Sex, Drugs, and Clones
By Alexandria Symonds
Don’t worry for a second that Jordan Gavaris is pressured into his onscreen wardrobe choices. “I do think, if I remember correctly, the assless chaps were my idea,” the actor says, referring to his first scene in the upcoming season 2 premiere of the cult series Orphan Black, which finds his character, Felix Dawkins, at a gay club, rolling on equal parts ecstasy and eyeliner, surrounded by a cadre of shirtless admirers.
The Ontario native, who not so long ago was a self-described “gangly, awkward 17-year-old” with a single acting class under his belt, welcomed his turn as the often half-clothed Felix. “It’s neat to play someone so unabashed about his sexuality and his body,” says Gavaris, 24. “It’s kind of refreshing and liberating to play someone who really couldn’t care less, and it’s fun to bring that to your own personal life; it makes you feel more confident and empowered.”
Felix, an artist, is frank, unfiltered, and very funny — an invaluable source of levity on a show that can get heavy fast. Orphan Black’s first season, which premiered on BBC America last year, introduced petty criminal Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), who quickly discovered she’s one of an indeterminate number of clones engineered by a shady, fringe genetics laboratory. As Sarah’s foster brother, Felix becomes increasingly embroiled as the stakes of “Clone Club” escalate, acting as a confidant to Sarah and her sisters, and even reluctantly offering up his to-die-for bohemian loft as a de facto safe house for them.
Like his character, Gavaris is quick-witted, analytical, and hesitant to define his sexuality too precisely. “Inasmuch as Felix is very much the liberated side of myself, I try to focus on the idea of gender and ambiguity,” he says, “where it’s not gay or straight or bisexual or anything; it sort of lacks a label. That’s my own personal philosophy when it comes to life and civil rights.”
Philosophy (and leather chaps) notwithstanding, the biggest challenge Gavaris has encountered on the show has been a technical one: appearing in scenes that feature multiple clones, only one of whom Maslany can play at a time. “Every time we do any kind of press event, like Comic Con or something, the fans say, ‘We expected to see so many more chairs up at the podium!’ ” he says. “In any of those scenes where there is more than one Tatiana and Felix is there, I’ve only worked with one Tat. And the other clones, to me, are tennis balls on T-stands.”
Still, as the droll, urbane Felix, Gavaris gets the pleasure of delivering some of Orphan Black’s most priceless lines. (For example: “Divorces do really strange things to normals, Sarah. They lose their fake happiness, they forget the way to the mall, and then they come downtown to find themselves.”)
But don’t confuse the character for just another sassy, neutered BFF — or Gavaris for the kind of actor who’d be satisfied playing one. The show reminds viewers that Felix has his own inner life, a consistent commitment that stems directly from Gavaris’s conversations with series cocreator John Fawcett about LGBT representation in media. “There is a danger, with a character like this, of going into trite territory,” Gavaris says. “I especially did not want him to ever become desexualized, in any way.”
Gavaris promises that season 2 offers even more development for Felix’s personal identity. “We all agreed, collectively, that we would explore Felix as an entity outside Clone Club: what his private life looks like, who it’s with, what his friends look like, what they mean to him, his modus operandi outside of being the person Sarah calls in the middle of the night.”
And what’s next for Gavaris himself? “I’d really like to do something with a big scope, with lots of explosions,” he says, though he’s not averse to roles in smaller films like his 2008 indie 45 R.P.M., which he credits with making him fall in love with the craft — rather than the attention — in the first place. “I walked away from the film and genuinely wanted to be an actor. I didn’t want to be a celebrity. I didn’t want to be in magazines,” he says, before his trademark self-awareness kicks in: “As I’m talking to a person who is putting me in a magazine.”
Season 2 of Orphan Black premieres April 19 on BBC America. Watch the trailer below: