‘Fringe’ Friday: Chatting with Saturn Award winner Anna Torv
I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to speak with Anna Torv. Would she be cool and serious, like Olivia? Or bold and cavalier like Fauxlivia? For all I knew, the actress’ personality could have been closer to Olivia possessed by William Bell. I didn’t expect her to be so chipper and enthusiastic. And overly concerned about our waitress.
We met in the restaurant of her hotel on a Wednesday afternoon. Torv and costar John Noble (Walter Bishop) were in Los Angeles for a pair of award shows. Monday, they walked the red carpet of the Critics Choice awards, where Torv was a nominee for best actress in a television series and Noble took the award for best supporting actor. “The fact that John won is still kind of thrilling,” Torv said. “He’s so damn brave. And just the joy he puts into it."
Then Thursday they were off to the Saturn Awards, where Torv repeated her win last year for the top female actor award. Deservedly so.
In Season 3, Torv truly shone. Which is saying a lot in a show where she plays opposite powerhouses like John Noble, Lance Reddick and Blair Brown on a weekly basis. Not to mention the guest stars they bring in: Christopher Lloyd, Peter Weller, Leonard Nimoy. Still, Torv really made this year her own, playing two uniquely different versions of the same character, dealing with heartbreak and deception from both sides of the story. It's a big change from Season 1, when many criticized Torv and her character Olivia Dunham of being cold and distant.
“That was clearly a conscious choice on the part of the writers and on my part,” Torv explained. “I’ve been playing her so long, I get defensive of her. People forget the first time we met her, she was glowing. She was giggly and glowing and happy, and life was sweet.”
An excellent point that I myself had forgotten. We were first introduced to Olivia Dunham three years ago when she was in bed with her FBI partner/lover John Scott, but he was pulled away by her first case involving fringe science. By the end, not only is Scott killed, but Olivia finds out that he’s been a double agent the entire time. “She was dead for a long time. I don’t think she’s still right yet. Poor Liv.”
Olivia became the emotional punching bag of the first season. “I honestly had been giggling and teasing them. I wanted Olivia to lighten up, but every time she did, something would happen.”
The writers gave glimpses into the life of Olivia Dunham. “They wrote this scene, and it was at the beginning of the episode. It didn’t have anything to do with the story. She’s putting her dress on, putting her shoe on, she’s on the phone saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll meet you in a sec.’ Then the phone rings. It’s Broyles, and she wipes the lipstick off, puts on a coat, and goes out. That’s it. You’re on call. She breaks my heart.”
Then in Season 2, the parallel universe, or “other side” of the "Fringe" universe, came to the forefront of the story. We got hints of the alternate versions of the characters we’d grown to love, and by Season 3, they had their own episodes. “There’s a tendency to throw an idea out there and tease at it,” Torv told me. “Then no one’s going to commit because no one thinks it’s going to last. So who cares? But they [the writers] went hardcore into it. Every second episode for the first 10 episodes of the third season we’re over there.”
“I love my job, but you do it every day, so the fact that you get to jump back and forth between these two different perspectives.... From the other side. Or the perspective of what you do like when you don’t get to see it for a week.”
Torv’s eyes light up as she discusses the joy of fleshing out the Fauxlivia character in season three. “When they finally gave me this character, I was so hands-on. 'Let’s do this properly. Let’s give her a swagger. Let’s give her long red hair. Let’s make her kinda sexy and cooler.' And they let me.”
“I wanted to have a full-on uniform. But they kind of had their own uniform. The take on it was they were the heroes of their side. Like firemen. Fighter pilots. A cool job. Not just suits.”
“It was such a relief, too. Because everything had been so pent-up. On our side, Olivia is completely responsible for this criminal and a madman. It’s on her head. I always used to tease the writers to give me a scene where Olivia opens a drawer and she’s been keeping notes of every single thing they’ve done. On the other side, Lincoln was in charge, so Fauxlivia didn’t have the responsibility that our Olivia had."
Plus, Fauxlivia got to be a lot more rough and tumble. “I like the action scenes with Fauxlivia because she gets hit. I love it. The fight stuff is fun. It’s like a dance.”
“I mean, I don’t do any of the stuff that’s dangerous,” Torv clarified. “It actually led to one of the most humbling experiences in my life: the first episode in the second season when Olivia’s vanished and suddenly she comes flying through the windshield. So Melissa Stubbs is the fantastic stuntwoman who did that. They put a rocket for her in the back of the car, and they had that breakaway glass for the windshield. She has nothing on extra, except maybe elbow pads. Then they shoot her out of this rocket, through the windshield, and she rolls on the ground and lands on her mark. The guy goes in. She’s OK. Everybody claps. Then I have to go in, lay in the same position, so they can get a close-up of my eyes opening. That was kind of humbling. “
Not only did Torv get to play a parallel-universe version of Olivia, she got to play Olivia possessed by the spirit of William Bell. I asked if that was something the show runners told her they were contemplating before they gave her the script. “No, you just get it. And you go, ‘What? I don’t know where to start.’ I was very scared. Also because I love Leonard, and I don’t want to offend or mock him. I called John, first off. We had a couple cups of coffee and talked about it. I wanted to talk to him because he worked with Leonard, and I just needed a friend. And a friend on set when I went in. To look at and it wouldn’t be so weird."
“We have a dialect coach who sits on set, listening to us and our accents, and she was fantastic. The sound guys put together a whole bunch of Bell’s dialogue, and I just listened to it.” Even with all that work, though, Torv was still a little nervous about her performance. “I haven’t watched that episode yet. I was really nervous during it, and I just need to put some distance before I go back to it.”
The cast doesn’t get much exposure to how the show is being received while they’re filming. Many times it’s not until they're at events like Comic-Con when they see fans’ reactions. “We shoot in Vancouver, and we live in this isolated bubble. So it’s, ‘Oh, wow, people watch it and care.’ They pick up things we popped in there. That side’s fantastic. They’re active participants.”
"Fringe" does give its audience a lot of tiny details to obsess over, the favorite being the Observer. “I love the Observer. I love every episode that they’re in. Michael Cerveris did such a wonderful job with that character. I love them. They’re my favorite part, actually.”
“The show has a very loyal following. The people who watch the show care. I love doing the panels. I love the audience questions.” Torv grinned, talking about what "Fringe" puts its fans through. “All of a sudden we put a cartoon is the middle of the season. Or a film noir. A musical episode. And whether they like it or they don’t, they forgive us, which is the lovely part.”
But how will fans feel coming into Season 4? The Season 3 finale ended with a doorway open between the two universes and Peter seemingly erased from existence.
“It’s a massive reset,” Torv admitted. “Every first episode of a season has been crafted like another pilot. An introduction to what this is going to be.”
“I’m excited because I think it means the relationships will be completely different. You’ll get to play with people as your character, essentially having a different relationship. Especially with Walter because Peter has always been there,” Torv speculated. "And there’s going to be more of a back-and-forth between worlds, which I think is going to be a lot of fun.”
“I’d like to play with Olivia. Unbutton the coat. Find the middle ground between Olivia and Fauxlivia,” Torv said. “I was so excited when we got picked up for Season 4. I had so much fun last year. And you can keep resetting. Nothing is set in stone. With science fiction there’s endless possibilities.”
For Anna Torv, the wait isn’t much longer. In less than a month, she’ll be back in Vancouver, preparing to start production on Season 4. The rest of us are going to have to wait until the fall to see what happens to the Fringe Division.
-- Andrew Hanson
Photos: Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham; in third photo, she's joined by Andre Royo as Henry Higgins. Credit: Fox Television