When Josh Vokey was handed the biggest break of his acting career, it didn’t look like much.
“I got the sides for the character, and that’s all I was given at the time,” he recalls. “It was very bare bones, and it said ‘Scott, also works in the lab.’ That was it.”
Vokey was auditioning for a bit part in the first season of sci-fi conspiracy thriller Orphan Black. Created by first-time showrunners Graeme Manson and John Fawcett and starring then-unknown actress Tatiana Maslany as multiple clones, there was little to suggest the series — currently airing its fourth season Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Space in Canada and BBC America in the U.S. — would become a cult hit. There was little to indicate his character Scott Smith, scientist clone Cosima’s warm-hearted lab partner, would go on to become a fan favorite. In fact, there was little information about the series at all.
“It was all very secretive, so I wasn’t brought up to speed when I auditioned,” he says. “I went in, and I took kind of a very specific angle on what I thought [Scott] was and how he interacted. I found a lot in his social awkwardness and his inability to speak, specifically with women, because of his own anxiety in dealing with the opposite sex, and that this woman had no interest in him for reasons we found out later, that she was a lesbian. But at that time, I had no idea about any of this. I had no idea about who Cosima (played by Maslany) really was. I just knew from reading the script that this guy feels really, really nervous around this woman.”
Vokey landed the part, and what was supposed to be a tiny lab interaction between Scott and Cosima was rewritten as a larger scene, and what was supposed to be a one-episode stint became a three-episode arc. He was then invited to appear in the Season 2 premiere, during which time Fawcett — the director of that episode — popped out from behind the camera and offered him a continuing role on the series. “That was the first time I’d met him, and he said, ‘I’ve got this idea for what I want to do with the character, and I want to really expand him,’ and he kind of laid out this plan for me and he said, ‘Is that something that you want to do? Are you interested?’ and I said, ‘Uh…yeah!’” he laughs. “It’s just an actor’s dream.”
It’s a dream that began when Vokey was growing up in Newfoundland and discovered that television and film expanded his world.
“Growing up on an island that’s very disconnected from a lot of things, I was very used to a very specific way of life,” he says. “So a lot of my experience in the world was from watching movies and seeing other places. I had no context about what it was like to be in a big city. My only experience of that was watching movies that were shot in New York or shot in Toronto and the big cities, and that was kind of how I learned a lot about this world. It was just something that, I don’t know, it really spoke to me.”
But the road from Newfoundland to Orphan Black was a winding one. After studying theater at the University of Toronto, Vokey headed out west, kicking around the Vancouver acting scene for a few years without much success. Then, as fate would have it, he became reacquainted with a former classmate over the Internet. “I reconnected with her, moved back [to Toronto], and I kind of uprooted my life,” he says. “I came back here and kind of slogged it out doing commercials and kind of worked my way up for a couple of years, and then I got what turned out to be a very big break in Orphan Black.”
And what became of the former classmate who inspired Vokey’s cross-country move? “We’re getting married next summer,” he says happily.
As for Scott, he has become Cosima’s trusted science sidekick and most loyal friend, working to help her find a cure for the mysterious clone disease that’s slowly destroying her body. It’s a dynamic Vokey believes is unusual on TV. “I find — and I’m sure we all find — that relationships between men and women are often sexualized in some way, shape, or form. It’s not often that you find a man and a woman in a story that meet each other and become very close friends,” he explains. “She’s in a very vulnerable place going through an illness and needs allies that she can rely on and, in the moment of that vulnerability, chooses this guy to lean on and from that grows this really beautiful friendship.”
He also thinks Scott’s relationship with Cosima — and her former girlfriend and fellow scientist Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) — is refreshing for what it isn’t. “In the LGBT community, I think a lot of people are tired of the idea of when two women have a sexual relationship, there always seems to be that element of the male gaze and fetishization and sexualizing of that relationship between those women and, in this case, it’s not that. It’s one of admiration and respect.”
Vokey says that Cosima is going to need Scott more than ever in Season 4 with the absence of Delphine, who is missing in action after being shot in last season’s finale. “I think that certainly there’s a ton of fallout from the last season with the disappearance of Delphine,” he says. “I feel that’s left a real void in the science component of the show. I don’t think there’s any way to speak around it, there’s a massive black hole in their world, and the problems that that causes in our world in terms of Cosima and the grief and pain that she’s going through.”
Scott’s challenge will be to keep Cosima focused on finding a cure. “When we find him, he’s trying to figure it out, trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube that is the illness, and trying to keep them both on task. He’s keeping her on her feet, keeping her moving.”
Meanwhile, acting opposite über-talented Maslany keeps Vokey on his toes.
“I’m a different actor from working with her,” he says. “She is malleable. She will throw it all at a wall and comes in with something really cool and interesting and then finds it every single time in a different way with the actors in there. The best way I can describe being on the show with her is playing like a really, really cool imagination game with your really good friends with all kinds of really expensive toys. It’s fun, it’s energizing to be in a space like that.”
He also has a lot of fun interacting with Orphan Black’s fan base, coined Clone Club, on social media. “I’ve always felt that we’re a bit of an underdog show and we stand up and champion kind of the outsiders in society, and it’s been really cool for me to have people reach out on the Internet,” he says.
As for Season 4, Vokey thinks viewers will appreciate the refocused, “boots-on-ground” intensity of the storyline as well as the return of first-season body-mod baddies, the Neolutionists. “This is the most excited I’ve been about a season for people to see,” he says. “The idea that Neolution has been the thing all along that’s been around and that it’s more than a group or an entity or a company. It’s a philosophy that exists in many facets and it can be anywhere at any point.”
As if that doesn’t sound ominous enough, he cryptically adds, “I care so much about all of these characters, and I was always nervous for them, but now I’m terrified.”
‘Orphan Black‘ airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Space in Canada and BBC America in the U.S.
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