As if one world wasn't enough to explore the complicated world of fringe science, the FOX drama "Fringe" has actively gone where not too many series have gone before for a long stretch of the narrative - to an alternate universe. As the third season is dividing its focus between our world and the alternate world, the series is also allowing actors Anna Torv and John Noble to play double duty as, respectively, Olivia and "Bolivia" (more on that in a moment) and Walter and "Walternate." During a trip last week to the "Fringe" set in Vancouver, our Jim Halterman hung out on the show's extensive lab set (near a the lifeless stand-in for Gene the cow!) and talked with Torv, Noble and Joshua Jackson about how they're able to make sense of the two worlds, what their wishes are with this third season journey and how the experience may alter the often complex relationships between Olivia, Peter and Walter.
First, what do we call the alternate universe's Olivia, who is now in our world while the real Olivia is trapped on the other side? Jackson had an easy solution to finally decide on one name for the other Olivia. "In the scripts," he explained, "it's always Bolivia but my opinion is we should allow the people who watch the show to name her. So, I've heard Faux-livia, Alt-livia, No-livia." Jackson even came up with a name that's a little more tongue-in-cheek - 'Extra Crispy Tasty Olivia' - and shared its origins. "In the finale, [Peter is] eating KFC and that's where it pops into my head."
From an actor's standpoint, how complicated has it been playing two variations of the same character? "It's been really tricky, to tell the truth," said Torv. "Because outside of the hair change they really aren't so dissimilar. They're so alike in that they've ended up in the same job with exactly the same unit with the same partner and the same boss so fundamentally they are genetically the same person and the only thing that has shifted [are that] their reactions are a little bit different or they've led just a little bit different of a life."
Noble's roles as Walter and Walternate may initially seem very different but maybe they aren't as far as apart as one would initially believe. On the surface, it has yet to be revealed that Walternate has the same sweet tooth or any remote of the same sense of humor as Walter. Instead, Noble explained that Walternate has another obsession - "his addiction to power."
Differences aside, Noble sees Walternate as an extension of our Walter. "You basically take Walter to a certain point and progress him differently 18-19 years... It's really interesting but if the groundwork is right then it's not an impossible task and you're not guessing too much either. What Walternate is is a very human character who's had his son stolen, which is enough to drive anyone to distraction, who, because of his strength and intelligence, has become the natural leader of this disintegrating world and so he behaves in a certain way. He's also fueled by revenge and anger and these are very human things."
So with Olivia and Bolivia being in each other's world and Walter on his own mission (which will be revealed further in tonight's episode entitled "The Box"), where does that leave Peter, who does not have an alternative version of himself since he was taken from the other universe and brought to ours as a baby by Walter? Or the fact that he's now passionately kissing who he thinks is Olivia? "He's just the rube," laughed Jackson on Peter's cluelessness.
"Peter and Olivia have spent two years around each other and in a sort of very professional way - and I know it drives the writers crazy when I say this - but they were more brotherly/sisterly than they were ever sort of lover-ly towards the end." Jackson also has a theory about why Peter and Bolivia have made it further than he ever has with Olivia. "They're both from the same universe that I think there's something in there that's the reason why the connection was finally made as opposed to these two people who have been working together and there's always something a little off between the two of them. I think there's something cool about the idea that the reason Peter responded to the other Olivia is because that would be his Olivia and so I hope that plays out the rest of the season."
Torv predicts that things won't be so easy for the work-oriented Bolivia as she spends more and more time away from the alternate universe. "It starts out absolutely as this sort of mission," she said, "and she has her own life and her own lover and I think slowly as they start to embark on this thing [with Peter] I think it's difficult for her. I think he grows on her a little bit."
Aside from the romantic entanglements, there is also the very central relationship to "Fringe" that exists between father and son Walter and Peter and Jackson shared his hope for a certain outcome in season three. "In my head," Jackson offered, "the reason that Peter was willing to come back [to our world] at the end of the second season was because he chose water to be thicker than blood. He chose the man who raised him... the same with Olivia, this woman who also betrayed him even in a smaller way. But by holding this secret from him he was choosing that these were going to be his people. He had spent time here so that bond was stronger than any blood bond he'd have on the other side. I'm hoping his divided loyalties between this side and that side will be the tension that will drive forward his relationship with Walter through this season."
Assuming the alternate universe does not become a permanent part of the show (and nobody's talking about how many episodes will be devoted to the storyline), does Torv think it would be a good thing that Peter and the real Olivia finally hook up and become a couple? "I don't think there's anywhere to go once they get together but that's what writers do. They tease it out. Of course, you're rooting for them but that's for the end, end, end, end... when it all ends happily ever after." The current Peter-Bolivia coupling is something she does think has "been kind of fun... [they] can have this seemingly normal kind of thing but then it just isn't because it's not the real one so you get a taste of it but it's set up that way, isn't it? For you to want that but never quite get it."
For Noble, he would definitely like to spend some more time with Walternate. "I'd like to take a proper journey with him instead of just being a figment in another universe because he's a very rich character... keep in mind he was also married to Elizabeth [and] they also had a child they loved. I'd like to explore him further. But I don't know. You can't tell every story with this kind of show."
While most shows find a formula that works both creatively and for the viewers and don't stray far from that formula, "Fringe" is changing up a lot with this storyline and the challenge of steering the focus away from what fans have gotten to know about the show is not lost on Jackson. On the contrary, he thinks it plays in their favor that "Fringe" is not the top rated series on television. "We sort of slip under the radar because it's rated well enough to stay on the air but it's not a big massive hit so there's less fear about changing things up so we continue to try to push the envelope, which I think is awesome."
"Fringe" airs Thursdays at 9:00/8:00c on FOX.