Talent Discovery

Jordan Gavaris is

The New Black

Interview by James Patrick Herman

Photographs by Jeff Vespa

Where are you from in Canada?

“Southern Ontario. Imagine lush, pastoral farmland. So I wear a lot of plaid, but the hipster intelligentsia in Silverlake stole that look from us. I also have an issue with maple syrup. It goes on everything I eat. It’s even in my salad dressing.”

What was your first job?

“I babysat cats.”

How did you land your first acting gig?

“I read a story about a film agent in the newspaper, and I told my mom that I need to get one. My mom said, ‘If you love acting, why don’t we see if there are any local community theater productions.’ She found an audition for Charlotte’s Web and drove me down. I am sure my parents thought: He’ll get this out of his system but he’s not going to get the part. Well, the director later called and said they wanted me to play the pig. I took it very seriously. I got two copies of the stage play and made all these notes in the margins. I actually found one copy the other day—I keep a treasure box of things like that under my bed. But since then, I have never returned to the stage.”

What was your big break?

“I did a kid’s show for the WB called Unnatural History a few years ago. It was going to be ‘the next Buffy.’ The network and the studio executives said they loved me. Then the show came out, and it could not compete with all the other stuff out there. Suddenly, no one returned my phone calls. That show got my foot in the door for auditions, but at the end of the day, Orphan Black was the point at which I was considered more than just a 20 year old trying to hack it on a kid’s show. To feel like I have found my seat at the dinner table after so many years is a phenomenal experience. It was like someone pulled out a chair for me and said: ‘Sit down.’ It feels like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

Jordan Gavaris

How did you get cast on Orphan Black?

“I auditioned for it. I did a pre-read with the casting director and moved forward to do the studio test and then a chemistry read—that’s when I met Tatiana [Maslany, who plays the lead role in Orphan Black]. And that is the moment my world changed. I had rehearsed the scene like 200 times with different accents and versions of the character. But when I walked in and saw Tatiana, it was like seeing an old friend. It was spooky. I guess I never understood what chemistry was until then. You really can project the idea of this character onto another person and for that five minutes when you’re shooting—I know it sounds wacky a little pretentious—but we were those people. It was real. There were no limits; just trust. She came over and rested her head on my leg at one point in the scene, and instinctively, I reached out a grabbed a lock of her hair and tucked it behind her ear. That is a testament to Tatiana and how open she is, how willing she is to surrender herself to the character—and to the person she’s working with—and to not worry about looking stupid. The first thing I tell anybody who wants to become an actor is: You had better get used to looking stupid because you don’t have the luxury of being embarrassed. Self-consciousness is your worst enemy. This is not glamorous work.”

Do you hate the wardrobe department for making you wear those crazy outfits?

“Felix’s sense of style is eclectic and bizarre. But as much as Jordan would never wear any of that stuff, it works for my character because he is so liberated. A lot of his costumes are my suggestions.”

So perhaps you are to blame for that floral kimono and black thong ensemble from last season.

“They were trying to make the kimono hem even shorter! I kept saying, ‘Is it short enough yet?’ And their response was: ‘Nope. One more inch.’ ”

What is a typical day in wardrobe?

“I walk in. They’re like: ‘Hey, Jordan. Welcome back. Uh, try on these assless chaps.’ ”

Did you even know what chaps were at the time?

“I did not. I was supposed to go for a fitting at this leather store called Rough Trade in Toronto. Thank God they didn’t send me alone.”

What actors have inspired you?

“The person at the top of my list is Sissy Spacek. She is an artist and a chameleon. I met her a few years ago and emotionally vomited all over her. I was so nervous at the time, but I introduced myself. And I have never met a woman who grounds you more; she grabbed my hand and instantly it was like I sunk right into the ground. The first film I ever saw of hers was Carrie. I felt so connected to her character. I was not the most popular kid in school, so Carrie’s struggle resonated with me. And Sissy’s performance changed what I thought of acting. I realized: Oh, that’s what this fuss over movies is about and why people go see them. Yes, it is an escape. But it is also to feel something.”

Jordan Gavaris


Jordan Gavaris
Jordan Gavaris
Jordan Gavaris

Orphan Black

Sarah is a street-wise woman with a troubled past as an English orphan who bounced around foster homes before being taken in by Mrs. S, who uprooted her and her foster brother, Felix, to North America. She has made bad decisions in her life but always strives to do right by daughter Kira. When Sarah witnesses the suicide of a woman, Beth (who looks like her) she decides to steal Beth’s identity — boyfriend and money included — in an attempt to begin a new life for herself and Kira, with whom Sarah hopes to reunite. But assuming Beth’s life — Sarah eventually learns that Beth was her clone — doesn’t go as smoothly as she anticipates because Beth was a cop caught in the middle of a deadly conspiracy, making Sarah the new target. Sarah must fight to stay alive while trying to escape from the complex web. As more threads appear, Sarah is pulled deeper, and Felix becomes her one true confidant.

Orphan Black
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