When Fox’s Fringe debuts next week, it will introduce a new Australian actress to American audiences: Anna Torv, who has appeared in some TV down under and elsewhere, but is otherwise unknown.
But if Fringe–created by J.J. Abrams and his Star Trek writing team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci–is a big hit, as Fox and several critics expect, Torv won’t be unknown for long. She joins a list of Abrams discoveries–including Felicity’s Keri Russell, Alias’ Jennifer Garner and Lost’s Evangeline Lilly–who emerged from obscurity into the limelight.
“J.J. has this, I don’t know, like, uncanny knack for casting women,” Torv’s co-star, Joshua Jackson, said. “It’s crazy.”
Torv, a native of Melbourne, is perhaps best known for starring in the BBC series Mistresses and the cable miniseries The Pacific. She auditioned by tape for Fringe and was one of thousands of actresses considered for the difficult lead role of FBI special agent Olivia Dunham. Before she knew it, Torv was on a jet to Toronto, where the two-hour pilot was shot, and is now living in New York, where the series will be filmed.
Fringe centers on FBI agent Olivia Dunham, who finds herself drawn into an investigation of a mysterious aircraft disaster in Boston. Olivia’s desperate search for help to save her gravely injured partner leads to brilliant scientist Walter Bishop (fellow Aussie John Noble), who has been institutionalized for the last 17 years. And the only way to question him requires pulling his estranged son, Peter (Jackson), in to help. The investigation gets weirder and weirder as Olivia discovers that things–and science–are not what they seem.
Torv spoke with SCI FI Wire exclusively on the Manhattan set of Fringe last week. Fringe premieres Sept. 9 and will air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Tell us about your character.
Torv: I play Olivia Dunham, who’s an FBI agent, who … all of a sudden is exposed to this whole other world and is kind of forced to deal with it, which she does. She sort of tends to take on all the responsibility she can get. She has a real sense of duty. When we first started shooting it, we were able to talk to a retired FBI agent, which was fantastic. Yeah, it’s really good. And even just talking to him, I mean, not about any secrets stuff, but … these people that do these kind of jobs have … just such a strong sense of duty. Like, a strong sense of duty and just total focus and tunnel vision, … high expectations of themselves, too. And I think Olivia really does fall into that category.
And she’s ex-military, used to being in charge. She’s used to being able to figure out what’s happening, and suddenly is thrown into these situations that are mystifying?
Torv: I think so. … I think she’s used to hard work and, like, following the trail, and the stuff that she’s dealing with is horrific, because it’s huge. … One of the beautiful things about J.J.’s show is that there’s always this overriding thing that follows you that you can’t quite get to the bottom of. Real characters in totally outrageous situations, and yeah, this is the same.
Roberto Orci told us that the subtext of the show for him was about the family that you choose: that these people sort of need each other and that’s why they come together. Do you agree with that?
Torv: I do, absolutely. And I think that as the show progresses they will need each other more and more and more. … The entire cast is fantastic. … The power of three’s a fun little number, because … the dynamic is always going to shift, and you’re always going to need one person more than the other. … I was brought up in a family of three, and there’s always two people against one.
Tell me about some of the crazier stuff you’ve had to do.
Torv: I don’t know what I can say. I mean, seriously– … this sounds so boring–but, legitimately, standing outside of a hospital in minus-45 degrees with the wind blowing in my face, with no hat on, no gloves on, nothing on my face. That was insane. And the scene got cut from the pilot anyway. …
In the pilot, they shoot you in a water isolation tank a la Altered States.
Torv: Yeah. I don’t know, how long did we do it? I think only a day, I think it was only one day in the tank. And that was OK. They were really sweet. They had to put Epsom salts in so I could float a little bit. … I was having to use my stomach muscles. But I was glad I was in first, because they did all of my stuff, and then the camera guys got in the tank with their big boots, and shot back up. So I got off easy. …
Can you talk about the sort of concept of the show. It’s pretty out there, and sort of tough for people to wrap their brains around.
Torv: I’m really excited for the show to premiere so then I stop getting asked the question, because … I never know which way to go. It’s kind of got a bit of everything, I don’t think it’s genre-specific. I think that it is very science fiction, but more emphasis on the science as opposed to the fiction. There’s drama, because your characters are all real, but they’re dealing with these … horrific [scenarios], so I think there’s elements of horror. There’s elements of action. There’s investigative [stuff]; there’s crime-solving. I mean, it’s just all consuming and far reaching. …
It sort of feels like a J.J. Abrams show because he’ll take many genres and sort of smash them together.
Torv: Totally. And seamlessly, you know? And that’s the kind of thing. I was actually just thinking about that the other day, going, “Oh, my God. We were up to episode four, and the cases are the things you’ve looked at and seen, or the characters have seen, is ridiculous. And yet it all seems to kind of gel and work.
Just briefly watching you this afternoon, rehearsing with the other actors, it’s like you guys have a lot of fun.
Torv: Yeah. Well, especially scenes like this, because … we’re all together doing stuff, and it’s not, like, high high high stakes. It’s legitimately doing and asking questions and moving and doing. I love any scene were we actually get to move or walk and talk. That’s my favorite.
This came up pretty suddenly for you. You were in Australia, and suddenly you’re moving to New York and you’ve got this TV series.
Torv: Good things sometimes come really quickly and easily, actually, and it was just the most painless audition process I think I’ve ever had. And I got the part really quickly, and I mean it was a no-brainer. I said, “Yes, thank you, I am so excited.” And I actually hopped on a plane the next day. Went to Los Angeles and met J.J. and some of the others and flew to Toronto, like, the next day, and we started shooting that week. And then we had a little bit of time between the pilot and starting the series, so I had a little bit of time to prepare to come to New York and sort all that stuff out. But, yeah, I don’t know. I think also, and then since I’ve been in New York, too, I’ve just been working nonstop, so, all this sort of external stuff that’s going on is really almost nonexistent. We’re working so many hours a day, and I literally go from home to set to home to set. But I’m having fun. … I’m really having fun doing the show. –Patrick Lee, News Editor