Season 2 of the BBC America dramatic conspiracy thriller Orphan Black sees Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) in a desperate race to find her missing daughter. The wild pursuit brings her head-to-head with ruthless clone Rachel (Maslany), and Sarah, along with her clone sisters Alison (Maslany) and Cosima (Maslany), struggle to pick up the pieces of their broken lives while dealing with the harsh reality that no one around them can be trusted.
During this interview to promote the return of the show, the ridiculously talented Tatiana Maslany, who expertly pulls off playing every clone, talked about running on adrenaline to get through the season, developing the different clones, doing a backstory for each clone, how she gets into each character, the process for shooting more than one clone in the same scene, how this project has changed her, what it’s like to be in the public eye, mastering all of the different accents, taking everything to the next level for Orphan Black Season 2, how much fun she had guesting on Parks and Recreation, and how she’d love to work with Gena Rowlands. Hit the jump for our Tatiana Maslany Orphan Black interview, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
TATIANA MASLANY: Honestly, I don’t know. It just happens because I’m running on adrenalin when we’re shooting. It’s non-stop. As soon as I have time to sit down, then I fall asleep. But if I keep going, which is most days, then it just perpetuates itself. And I’m so inspired and stimulated by the work that it doesn’t ever feel like work.
How do you go about developing the different clones with Graeme Manson?
MASLANY: Well, he comes up with idea of what that clone might be contributing to the series, and then we start to spit-ball who that person could be and where that person is from. Dialect then comes into play if it’s somebody who’s coming from afar. They’re really amazing at keeping it collaborative, which is a complete dream for me. I don’t think you get that in television very often, so I feel really, really lucky.
As an actor, do you do a backstory for each clone?
MASLANY: I’m fascinated with psychology, and with why a person walks the way they walk or why they walk into a room the way they do or why we are the way we are, and it’s not exclusive to the psychology of a character. Going back is a nice way to give definition to each of the characters because they are so vastly different. I would never want them to get blended together. For me, it’s about going for the furthest reach for each of them, so that they are all from polar opposite upbringings or environments, or whatever. That stuff is interesting, as an actor. I love that nerdy work. I love writing notes. I try to go back, as much as I can, to feed what happens and why they do what they do.
Is there a physical touchstone that helps you activate each character?
MASLANY: Yeah, the look. When the wig goes on, because the make-up is already on, at that point, I see that person. So much of how you look at yourself in the mirror reflects how you feel about yourself, and how you comport yourself. So, I take that and amplify it. But, the hair and make-up just really puts me there.
Did some of the characters come to you quicker, and were some a little harder to get into?
MASLANY: Yeah. The one who scared me the most was Alison, when I was doing the auditions and approaching the characters for the first time. For some reason, I wasn’t willing to admit that she is so much a part of me. She was a hard one to dig into or find the sympathy or the empathy for, initially, but now, I love her. And I found Rachel to be really daunting, as well, because of her entitlement and her wealth and her power. Her quiet power terrified me. But what’s so awesome about this show is that I get to try these things out that probably nobody would cast me in, normally. I don’t think a lot of people would come to me for power CEO characters, so it’s really great to get to try it out.
MASLANY: I love all these characters so much, and Graeme and all the writers have continued to deepen it and flesh out the worlds of each of the clones. That, to me, was what was so exciting. I know these women now, so it’s just about going deeper with it and challenging them and stretching them and not getting stuck in, “Okay, I’m just going to do the Alison thing.” It’s more like, “What about Alison going in this direction? What happens when she’s thrown into this situation?” We left them all at very tense, high stakes places, so there was so much to work with, and the challenge of it continues, every day. It’s what keeps me absolutely obsessed with the show and with the job, and I’m so grateful for it.
When you’re doing scenes where many of the clones are in the scene, do they shoot you as one character first, or do they do the lighting set-up and make you do all of the characters who are in that lighting set-up?
MASLANY: We do it one character at a time. We have to block it all out beforehand, so that we know exactly what’s going to happen because it’s such a technical, structured process. So, I’ll block it as one character, figure out and make sure that it’s all good, and preempt what the response might be on the other side, in order to block that character, as well. We’ll shoot Alison for the first take, and we’ll do all of Alison’s stuff with her coverage, and then I’ll leave, go change for an hour and a half, and come back and do Sarah and respond to everything that happened. We have the cue takes there, so we get to watch back exactly what happened. We get to time it properly.
Was there ever a point where you were worried that people wouldn’t understand what you were doing and what you were trying to pull off?
MASLANY: No. Going to set, every day, and working with the incredible actors I get to work with is fulfilling. I’ve been doing this since I was nine years old, so it’s always been something that I’ve been passionate about. It’s always fed me.
Given all of the technical challenges and acting challenges with this show, was there a point in the first season where you thought it was working?
MASLANY: Honestly, no, I don’t think so. I still think we’re discovering it because it is such a unique premise and such a unique challenge for all of us. For the writers, it poses certain challenges, too. I think getting comfortable with it would be dangerous. As artists, you always want to push yourself. There’s always new territory. Maybe technically I’ve become more comfortable in the clone scenes, but you just have to keep digging deeper and pushing further. That’s what keeps us inspired. It’s a huge risk, this premise and concept, but it’s what drew us to it. It’s so scary. It’s terrifying to face it, and you don’t know if it’s going to work or not, but you go full force.
