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Interview: Fringe’s Anna Torv Talks About the Series and the Duality of Her Character

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Holding an interview with a member of the Fringe cast or crew is rather exciting for fans of the show. But for obvious reasons, last week’s conference call interview with Anna Torv was particularly exciting, for not only is she the actress portraying Fringe’s main character, but said character is at the moment going through something not many fans – if any! – had been expecting.

Needless to say, I was quite stoked!

Anna Torv is a lovely person to interview. First off, I love her accent. Second, she is very enthusiastic and open, quite the contrast with her character, Olivia Dunham. Her infectious energy made the interview all the more interesting. Third, she takes the time to think about her answers, or even to clarify questions, even when the interview is being held amidst a busy, busy day.

The day hadn’t been easy, as she had been working on a frantic and hectic scene. “We’re at a train station.  We’ve got a hostage situation today.  So, we’ve got police cars.  That’s the terrible thing, there’s always flashing lights, ambulances, and police cars.” Which, of course, affects Anna’s perception of reality: “I was driving home from work the other day and there’s flashing lights and ambulances and police cars and I’m like, “Oh, well, I’ll keep going.”  It wasn’t until I got two blocks down that I went, ‘Oh, my gosh!  That was an enormous accident that I just totally didn’t think was real.’  That’s not funny; that’s terrible.”

Many of the questions asked during the interview were philosphical. For example, Anna mentioned that part of the show’s intrigue is how Olivia and Altivia, changed by their experiences on the side opposite the one they are from, are going to return home. After all, having literally walked in each other’s shoes, there are some things that they used to take for granted that they won’t be able to anymore: “obviously, we’ve been following our Olivia and our 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’s good or bad, or neither one is right or wrong.”

Of course, being alternate versions of the same person implies that Olivia and Altivia have some traits in common. When asked about the qualities both might share, Anna reflects: “Olivia’s main struggle is fundamentally the fact that she feels so responsible for everything and for everyone. I think that she would like to be able to leave her work at work, 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 then, 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. I think that would enable her to breathe deeply and see the world in a lighter fashion.”

Playing two versions of the same character is quite the challenge for any actor; both have to be different enough that we believe they are not the same, while at the same time, they need to be similar enough that the audience can accept them as being different versions of the same character. She was quite excited when the idea first came up. But she raises an interesting point, that “I haven’t really had the chance to play Altivia properly for herself.  It’s been our Olivia, thinking that she’s Altivia.  Then, Altivia pretending to be our Olivia.  So, it’s been a little bit tough to work that line.”

But juggling this rather delicate process of playing one character through the eyes of another has been interesting for Anna, more specifically with: “how my attitude or how clearly I am now seeing Olivia, which I don’t think you do.  I don’t think you get those opportunities where you actually get to step back and look at a character from a different perspective while playing the other.  You keep trying to think, because you’re playing each—each of them has them has their own impression of the other that they haven’t met really properly.  So, it’s been tough, but fun.”

She does admit that: “I would have loved it if we had gone right out there and made her a completely different character, but essentially, 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, too.  It’s also been so fun to play on the other side, which does feel like, “Wow!  This is a completely different energy.”  Then, to pop back.  So, I’ve loved it.”

Anna admitted at that point that playing different versions of the same character tends to put her in a philosophical mindset. But it’s not so much the differences between the two versions that do so: “it’s more actually. I don’t believe that I’m just this physical person who maybe walks in a particular way or who speaks in a different way, all those little bits and pieces that’s on the outside.  What’s on the inside, and do people recognize that, or do they just see what’s on the outside?  That’s the bit that I’ve been thinking about.”

When asked about if she perfers playing the emotionally repressed Olivia or her less repressed alternate version, Anna quickly come to the defence of Olivia. While playing Altivia is quite fun, Anna says of Olivia: “I didn’t mind her being that repressed.  I actually think that there was something—this sounds so counter-intuitive, but there’s something actually liberating in that.  So often, you’ve got the guys that are the quiet, silent types, the guys that do all the tough stuff.  Then, you’ve got the girls that are emoting, chatting and talking about their feelings, working out their relationships.  I think that that’s kind of one of the things that Fringe has always not had. You’ve got the woman who doesn’t talk all that much, who’s extremely repressed, who just goes and does the job, 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 a little repressed without it being a huge thing?  So, I’ve actually always quite enjoyed that, to tell you the truth.  Obviously, getting out of this pea soup has been a little bit of fun.”

