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Ask Cosima: What’s Up with Kira?

3. @innafan_Chakon via Twitter: Tell us something that Cosima (Tatiana) does and @RealCosima doesn’t and vice versa. Love you all
Cosima: Well, Cosima Niehaus is a fictional character, and I try not to think about comparisons between us since that only inspires a self-consciousness that’s very uncomfortable. When Graeme was developing Orphan Black and asked if he could borrow my name for a character, I didn’t imagine that we’d share any personality traits. I mostly leave overall character development up to the expertise and vision of the writers.

But there are a few attributes that match, like the hand-waving, pacing, and physicality when Niehaus gets excited and tries to explain or converse about an idea. Although, I am most certainly goofier and less graceful. And, while I was born in southern Ontario, my parents met and married in San Francisco, and as an adult I spent 20 years living on the west coast (but I lived in Vancouver, British Columbia rather than Berkeley, California). From there, I moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota for a short time while in grad school, and subsequently moved to Toronto for work just like the character did. The fictional Cosima and I seem to share similar views on the medical value of certain herbal remedies.


4. Darlene B. via Facebook: Cosima, have you ever felt that you had to “dumb down” the science to make it understandable to the majority of viewers? Also, has real science ever lost out to good storytelling? And if so, did it bother you?

And together with this one:
‏@wagwanheda  via Twitter: What has been the biggest challenge in bringing together tv and science‬

We definitely do not “dumb down” anything!

We spend a tremendous amount of time and energy thinking through ideas and concepts in such a way that they can be realistically and effectively depicted on screen. We explore both actual scientific research projects and practices from the “real world” – what you might call the “hard science” — and the philosophical questions that arise from those practices. Weaving them tightly throughout the general tapestry of the overarching narrative is one of the greatest challenges I experience in integrating science, and the philosophy of science, into a television production. How to get a complex idea across in 30 seconds of dialogue between, say, three people, and further, how to thread those concepts throughout not just one episode, but the season or series as a whole in such a way that they are not only understandable but exciting is so, so challenging! But that’s part of the fun for me!

Television is a very different medium for science and philosophy communication than is Academia, for example, where you’re allowed (even expected) to draw out your arguments, your evidence, and your theses for as long as it takes to effectively convince your critics of your claims. But in television, certain aspects of the hard science sometimes, by necessity, have to be reduced to overly specific or overly general statements, but this is hardly a dumbing down! In fact, we think very carefully about what, why, and how we present the science, and what it offers to the pace and quality of the story overall. It’s a very difficult and conscientious process of trying to communicate ideas in ways that must not only be efficient in the conversations amongst characters, but also visually and in overall tone where dialogue is not possible. This is a huge collaborative enterprise amongst the entire team that creates and produces Orphan Black. Just take a look at the wonderful Q&A conducted with the Art director and Assistant Art Director, Jody Clement and Joelle Craven, and with Prosthetic Makeup Supervisor Chris Bridges — these are just two examples of the amazingly skilled and hard-working experts that are in charge of creating some of the visual communication of science in Orphan Black — from Leekie’s partly decomposed head, to the maggot-bots, to the visual displays you see flitting across a computer monitor in the background of certain scenes.

To be sure, we grant ourselves some creative license in stretching the reality of certain aspects of the hard science we explore — like, for example, the central conceit of human cloning (which, to my knowledge, has yet to be achieved), or, as another example, the actual amount of time a particular practice may take to be accomplished, such as how long it takes to retrieve oocytes for in vitro fertilization (as with the use of Sarah’s eggs to create a blastocyst at the end of Season IV). But we painstakingly curate and extract particular ideas and scientific examples from the real world in such a way that they add to the richness and complexity of the story. Simplifying ideas is a demanding, and crucial, process of both explanation and story telling, but we do not “dumb down” anything.

5. ‏‬@fingrsxxcrossed via Twitter: What’s your favorite Cosima line from the show?
Cosima: Anytime, anywhere, and in any that way she mutters under her breath or directly exclaims: “bulls**t!” I like cheeky, anti-authoritarian defiance.

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