Fringe, the creepy, suspenseful sci-fi series created by J.J. Abrams for Fox, has come into its own in season three. Once derided as an X-Files rip-off, it’s entered mind-bending new territory by introducing a parallel universe known as “Over There.” It now focuses on the struggles between its three main characters – noted fringe scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble), his acerbic son Peter (Joshua Jackson), and FBI investigator Olivia (Anna Torv) – and their sinister doppelgangers.
Torv, a former Australian television star who caused a stir last year when she did a semi-nude photo shoot for Esquire (pictured), has been getting considerable critical notice for the dual role. We spoke to her by phone this week while she was enjoying some downtime at her mom’s house in Queensland, where she grew up, shortly before she was due to head to New York to make an appearance at Fox’s upfront presentation next week.
What did you think when you learned that your role as Olivia had been split into two?
Torv: I was excited to get this new character to play with. Olivia is so serious, so straight and practical and focused on the job, and I’ve quite enjoyed that, actually, but to let go of it a bit with faux-Olivia was a hoot.
Q: It must be a challenge to make them distinct even while faux-Olivia is pretending to be real Olivia, or ‘our Olivia,’ as the shows calls her.
Torv: I tend to work from the inside out, but in this case I started with the external, shifting up the silhouette, changing the shoes, giving her more of a bounce physically. On the inside, the differences are very subtle. I would say, ‘our Olivia’ really wants to be the best, and she feels responsible for everything and everybody, whereas the alternate Olivia just wants to win, and she doesn’t take the world onto her shoulders. You can see how they would end up in the same place, but take different shifts to get there.
Q: Well, they both end up with Peter…
Torv: Yes, and when ‘our Olivia’ comes back and Peter confesses that he’s been having an affair with the other Olivia, it makes her think, “Well, then, I’m just a product of my skin, and you don’t know who is inside of me.” On the other hand, the distinction is not all that great. I didn’t want to play them as opposite sides of a coin. I wanted them both to be true and complete and whole.
Q: Despite their different hairstyles, both Olivias are quite covered up on the show. But you definitely showed yourself off in that Esquire magazine photo shoot.
Torv: The show involves so many leaps of faith that we want to hold true to as many things as we can, so right from the beginning we made sure that Olivia was dressed appropriately, as an FBI agent would be, with flat shoes and a very practical silhouette. As a result of doing the show 14 hours a day, my own wardrobe was even getting a bit conservative and dark. When I flew from Vancouver to L.A. to do that Esquire shoot, it was winter, and I felt like I was seeing sunlight for the first time in months. The whole shoot was built around using that natural morning light. So yes, I came out of my shell. I’ve never been prudish. That shoot was fun.