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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

Orphan Black’s Kristian Bruun on Character Growth and Tatiana Maslany

Some actors connect with a part immediately—the moment they read a script, it’s love at first sight. For others, a part can grow and develop from something small into something beyond their wildest dreams. Actor Kristian Bruun discovered the latter when he signed on almost four years ago to play Donnie Hendrix on BBC America’s Orphan Black.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Bruun’s career really started to explode in the past few years, having booked reoccurring roles on two television shows around the same time. Prior to this, he’d attended both Queen’s University and George Brown Theatre School, and has been on the go ever since. Now, in a brief bit of downtime before starting a film with director Amy Jo Johnson, Bruun and I sit down to talk about Season 3 of Orphan Black, goofing around on set, and fan favorite Donnie Hendrix.

(Beware: there are some spoilers for Season 3 below!)

Credit Karl Ang

No one, not even Bruun himself, could’ve guessed where the role of Donnie Hendrix would take him. “Nobody knew anything about Orphan Black when auditions were happening—not even my agent,” he explains. “It was like, ‘I think this show is about clones or something, but I’m not sure…’ I knew they were looking for a doughy, schlubby suburban husband, and that’s about it. So all I could do was take the domestic nature of Donnie and Alison’s relationship and go from there.”

Bruun certainly had a lot of room to explore. In Season 1 of Orphan Black, Donnie appears to be the stereotypical TV husband: a little beaten down, a little distracted, and definitely not his wife’s dream partner. But as the series unfolded, audiences got to learn more about Donnie. They saw him as a monitor, as a loyal husband, and as a protector. With every episode, his character has grown—and now, in Season 3, he’s practically unrecognizable. In the best way possible.

“It’s been incredible!” Bruun enthuses. “I feel so lucky. In a lot of TV shows, it’s very easy to have the characters do the same thing over and over again. But the Orphan Black writers don’t allow that. They really take time to explore and expand every single character, because ultimately, what’s happening in the show would change everyone. Naturally! They do their due diligence and take care of al our characters. It’s really awesome.”

Donnie Hendrix certainly isn’t the only character given room to expand over the past three seasons. It’s easy to pick character names from Orphan Black and see their story arcs—everyone from Helena and Mark to Gracie and Art have been explored and given room to grow. That’s one of the marks of a great television show, and Orphan Black’s ability to display different sides of its characters is part of the reason why it’s received such critical acclaim in the past three years.

Orphan Black frequently pulls out surprises, twists, and turns; episodes often leave audiences reeling. One of the show’s biggest surprises comes courtesy of Donnie Hendrix himself: the shooting of the villainous Dr Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer) in Season 2.

Even Kristian Bruun himself had quite the reaction to learning that particular surprise.

“I had no idea this was going to be happening,” he tells me, excitement creeping into his voice. “There’s always one episode where shit hits the fan in the suburbs—it’s a tradition, let’s say. And in Season 2, the writers warned me about this episode. ‘Wait ‘til you see this one. This one’s going to be big!’ And I thought, how can you top the craft room of terror? There’s no way you can!”

Credit Steve Wilkie – BBC America

Bruun, however, was wrong. In Season 2 Episode 7, Alison has been sent to rehab to overcome her alcoholism and her family comes to visit. The episode is full of hijinks, clones imitating other clones, and crazy reveals. But it starts to get crazy midway through, when Donnie follows Alison back to her room and discovers another surprise: Sarah Manning.

“I got initiated into Clone Club!” Bruun laughs. “We get our scripts for upcoming episodes at weird times, and I got the script for Episode 7 at midnight in my email. I had to be up early the next morning, but I couldn’t stop myself from reading it. And when I read that scene, I thought, ‘All right, okay, I’m officially in Clone Club! I finally know what’s going on! That’s pretty cool, it’s a huge plot shift for Donnie—I guess the writers did kind of top the episode from Season 1. Bravo, writers.’”

But the episode doesn’t end there. After Dr Leekie is sent on the run by Rachel Duncan, he’s approached by a dark car… and it’s revealed that Donnie is inside.

“The car pulls up, and as I’m reading, I’m like, ‘Oh shit, here’s Paul. Paul’s totally going to off him. I knew it!’ And then… it’s me! It’s Donnie! I’m like, ‘What the hell? I have a gun?!’” he recalls. “Oh my god! I’m reading the script, and the scene carries on. I put the gun down, and I start to breathe again. I was like, “Oh, phew, that could have been—’ And then BOOM! I shot him in the face! I was literally jumping up and down on my bed. I was so excited—it took me by surprise, just like it did with the audience. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I was just so excited to kill Matt Frewer!”

The glee and excitement in Bruun’s voice shines through as he recalls that late-night script read, and it’s that candor that helps set Orphan Black apart from the other shows out there. It’s a show with a cast that absolutely loves the work they do, and that love shines through in their work. People get along on set, and while they focus and get the scenes shot, there’s also a lot of laughter.

Especially between Bruun and Tatiana Maslany, who are constant scene partners. “Tatiana is so good! She’s just so damn good!” Bruun enthuses. “She has a really strong improv background, and I have a decent one myself. We love to improv through scenes. We just love to mix it up a little bit.”

Mixing things up is something Orphan Black likes to do in general, and recently did so with some of Donnie’s scenes. Donnie’s storyline tends to stay in the suburbs with his wife and children, and as such, Bruun is constantly playing opposite Maslany as Alison. However, last week’s episode featured a very different pairing: Donnie and Helena.

