Scientist clone Cosima on "Orphan Black" isn't just a simple TV character. As most die-hard "Orphan Black" fans know, Cosima is based (semi-loosely) on a real-life person; Cosima Herter is currently a PhD student studying the historical development of biotechnology in the 20th century, and she moonlights as the Science Consultant on the show (you can see her name in the credits).
In the flesh, Herter bears many similarities to her TV namesake. She has multiple tattoos, she gesticulates often, and she has a laid-back, super-intelligent vibe. I'd be lying if I said I fully understood everything she spoke about, but it was a distinct pleasure all the same.
Herter chatted with HuffPost Canada TV about the "crazy science" of "Orphan Black," how she and the showrunners come up with plausible plotlines, and any tidbits she could provide about the upcoming Season 2 finale.
HuffPost Canada TV: What a cool thing. You're a consultant for the show but also an inspiration for a character. How did this all even start?
Cosima Herter: It's a crazy thing! [Laughs] Well, Graeme [Manson, showrunner] and I have known each other for a long time. It started off as a conversation between friends, and then grew into more. It just so happened that the concept of the show mapped onto what I'm studying, which is evolutionary biology and cloning, and the history and philosophy of science.
Does it feel weird when you watch someone who's supposed to be you? At least someone inspired by you?
Yeah, it's a bit weird. But Cosima is a composite of the writers, and she's also how Tatiana [Maslany] embodies her. Tatiana and I spent some time together -- and wow, talk about a remarkable human being, not just as an actor, but ... what a solid, sincere, dedicated person. Also a good ol' Canuck. Anyway, sometimes I'll be sitting with her or watching "Orphan Black," and just the way she sits ... it's like how I'm sitting now! Some of the things that come out of her mouth are a bit shocking, because they're things that've come out of my mouth. I'm not conscious of what John [Fawcett] and Graeme are looking at when I come in, but I guess they're taking it in! That's the long way of saying that yes, it can be surreal sometimes. I really try not to think about it too much, because it makes me feel weird.
But you'd say that there are more differences than similarities between you and the Cosima character?
Well, first of all, I'm 20 years older than the Cosima on TV. [Laughs] I'm in your face, too. Also, we can't forget that she's been getting more and more sick. But she's a smartass. Like me.
Have there been any things that John and Graeme have brought up that you've said "no" to?
Just to reiterate, I'm not a scientist. I'm a historian and philosopher of science and technology, so I have to study the science too, in order to provide a cogent explanation of things. Sometimes they'll be talking about things in the writing room, and what I'll do is frame some of those ideas. The whole cloning issue, for example. I'll come in and explain what a clone is -- there are lots of clones in nature. It's prolific. Your cells clone each other, jellyfish clone each other, bacteria clone each other. Anything that's not sexually reproducing. So I'll come in and explain that, and then correct the shallow layviews of some of the science. The topic that comes up a lot lately is nature vs. nurture. Physical traits are one thing, but when we start talking about behavioural traits, things change.
Intelligence is a good example. It's a constellation of all kinds of behaviours -- cognitive reception, interactions with your world. It's really contentious to say whatever kind of "behaviour" is necessarily inherited. This is one of the premises for eugenics. So I come in and correct this presumption of inheritance -- like, that's not how your DNA works. It's a code. If I give you a sheet of music, and I give that person a sheet of music, you follow the instructions but how it's expressed is entirely different. You see that there are a lot of things that contribute to the expression of certain kinds of traits.
"Orphan Black" touches on the trans and homosexuality communities. Is that a conscious decision or are they some things that just pop up in the storyline?
People in the media always ask these questions in the same way: it's either nature or it's nurture. So I'll come in and say, "Yes, those things are. But let's actually take nurture apart and look at all the things involved in it." Then you can ask different questions. "Orphan Black" isn't trying to answer those questions, either. We want to leave it up to you, the viewer, to answer them for yourselves.
We're not trying to make a statement. I know Graeme, John and all of the other writers so well. I know how important these questions are to them; no one's trying to be cheap. No one's saying that your sexuality is necessarily a choice or that you're born this way and you have no choice. I think those two extremes are dangerous. That kind of extremism is the basis for all kinds of fundamentalism. If you only have two options, then that's not a choice.
So you believe it's more of a spectrum, then?
I totally believe there's a spectrum of people in the world, yes. We have homosexual characters on "Orphan Black," we have the trans character, Tony ... I feel like we're waiting for some sort of major negative backlash.
I feel like "Orphan Black" is genuine in its delivery, though. You can tell it's sincere depiction, and not just a gimmick.
Not at all! Absolutely. Graeme and John didn't introduce Tony for simple representation. All the characters you see -- and let's not forget these characters are fictional -- are there to show the diversity of the real world. These are our friends, our family, our intimate relationships. They're just people!
Have you ever made "crazy science" with someone?
[Laughs] First of all, I'm not a scientist ... but have I made crazy science with someone? Oh, yeah.
How much interaction did you have with Tatiana this season?
There was more interaction in the beginning of Season 1 when we were getting to know each other. There aren't enough adjectives to describe how lovely she is. You think it's so over the top when you meet someone and they're really awesome. She's remarkable. The first couple of times we sat together and I described the biology and the science.
Have you ever seen the John Bonner slime mould video? I know that sounds disgusting, but I cry every time I see it. Anyway, I showed this video to Tatiana when I was talking about evolution, and we both just started bawling our eyes out. I was trying not to cry because I didn't want her to think I was a total loser, but then I looked at her and she was totally crying too. [Laughs] Now, I'm not in Toronto as often, but I do try to see her whenever I'm here.
What can you tell us about the upcoming Season 2 finale?
Oh my God! The finale! I watched it again last night and I was just like [mouth hangs open]. It's beautiful, it's heartbreaking, it's exhilarating. You will not see it coming. You will not see any of it coming.
The "Orphan Black" Season 2 finale airs on Saturday, June 21 at 9 p.m. ET on Space in Canada and on BBC America in the U.S.