The new BBC America drama series Orphan Black tells the story of Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), a young woman whose life changes dramatically after witnessing the suicide of a woman who looks just like her. She hopes that cleaning out the dead woman’s bank account will solve all of her problems, but quickly finds herself caught up in the middle of a mysterious and deadly conspiracy.
During this recent interview, show star Tatiana Maslany talked about her first impression of the script, what attracted her to the role, how she prepares to play the different clones, what it’s like to shoot the scenes with the clones interacting, getting to improvise, and what the fan reaction has been like, so far. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
TATIANA MASLANY: I was obsessed with this part, as soon as I read it. I was obsessed with the material. It’s just so unique and so compelling, and it’s a world that I’d never seen on television before. The wonderful thing about this show is that each of the clones has their own voice. They’re not just cannon fodder. They’re not just expendable. They’re completely their own human being. And so, for me, I was salivating at the challenge to get to play all these characters and define each of these women because each of them are so well written. You could have a series about each of them. They’re so complex and human and funny and dark. Of course, Sarah was the initial pull for me because she’s the lead of this series and she’s an extremely human character. She’s very flawed, she’s very manipulative, she’s very much an animal of instinct and spontaneity, and she adapts. There were so many possibilities that I was so excited to play her. She’s working class from London, so she has a very specific life experience that was far from mine, but really enticing to me.
With each of these clones, you do a lot more than just simply changing your look and your accent. How do you prepare to play so many characters, so that it seems like you’re a completely different person that happens to look the same?
MASLANY: I don’t know. It was extremely daunting. I was just hungry for the part, so I went like full into it. When I got it, I was like, “Oh, god, now I have to do this extremely big challenge.” Keeping them all straight in my head was a bit confusing and difficult. But, the cool thing is that they’re all so well written and unique on the page that a lot of that specific differentiating work was already done for me. For me, it was a matter of committing fully to them and not being afraid to find something in me with each of these women, and really explore what that seed was and just play with it. It was going back to being a kid and being able to switch between being a dinosaur, being a dog and being a police officer, in the same breath. You can do that when you’re a kid, but we’re socialized not to do that as adults. It’s crazy, but as an actor, you have to do that. And so, that’s really how I approached it.
MASLANY: They each have a seed of me inside them. That sounds so gross. They each have a bit of me in them. Each of these women. I think what I did was figure out what it was that I could relate to in each of them, and then expanded on that and elaborated on that and let that be the nut of the character because, obviously, I feel like I can relate to all of them. They’re all very human and there are aspects of me in each of them, but there’s definitely certain ones that were easier to identify with than others. Their actions are more in line with how I respond, in real life. But there’s not one of them that wasn’t challenging or super exciting to play. And they’re all still bouncing around in my head. I have trouble sleeping or shutting my brain off. Even during shooting, I’d be sleeping and tossing back and forth between characters in my sleep. I think it’ll be with me for awhile.
What’s it like to shoot scenes with the clones interacting together?
MASLANY: Those scenes were always long days. I have to keep all the impulses straight in my head, and predetermine what I want my interactions to be and what I want the responses to be, and then remember what I did on the other side, so that I can respond to it. It’s a struggle. Technically, it’s a struggle because my eye lines have to shift. I’m looking at an X over here and then I’m looking at an X over there. If I put my hand on a clone, I have to try not to put my hand through her face. It’s like being on stage in an improv show, where you don’t have the set, but you endow the empty space with that set. So, I had to endow the empty space with my clone. Luckily, we have an incredible technology with this camera that basically memorizes its internal movement, so it can reproduce every time. It’s insane.
MASLANY: Felix is Sarah’s heart. They’re each other’s everything. Other than Kira (Skyler Wexler) in Sarah’s life, Felix is her family and who she wants to be with. They’re very much siblings, in the sense that they need each other deeply, and yet they use each other and they manipulate each other. Felix is an incredible sounding board for all of Sarah’s fears and all of Sarah’s confusion and the calm in the craziness of her life.
Sarah is trying so hard to hold on to her own life, while pretending to be Beth. How hard is it going to be for her to keep it all together?
MASLANY: The more questions we answer, the more questions we pose. It’s great because the audience will really relate to her being lost. Their questions are her questions, so you always have an in with her. You’re on the journey with Sarah, for sure.
Do you get to improvise anything on set, or do you keep pretty close to the script?
MASLANY: The improv came with the character development. A lot of my improv experience had been in long-form improv. So, in exploring the characters in rehearsal and on my own, and with Jordan Gavaris who plays Felix, my improv came out. If I didn’t have that base, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with specific behavior and physicality that was so different for each of the women. That’s where it really came in. It’s a TV show and we do stick to script. It never feels like we’re just trying to churn out a product. It feels very alive. It feels very loose on set. Even though we need highly technical scenes, where I’m playing opposite a clone of myself and I have to stick to a very specific technical routine or regime, it still feels like there’s breath in it and life in it. There’s space to play and be creative, and that’s amazing. The writing is there and it gave us that space. We feel like we’re doing a play because we got to do these long takes and really develop that relationship. So, as much as we stick to the script, there’s improv between the moments.
MASLANY: We were at Toronto Comic Con before the show was even out, and we had a packed conference room of people excited about it. That was insane because nobody had seen it. They’d seen clips and trailers online, and they got to watch an exclusive scene there, but the sci-fi world is such an incredible fan world. It’s such an incredibly passionate fan base. They’re so excited about new things and they’re so excited about intriguing new worlds that they can sink their teeth into. I feel like it inherently has this incredible community attached to it. And we’re very lucky that BBC America is showing us right after Doctor Who. What an honor to be right after an incredible show like that, with such an insane fanbase. Hopefully, we’ll have some kind of a trickle from them. But, the response has already been amazing.
Orphan Black airs on Saturday nights on BBC America.