be with just a different opportunity or choice in life, or are you just doing your work?
Anna: Yes, but it’s not so much the differences. It’s actually more external, in the fact that people don’t see it. That comes into, “Well, who am I?” That’s what, in my own world, I find a little bit scary. I don’t believe that I’m just this physical person who walks in a particular way or who speaks in a different way. It’s about what’s on the inside and whether people recognize that, or do they just see what’s on the outside? That’s the bit that I’ve been thinking about.
Do people on the set, around the studio or when you’re out on location treat you different as a redhead?
Anna: Yes, they do. I think my attitude’s different when I’m in the different places. I don’t walk around in character. I try not to walk around with the accent, but those little things change you, whether it’s your hair, your clothes, your shoes or a different silhouette. People absolutely look at you differently.
When you’re on location and you’re carrying a gun and badge, do you ever have to be careful where you walk and what you do when the scene stops? Do you have to watch that you don’t go in the wrong place and that somebody might mistake you for a real-life agent?
Anna: I’ll end up buying myself a cup of coffee, and then the props guy is behind me going, “Anna, you cannot walk off set with this gun and your badge.” They’re pretty good about that. I’d like to walk around with that for a bit. I wonder what that would be like.
How emotionally invested do you get in the two Olivias, given how the alternate world affects her relationships in the other world?
Anna: Extremely. The dynamic on set feels very different because you’ve got a completely different bunch of people and even the crime scenes are handled differently. It feels very different. There are pros and cons to both sides. I love parts of both sides. I love working with Kirk [Acevedo] and Seth [Gabel]. Then, the episode ends and I’ve got Walter and Peter. I can’t choose between them yet.
When you first signed on to the series, did you have any idea of how deep Fringe would go, in terms of some of the options with the alternate universe?
Anna: No, I really didn’t. I didn’t really know what to expect. It has exceeded my expectations for a long time. I also didn’t think, “Oh, it’s sci-fi.” I don’t really know what I expected, but I’ve been thrilled.
Overall, what is it about Fringe that you like?
Anna: I like that it’s just so broad. It doesn’t fit in any particular genre. I think it’s scary and kind of mystical. There are some times that we’ve had episodes that I think are really quite magic. There are parts of it that are really heightened. There are parts of it that are really down and dirty. It’s got humor and a little bit of romance. I like the fact that it’s so broad in its spectrum and in its stories, and that it’s unafraid to go, “Let’s just take this leap, shall we?,” and we all go, “Yes, let’s!”
Are there any particular topics that you’ve covered that have fascinated you?
Anna: Really early on, like the second episode or something, there was a case where Walter was talking about his research with William Bell, where they were working at developing genetically engineered soldiers. There have been other ones since then, but any of that real ethical fine line always gets me interested because I’m interested in that ethical and moral divide between humanity and science, how far can you take things for the greater good, and what is the greater good and what isn’t. Those bits always pique my interest.
Having done a lot of Shakespeare early on in your career, how does that prepare you for a story like this where there’s a lot of doubling, mistaken identities and deceptions?
Anna: I don’t know. It’s all about big themes. Shakespeare is all big themes, like the most amazing love, or the most scary war. With Fringe, I am constantly saving the world. I think you just have to buy it . When you say those lines like, “The shape-shifters are going to destroy our universe,” you have to say it with a straight face. It’s interesting, I’ve thought for a long time about the similarities between our beautiful Walter and Shakespeare’s fool. That is what Walter kind of is. The fools in Shakespeare’s plays are always the wisest, and yet always making a joke of it. And, when you get them down, they’re often the saddest.
Especially last year, there was a lot about how Olivia was so repressed and not in touch with her emotions. Now that you’re getting to play both versions of Olivia, and the other version is much more emotional and open, is that a welcome change?
Anna: Absolutely, but I didn’t mind her being that repressed. This sounds so counter-intuitive, but I actually think there’s something liberating in that. So often, you’ve got the guys that are the quiet, silent types that do all the tough stuff. Then, you’ve got the girls that are all emoting and chatting, talking about their feelings and working out their relationships.
You’ve got the woman who doesn’t talk all that much, who’s extremely repressed, who just goes and does the job and doesn’t have much of a life at home. Then, you’ve got the two guys who sit around in the lab, which essentially is the kitchen, cooking cookies and trying to work out where they stand with each other. I actually have always found that side of it interesting. Why can’t a woman be a little cooler in her emotions and a little quieter and more repressed without it being a huge thing? I’ve actually always quite enjoyed that, to tell you the truth. But, obviously, getting out of that has been a little bit of fun.
Do you think that the alternate Olivia has any qualities that Olivia might wish she had?
Anna: Yes. They both do, in fact. I think that Olivia’s main struggle is fundamentally the fact that she feels so responsible for everything and everyone. I think that she would like to be able to leave her work at work, and go home and put the weight of the world on somebody else’s shoulders for a minute, and not feel like if she doesn’t do it, nobody will. That’s the biggest thing. But, I don’t know if people change. I don’t know if you’re capable of changing such a fundamental, core belief, but I think that’s what she would like. That would enable her to breathe deeply and see the world in a different fashion.
All of the differences in the alternate universe are fun, like “Dogs” on Broadway instead of “Cats.” Do you have a particular favorite of those little things?
Anna: That one is my favorite. I didn’t notice it the first day. No one said anything. Then, I went in and looked, and that really cracked me up. That was my favorite.