Anna Torv by George Holz/Fox Anna Torv by George Holz/Fox

It's been a wild ride for Anna Torv. TV wunderkind J.J. Abrams plucked the Australian actress from relative obscurity (in this country anyway) for the lead role in Fringe, his new spooky conspiracy series for Fox (premieres Tuesday, Sept. 9, 8 pm/ET). The Cate Blanchett lookalike is known in the U.K. as one of the stars of Mistresses, a BBC miniseries in which she played a lesbian who has an affair with her commitment-ceremony planner.

In Fringe, she plays Olivia Dunham, a tough FBI agent who struggles against a bureaucracy that doesn't always appreciate her thoroughness. Her by-the-books style is challenged when she's recruited to join a ragtag group (including Joshua Jackson and John Noble) who investigate strange occurrences - including a harrowing scene at Boston's Logan Airport - that may or may not represent a sinister global plot.

Within days of meeting Abrams in Los Angeles, Torv was whisked away to shoot the pilot in Toronto, and it sounds like it hasn't slowed down a bit. In between takes on Fringe's New York City set, Torv spoke with about her sci-fi cred, working in the J.J.-verse, and her visit to the Brooklyn morgue. - Mickey O'Connor I heard you recently moved to New York - how are you settling in?
Anna Torv:
I only moved here [from Australia] about six weeks ago. So far I love it, though I really haven't seen very much of it since I've been working. I have been to the morgue in Brooklyn, to the Navy Yards... [Laughs] I'm busting to get out and properly explore it. Olivia is a very serious character - is she ever going to lighten up?
I know. I hope so. She just carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, but then, I keep coming back to the fact that, well, she kind of does carry the weight of the world. What do you do, laugh at the funeral? Did you create a backstory for the character?
There wasn't a whole heap of time to prepare. I did speak with a fantastic FBI agent, who told me what it's like to work in this kind of business - something that I personally could never do - the sense of duty and responsibility, the total focus. I suppose it's just the nature of doing TV; it's constantly evolving and moving. I could make decisions about her backstory and then get a script that contradicts them. I can say that the episode we're shooting now introduces a bit of her background, her upbringing. You meet her family. This show is all about conspiracy theories and shadowy corporations. Does working on it make you paranoid, believe in UFOs, have a more open mind?
I don't know. I definitely think about [corporations] and what they're capable of. I'm fascinated by it. Cloning, for example, has become commonplace. If this is what they're telling us they're doing, what are they really doing? Who really runs the world? It definitely opens your mind. The pilot episode sets up the idea that by grouping these strange events together, a pattern emerges. How do you define "the pattern"?
Well, I'm on the same page as Olivia is. She just gets little bits and pieces of information fed to her, and slowly she starts to put things together. Who is behind this? Is this experimentation or something else? It's still formulating. Each week you get new information. It's totally forward-moving; it's in motion. I don't have a definition for it yet. Are you sick of reporters comparing Fringe to The X-Files yet?
No, but it puts pressure on us. Oh my God, what a fantastic show that was. If we have half the success that X-Files had, I would be totally satisfied and happy. It's a different show, but just as exciting, I think. J.J. has a reputation for making stars out of his leading ladies. How does it feel to be his newest discovery?
If I spent time thinking about it, I would become totally paralyzed by fear and I would be totally unable to do my job. Since I landed in New York, I've been working massive, massive days, so there's no time to think about anything beyond the scene that we're shooting. There's a scene in the premiere that is a fairly direct homage to [the trippy sci-fi film] Altered States. Did you have to go to sci-fi boot camp to get up to speed with all the references?
I should, but I haven't yet. This sounds like an excuse for not doing my research, but I feel like it would be bad for my performance to do that. This is a whole new world for Olivia; it's all mind-blowing to her. She is firmly placed in reality, and that's where I need to be.

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