Credit David Spowart Photography

Working with Maslany playing Helena, Bruun says, was a real highlight. “The dynamic was totally different, unexpected, and just so much fun to explore. The pairing of Donnie and Helena is one of my all-time favorites! Just to see those two characters, the two most unlikely to hang out in a domestic situation—throw crazy assassin-hungry killer Helena from the Ukraine into the suburbs and domestic life, and it’s just a recipe for success. Working with Tatiana on this… I’m used to doing improv with Alison, but in these scenes, she’d improv as Helena! It was just such a fun trip. They’re like two aliens just trying to learn to get along.”

With Helena’s rough past, it’s no surprise that she’d enjoy the stability and domesticity of the suburbs. But as Season 3 has progressed, it’s become clear that the suburbs aren’t always safe—with drug dealers and the mob around every corner, it’s more dangerous than ever. The dangers in the suburbs, Donnie recently learned, are all too real.

In Episode 7 of Season 3, Donnie is sent to purchase drugs from a gangster named Pouchy. After an envelope mix-up, Donnie is left as collateral while Pouchy waits for his payment—and he isn’t exactly a patient man. It’s this moment, Bruun says, that gives Donnie a bit of a wake-up call.

“I think that was Donnie’s first taste of how dangerous that world really is. Before, when he met Jason Kellerman (Justin Chatwin) and his thug, it was just the potential of danger. That’s on thing. But when you actually get physical thrown up against a paper slicer, and almost lose your nose, I think that’s a big shift for Donnie,” Bruun says. “I think he’s going to be a bit more reticent going forward. At least he and Alison have Bubbles now.”

Though the dangers of drug dealing are growing more and more real for the Hendrixes, they’re also doing something else for the two of them: bringing them closer together. The show’s timeline from Seasons 1-3 is roughly a two month time period, and so much has happened to all the characters. There have been a lot of sudden changes for the Hendrixes, but both Donnie and Alison being a part of Clone Club has certainly helped their relationship.

“It’s been two months for everything to have come about! For all the clone stuff to start, for all the danger, for Alison to torture him in their house, for Donnie to accidentally kill someone, for Alison to go to rehab… this is all over two months! Their relationship has just gone through a hurricane,” Bruun exclaims. “I think, now that Donnie understands what’s been going on in Alison’s life, he sees a reason for the madness. He’s able to accept it and respect it. As any loving partner would do, he’s there for her and for their family. Their love is rekindling, and they’re making it work.”

Credit BBC America

They’re making it work… though it’s a little tougher now with ex-boyfriend Jason Kellerman on the scene. Between Jason kissing Cosima-as-Alison and him knocking Donnie out cold after a fight, tensions are building high in this little love triangle. And it’s about to explode, according to Bruun.

“They just had to bring in an ex-boyfriend. Thanks, writers,” he jokes. “It’s been so interesting to play, though. In the world of Orphan Black, what can go wrong will go wrong! I think the clones on this show have it in their DNA to attract drama. They’re like a magnet for bad things.”

Though don’t expect the Jason-Alison-Donnie love triangle to drag out much longer.

“Things with Jason are coming to a head. That relationship is a pressure cooker about to go off,” Bruun reveals. “After Donnie and Jason’s confrontation in Episode 8, the relationship of their business agreement is completely going to change.”

One thing fans hope won’t change, however, is the wild and crazy relationship dynamic between Donnie and Alison. The suburban drug dealer married couple has become a bit of a fan favorite this season, with an incredibly memorable scene to cement it all: Donnie and Alison twerking in their bedroom.

I couldn’t resist asking him about it. The second I bring it up, he laughs.

“That was a dream come true. It was! Both Tatiana and I were like, ‘This is so ridiculous. This is the best.’ I’ve always wanted to roll around on a bed full of money! Who wouldn’t want to do that? How sexy is that?!” Bruun shares. “It was one of those moments where the writers knew we’d be up for something like that. Tat and I love to goof around, and the writers have me spend a lot of time in my underwear, so they know I have no shame. It was so much fun, and so ridiculous.”

What’s even better than the twenty-second scene of Donnie and Alison twerking that made it into the episode? The several-minute extended version, which lives in an editing suite in downtown Toronto.

Credit Kristian Bruun

“I’ve watched it—it’s the full length of the song. It’s a massive long version, and it’s ridiculous. It just highlights how crazy it all was. That whole day was just insane. It was a nice release of tension—watching every take with the whole crew and laughing our butts off. After we shot that, I went back to my trailer and was covered in glitter. I went to take a shower, and as I was getting changed, I took off my underwear and found a $20 bill stuck to my butt. That sure doesn’t happen every day.”

With only two episodes left of Season 3, Orphan Black is sure to keep its viewers hooked and clamoring for more. The show was recently greenlit for a fourth season, however, giving the writers plenty of episodes to bring new twists, turns, and hilarious scenes to life.

“We’ve always called it ‘our weird little show’, and I think that sums it up so well,” says Bruun.“On paper, we’re this little underdog of a show, but it comes out swinging and really catches people along the way!”

It won’t be hard to imagine Orphan Black catching more and more viewers as word of mouth spreads and the cast and crew head into shooting Season 4. All Clone Club can hope for are more exciting storylines for their favorite characters—and with three successful seasons under its belt, there’s no doubt that Orphan Black will certainly deliver.

“Orphan Black” airs Saturdays at 9/8c on BBC America and SPACE.

Aside from his role as Donnie Hendrix, Kristian Bruun can be seen on CBC’s “Murdoch Mysteries”, as well as in indie fils “Let’s Rap” and “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town”. To keep up with Kristian and his many projects, follow him on Twitter.

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