Anna told us that she is extremely emotionally invested in the two versions of Olivia, given how the alternate-universe affects her relationships in her universe, because: “it feels very different, even the dynamic on set because you’ve got a bunch of completely different people and even the crime scenes are handled differently.  It feels very different.  There are pros and cons to both sides.  So, I can’t choose between yet.”

Fans weren’t the only ones shocked by the twist at the end of Season 2: “I really didn’t know what they were going to do when they first opened up the prospect to this parallel universe.  As I said, 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.”

All of these points raised by Anna make me think, now more than ever, about the strong possibility for a uniting force to ultimately save both universes unite Olivia and Altivia. Who knows? They could potentially bring both Fringe Divisions together.

When speaking of the swap between Olivia and Altivia, there is also the question of the influence of this on Olivia’s relationship with Peter. Playing out the relationship between Olivia and Peter is really interesting, in that although it is meant to be, it isn’t going to happen, and certainly not without some tests and difficulties: “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 a romantic drama or comedy.  The fact that the production teams has been able to kind of give a little bit of that and yet, it’s one step forward and ten steps back, I think it’s brilliant.  Obviously, this is an assignment for Altivia, but Peter’s a charmer.  I don’t know what she’s going to think after they’ve been together for a bit.”

Apart from the fascinating duality of her characters and the on-going love triangle between them and Peter, there are a lot of other things about Fringe that Anna likes, in particular that: “it’s so broad.  It doesn’t fit in any particular genre.  I think it’s scary.  I think it’s kind of mystical.  I think there’s sometimes we’ve had episodes that I think are really quite magic.  I think there are parts of it that are really heightened.  There’s parts of it that are really kind of down and dirty.  It’s got humor and a little bit of romance.  The fact that it’s so broad in its spectrum and in its stories and that it’s unafraid to just take this leap.”

Playing a redhead and a blond has changed not only the way people treat Anna, but also: “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—they change you.”

Of course there are instances when Anna takes her character off set with her: “I’ll end up buying myself a cup of coffee.  Then, the props guy behind me going, “Anna, you cannot walk off set with this gun and your badge.”  So, they’re pretty good about that.  I’d like to walk around with that for a bit.  I wonder what that would be like.

Because of the uniqueness of the plot in Fringe, there are scenes that are harder than others to film, “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.  It’s like the dual crime scenes, like how does Olivia handle it versus how does Altivia handle it, or they’re sitting around and gathering information.  They’re the bits that I go, “Oh, what are they both thinking?  What’s the difference in their thoughts?”  Not so much the bigger stuff, which is a little bit more padded, I guess.”

Of course being on the set, Anna gets to see firsthand the little Easter eggs the production teams sprinkles lavishly across the alternate-universe’s scenery. One of her favourites is “Dogs” on Broadway instead of “Cats”  – something I, too, found quite amusing. Anna shared that: “I didn’t notice it the first day.  No one said anything.  Then, I went in and then I looked.  That really cracked me up.  I think that was my favourite”.

Anna didn’t know, when she signed on to play Olivia Dunham, just how deep Fringe was going to go in terms of the alternate universe: “I didn’t really know what to expect.  It has exceeded my expectations and has done for a long time.  I really didn’t know.  I also didn’t think, “Oh, it’s sci-fi.”  I don’t really know what I expected, but I’ve been thrilled”.

Amongst the many topics Fringe covered, there was that of science and morality that Anna found particularly fascinating: “Really early on—I think even 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 soldiers, seeing how quickly they could genetically engineer these soldiers.  There’s been other ones since then, too; I’m interested in that ethical and moral divide between humanity and science and 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.”

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