Anna Torv has just returned to her Manhattan apartment from another demanding shoot on the set of Fox’s new suspense series, “Fringe” (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. EDT). But her workday is not done.
“I have to cram pages of dialogue for tomorrow,” the actress says on the phone. “And I have to learn a couple of lines in another language so they don’t sound like gibberish.”
What language is that, Anna?
“I don’t think I can say,” she responds.
You get that a lot when asking about “Fringe.” The series, from TV’s uber-producer J.J. Abrams (“Lost), is shrouded in mystery.
Each episode delves into a shocking underworld where weird science meets the supernatural. Both in its dark tone and its suggestion of massive conspiracies afoot, “Fringe” is reminiscent of “The X-Files.”
“It’s all very, very top-secret,” says Torv, who stars as buttoned-down FBI agent Olivia Dunham. In two weeks she’s done more for the pantsuit than Hillary Clinton ever did. “We get the scripts and everyone is gagging to find out more clues. We sit around trading theories.”
Olivia is charged with cracking these occult cases. Her helpers are an eccentric scientist (John Noble), who has spent the last two decades in a mental institution, and his reluctant handler and son (Joshua Jackson of “Dawson’s Creek”).
“Fringe” is off to a healthy start. In fact, this week’s episode had 47 percent more viewers than last week’s debut (13.4 million vs. 9.1 million) - a boost attributable to its lead-in: the season premiere of “House.”
Snatches of foreign dialogue aren’t the only language barrier Torv faces in playing the role. The newcomer must also erase all traces of her Australian accent. There’s a coach on the set to help Torv and Noble (also an Aussie) sound American.
“You get into a groove and it becomes less cumbersome,” Torv says. “Every now and then you slip up. You always lose it when you have to scream loudly or get emotional.”
After years of restrained dramatic roles in Australia and Britain, Torv is delighted to suddenly be an action star.
“I love running and jumping,” she says. “The days that I spend (shooting scenes) in the lab, I get edgy and agitated. I’d rather be out in the street chasing people.”
Just being selected for the part was something of an adventure.
“We had been searching for our Olivia for along time,” says Alex Kurtzman, the show’s cocreator and executive producer. “We got down to a scary place - three days before the pilot was scheduled to begin production.”
The casting director brought in a tape of Torv, whose last name reflects her father’s Estonian heritage, auditioning for another show. The producers were so impressed they immediately arranged a transpacific teleconference so they could watch the actress do some scenes from the pilot.
That cinched the deal. Torv quickly secured a visa and flew off the same day to Toronto to begin shooting.
“Given the fact that Anna literally had a day and a half to prepare for the pilot,” says Kurtzman, “she did an extraordinary job. And she’s growing into the role more and more each week.”
Things haven’t slowed down since production of the series shifted to New York.
“I had five days to get it all sorted out - to get a Social Security number and find a flat,” says the actress, who looks like Cate Blanchett on the show, but more like Claire Danes in real life.
She loves what she’s seen of New York, but she really hasn’t had much of a chance to explore her new environs yet. “I leave my house, get in a van, go to work, get back in the van and come home to sleep,” she says.
Nor has she had time to savor her instant stardom. “All the billboards (promoting the show) went up this month,” she says. “I was lamenting the fact that my mom wasn’t here. ‘Look, Mom!’ But I’m glad the show is finally out there. It means I don’t have to explain what it’s about anymore.”
Torv wrapped her role in “The Pacific,” next year’s WWII miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, before being cast in “Fringe.” (The 10-part HBO saga about three Marines was shot in Australia.)
But she has no other projects on the horizon. In fact, she is flabbergasted at the very idea.
“Oh God, I’m not thinking beyond tomorrow,” she says. “I’m literally going day to day.
“I remember when we were shooting the pilot, the lovely Joshua Jackson would say to me, ‘Nothing prepares you for American TV.’ And I was like, ‘I’m sure.’ And now I’m saying it to myself every day: ‘Nothing prepares you for American television.’ “
Sci-Fi Author Ursula LeGuin's Stories of Class War, Religious Dissension, Identity Politics and More