Tatiana Maslanya talks to Denise Martin on being the magnificent seven on Orphan Black
No, she didn’t get an Emmy nomination. But Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany has been treated like the second coming of Meryl Streep. She has been the subject of more than a few stories declaring her the people’s lead actress. Patton Oswalt became her walking, talking “For Your Consideration” ad.
Maslany probably would have scored a nomination if such things were decided entirely by the degree of difficulty involved. On the stealth hit BBC America sci-fi thriller – about a tough British woman named Sarah, who becomes engulfed in a conspiracy after randomly watching her doppelgänger commit suicide and then stealing the stranger’s identity – the 27-year-old actress shape-shifts into seven different characters, clones hailing from different parts of the globe, with different agendas and quirks.
Maslany said during an interview at a Los Angeles coffee shop that, after production on the show’s first season wrapped, she went into seclusion. “I was exhausted.”
Dressed in black shorts and boots, with her naturally curly hair worn down, Maslany explained how dance helped her get into character – all seven of them. To play tightly wound soccer mom Alison, the Canadian actress drew on the flamenco training she’s received since age four.
“It had to be
something very rigid, everything held tight,” said Maslany. “Stomach in, bum in, very precise motions, very feminine.” She made Berkeley biology student Cosima more fluid, “like she’s at a rave”. To nail Sarah, the tough Brit who is Orphan Black’s central character, Maslany grooved to a lot of Prodigy and The Clash.
And then there’s Helena, the feral, peroxide-blonde killer. Maslany opted to keep that character’s unique dance to herself. “It happens in my trailer,” whispered the actress. “There’s something deeply violent and sexual about her. She’s an animal.”
|Tatiana as Cosima|
Maslany’s rigorous shooting schedule on Orphan Black, if you clocked her on-screen appearances in any one episode, would almost certainly exceed the episode’s running time. She’s in nearly every scene and two or more of the characters she plays on the show also frequently appear in the same scene together. Maslany shrugged off the workload. “I think being idle is quite hard for me to do,” she said.
That statement helps explain her busy upbringing. At age 7, Maslany began putting on for-pay performances with her brother to entertain their parents. “It was our art,” she laughed. At age nine, she auditioned for theatre for the first time, for a role in the musical Oliver.
During primary school, she fell in love with improvisation, which she performed throughout high school while also taking on series and TV movie projects. She also toured North America with a professional comedy improv troupe.
Being Canadian and into improv is why, when she met her Orphan co-star Matt Frewer, she quizzed him not about Max Headroom, but about his work with Rick Moranis on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Maslany said her improv training has made her game for anything, including surprises to her clone portfolio, such as when producers added Helena as a curveball early in the season. “Oh, that was really easy,” she joked. “Kind of a classic character: the Eastern-European religious nut serial killer.”
|Tatiana and Jordan Gavaris as Sara and Felix in Orphan Black|
Then there’s acting opposite herself, or, in reality, acting opposite an empty space. The first time Maslany saw herself sharing the screen with herself, the thought that came to her mind was that her eyes visibly bugged out in the scene. “I think I was trying too hard to get it right,” she said. “No one is there when you’re shooting these things, so you overcompensate. I had to learn to chill out.”
She was especially fearless when it came time to disrobe in the first episode, when Sarah, while pretending to be Beth, distracts Beth’s boyfriend Paul, by having sex with him on the kitchen counter. “So many butts on our show,” Maslany laughed. “It never struck me as too much. Sex for Sarah is a weapon. This is what she’s doing to stay safe.”
Series showrunners Graeme Manson and John Fawcett have said they trust Maslany’s instincts. For next season, they’re consulting with her as they write more clones into the story. “They ask me, ‘What about this? Do you like this?’,” she said. “But I’m always like, ‘Yeah. Sure. Do it. Awesome. I’d love to.’” – Vulture
Orphan Black Season 1 premieres on Lifetime, Thursday at 8pm