As a science consultant in Hollywood, Cosima Herter’s official job is to use her Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science, technology and medicine to help make TV and movies more believable. In an entertainment industry so closely monitored by fans that fake onscreen languages now have to operate like real ones, her expertise has become increasingly in demand—and it’s often a crucial factor in what makes or breaks a science-fiction show.
But with her biggest and most well-known undertaking—Orphan Black, the BBC America sci-fi thriller series about clones and corporate science created by John Fawcett and Herter’s longtime friend Graeme Manson, which aired its series finale tonight—that job description is a bit misleading. In fact, listening to her describe her workload, you might as well call her a co-creator of the series; Herter even inspired one of the many clone characters played by star Tatiana Maslany. Without her, there wouldn’t be an Orphan Black at all.
On the occasion of the show’s final season, which involved everything from a Dr. Moreau-esque final boss and parabiosis to a clone scooping out her own cybernetic eye with a wine glass stem, Herter spoke to Vanity Fair about Silicon Valley, mutant mice, making a smart show that proves you don’t need to rely on unrealistic ideas to make an impact—oh, yeah, and that eyeball scene.
Vanity Fair: How did your role work logistically over the years?
Cosima Herter: Graeme and [co-creator] John [Fawcett] had this idea, and Graeme asked me what I knew about clones. My question was, “What kind of clones?” We don’t have successful human clones yet, but lots of things clone themselves. It started out as a conversation like that: exploring all these different ways that you could conceive of clones, and what kind of allegories they could provide for rich narratives.
The way Tatiana as Cosima describes gene-editing and the LIN28A gene subplot this season was so fluid, yet still complex. How did…