When Orphan Black began, Donnie Hendrix was a clueless tool of Dr. Aldous Leekie and the Neolutionists, blindly passing on information about his wife Alison to the very people looking to exploit and destroy her and her sisters. Since realizing the truth about the dark side of his monitoring, Donnie has become an ardent ally to the clones and one of the best characters on a show packed full of them. The Hendrixes have had a rocky time of it in season four, but Donnie is ever reliable for some comic relief and emotional stability. We spoke with Kristian Bruun about his time on the critically acclaimed sci-fi show and what it’s like to be a member of Clone Club.
Donnie has come a long way since season one where he was more of a pawn of Dr. Leekie, and he’s really become the low-key MVP of the show. Did you have any idea where he would end up when you started?
I had no idea that was going to happen. It’s kind of an actor’s dream when something like that happens. They originally told me, you know, it’ll be anywhere from three to six episodes, but then it just kind of grew into its own thing which is a great opportunity for me, and I was, of course, more than happy to go along for the ride.
Another thing that’s so great about Orphan Black is how it sort of plays with gender expectations. Donnie’s a little bit more gentle and maternal than the average husband you see on television. That’s such a great thing to see, though. Did that sort of nontraditional approach give you more freedom to make the character your own?
I think it came out of Alison being such a strong personality first and kind of grew into that. I think it’s really been obvious since day one that Alison wears the pants in the relationship, but it’s been a really fun thing to explore with Donnie is sort of how he’s used masculinity or how he finds it on his own, or finds those times when he can sort of step up and be a traditional man of the house, but also just relinquish and just be a partner and not worry about that sort of thing.
It’s been something that I think the writers have done a really good job of exploring and, for me as an actor, just fun to tinker with. I fully support putting out the type of man that he is. In this day and age, I think men need to see more representations like that out there. I think that’s kind of an important thing to do, and I’m glad that the writers have sort of found just little nuggets of doing that, found ways of putting it out there.
How would you say that Alison and Donnie’s marriage has evolved this season? They’ve certainly had their fair share of ups and downs between digging up bodies and Donnie going to prison. That’s got to put a bit of a strain on things.
I find that their relationship this season has been stressful in some ways because a lot of this sort of investigation into Brightborn Institute and the fertility clinic has sort of brought back some buried stuff between the two of them wanting to conceive their own children. But it’s also kind of brought them together and made them stronger. Certainly watching Donnie get arrested and go to jail was tough for Alison, and also watching how he interacts with a pregnant Helena has also been a challenge for her, as well.
Their relationship has had challenges, but not in a way that makes it weaker. I would say in a way that makes it stronger.
Do you change your portrayal of Donnie when you’re interacting with each different clone? They’re all Tatiana Maslany, but I imagine you would interact with Helena differently than you would from Alison, for example. How do you adjust that as a performer?
It’s just like working with any other actor, in my opinion. I think Tat did such a good job of really delineating each character and, when you’re in a scene with her as a different iteration, it’s very clear that you’re working with almost another actor and so you just kind of treat it as such. That’s, I think, something that all the other auxiliary characters on the show do a good job of. We all treat it the same way. We all try and approach it as we’re working with different actors here.
The performances are uncanny like that. The first time you work with one of the other clones, it throws you for a loop at first because you’re just like, “What the hell is going on? I’m so confused right now.” It’s something that you just kind of accept, I think. That’s just a testament to Tatiana’s performance.