BBC America’s latest original series, “Orphan Black,” has garnered a host of critical praise and fan appreciation since its premiere this past weekend as part of BBC America’s Supernatural Saturdays. The show’s breakout star, Tatiana Maslany, deserves plenty of the credit. After all, she plays not one but several of the lead roles. Maslany stopped by the BBC America offices recently and we had the chance to sit down and chat with her about some of the challenges of playing clones, often in the very same scene, how she got her start as an actor, and the central role that music played in her work on “Orphan Black.”
BBC AMERICA: You’ve been acting for a long time. What was the moment you knew this was the career you wanted?
TATIANA MASLANY: I started out as a dancer as a kid; I’ve been dancing since I was 4. So performing was always part of what I was. I don’t know if it I enjoyed the response I got from people or if I liked having an audience, but there’s something in me that wanted to perform. I transitioned into theater and acting when I was about 9, community theater and musicals, being, like chorus-kid-number-78 or whatever. But I just loved it. As a kid you just crave attention, and early on I just felt it was so cool and fun to play around and have people clap for me. But eventually I grew up and fell deeper into it. About 7 years ago I moved to Toronto and kind of took control of it, and realized there’s a depth to this art form, and a reach, and a chance for expression and creation and telling story about human nature and all the contradictions that we are as people. Now I’m really obsessed with characters, I’m really interested in people and I love playing different kinds of people, learning about them and defending them or understanding them better. There’s something in it that’s much better than the attention.
BBC AMERICA: Has your interest in characters influenced the kinds of roles you’ve taken?
MASLANY: Yeah, I try to get roles that challenge me in what I can do and who I think I can portray. For me it’s about creating characters with really fascinating stories, because that’s what I like to watch on TV. “Deadwood”keeps popping up in my head because I keep thinking about Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), and the cool complexity of that character. He’s not a good guy. He’s vile. And yet you can’t stop watching him. There’s something so compelling about the humanness [McShane] brings to that character. And there’s so many actors that I look up to, and that I’m obsessed with their work because their level of humanity is so deep. As an actor you have to be a person first, and that, for me, is the focus.
BBC AMERICA: So character must have been what attracted you to the role in “Orphan Black?”
MASLANY: I auditioned for it about six months before I booked it, and just fell in love with the character of Sarah immediately. As soon as I read the breakdown for her I was like “Oh wow, who is this girl?” and reading through the script I was like, “I want, I need so badly to play this!” The excitement of playing multiple characters, that challenge made me salivate, I was so hungry for it. You don’t ever get that kind of challenge as an actor. To play six to 10 different characters is just a fantasy. I dreamt about it, panicked, pestered my agent. I did four auditions altogether, the last was a network test and chemistry read with Jordan (Felix), and got to play five different characters with little pieces of costume to help me navigate through them, and it was the most fun and the most terrifying audition I’ve ever done.
BBC AMERICA: Once you got the role, how did you prepare before shooting?
MASLANY: I worked with a dialect coach for all the different dialects. I also worked a lot on movement. I took a studio by myself, and put on my characters’ playlists—I had various different playlists for each character—and I just explored a space however that music moved me, music that felt or sounded like that character, the rhythm or the emotion or the aggression behind it. There’s something about music that makes me feel like a different person, that feels like an escape. I also read a lot about gang culture, the nature of being an orphan, the science of cloning, and about identical twins. It turns out twins tend to be a lot more similar than a clone would be since they share a womb, and so much information is passed to us while in the womb, and that wouldn’t happen for clone. That also gave me some room. I’m sure there will be some unavoidable similarities, since it’s always me playing these characters, but I really want to blow them out and make them as different from one another as possible.
BBC AMERICA: Sure, they share the same DNA, but everything else can be vastly different.
MASLANY: I read a whole lot about the nature/nurture debate, from the science and sociological perspectives, and how society makes us behave in various ways depending on where we’re from and what we’ve gone through, and what part genetics plays in that.