MASLANY: Yeah. It’s interesting because Cosima has been the one that a lot of people have really gotten attached to. Especially the younger women have really gotten attached to Cosima. This next season, the stakes are very high for her because of her struggle with her illness. But, the most bizarre demographics come up to me. Men in their 50s come up to me and are like, “Alison is my favorite. I hated her at first, and now I love her.” I don’t know what that says about people’s psychology. But, I think everybody can relate to a different one. It’s awesome. It’s exciting for me.
Do you ever find yourself drawing on any of these characters, in your own life?
MASLANY: I think I’ve learned a lot from Sarah and her strength. She’s just such a survivor. She’s so gutsy with how she goes about getting what she wants and surviving. I’ve learned a lot from her, in that way. She comes up in life when I need her, which seems really arty, but it’s true. You’re revealing something about yourself in a more exaggerated, more fleshed-out way, and it awakens something in you that maybe you didn’t know you had.
Have you changed as a result of this role?
MASLANY: Yeah, I think so. As an actor, it’s been an extreme challenge for me, and I think I’ve learned a lot through the process. I’ve learned a lot about the limits of what I can do, as an artist, or what I’m willing to do. It’s a lot of responsibility to carry a show and to speak to people on different levels. Young women are now looking at me for cues. That’s definitely been a responsibility. But I feel like I was ready to take on something like this because I wanted to be challenged and I wanted to be afraid, and that’s definitely what it’s done for me.
How has the critical acclaim for your performance and this show impacted your life? What’s it like to be in the public eye now?
MASLANY: First off, we were completely blown away by the critical response that we received. We’re a niche, odd little show that could have fallen under the radar, but TV critics, bloggers and the Clone Club were talking about it, and it got it out to a wider audience. It’s wild to be seen differently and have more visibility, but it’s rewarding. I’m an actor and I like having attention. There’s a reason I like being on stage and in front of the camera, and it’s that interaction. We’re living in a world where the response is really instantaneous, even though it’s delayed by a few months. It comes at you pretty fast, and it’s rewarding to hear people enjoy the show.
When you play so many characters, do you find your head is swimming, at the end of the day?
MASLANY: Yes. I have trouble sleeping, at the end of the night. There’s a lot of stimulus and my brain is processing a lot of different arcs and personalities. I’m always processing things, so I don’t sleep.
MASLANY: I honestly don’t. Eventually, I’ll pass out. For the six months that we’re shooting, I’m running on adrenalin.
Did you put a lot of work into mastering all of those accents?
MASLANY: Yeah, I’ve got an amazing dialect coach who works with me, every single day on every dialect, and is there to watch that while I do the scene work. You work on the dialect as much as you can beforehand, and then you just trust that you have it there. The dialect stuff is awesome. I love it.
Was there a sense that you wanted to take everything to the next level, in the second season?
MASLANY: It is getting taken to another level. We talked about the deepening of all the storylines for the characters and the fleshing out of their worlds, and I think that’s definitely what we start doing in this season. We start challenging what we know about them.
Did your process for playing all of these characters change in Season 2?
MASLANY: It was daunting to come back to it because I knew what to expect, and I knew how much work it was going to be, with the physical and the emotional challenge of it. But at the same time, there was a sense of, okay, so there’s not that pressure of will this work or will people buy the kind of gimmick of it. So, it was time to go deeper with it. To me, that’s what was exciting about coming back for Season 2.
Sarah has proven how strong she is, but with her family in danger now, will we see her up it even more?
MASLANY: Yeah, I think Sarah’s desperation is amplified this season. In a way, it’s an echo back to her on her own, on a phone, trying to get in touch with Kira and with her family. But, this year is different. Every alliance in her life has changed. Every dynamic has shifted. Nothing is certain anymore. She doesn’t know who to trust. A war begins with her and Rachel, and it’s because of her desperation. She’s a wild animal, at this point.
With the potential threat of Cosima dying from whatever this disease is that affects all of the clones, how will that play out in the second season?
MASLANY: Cosima has always been the one who’s the most fascinated with life. It’s interesting for her to be facing her mortality, and that’s really what we start to explore in Season 2. The one who appeared to maybe be the lightest and the most buoyant and the most full of life is now facing the science gone wrong.
MASLANY: With Paul and Sarah, Paul is amazing. But, all of the relationships become tested. I don’t think any of them are stable. Cosima and Delphine are in a very precarious place. Donnie and Alison are in a precarious place. With Sarah and Kira, Sarah and Mrs. S., Sara and Felix, Sarah and Paul, every single relationship, by the time we got to the end of the season, we had no clue what our footing was. So, this year is definitely a continuation of that. We start to see alliances form with different people that maybe we didn’t expect. It’s pretty interesting.
Which clone’s wardrobe is the least comfortable, and which is the most comfortable?
MASLANY: The least comfortable would be Rachel’s because it’s all heels. The most comfortable would be Alison’s because it’s runners and sweat pants. It’s awesome.
Has playing these roles changed the way that you’re going to approach other roles?
MASLANY: Yeah, I think I’ve learned a lot about the process and about commitment, and I’ve learned to love who’s on the show with me. Jordan [Gavaris] is incredible. You learn from the actors that you’re working with. I’ve taken a lot from all of them. So, I don’t think I’ll ever approach a character the same way that I used to.
Did you enjoy getting to do Parks and Rec?
MASLANY: I loved it so much. It was a dream come true. For me, comedians are like the epitome for everything great, and they terrify me. I just want to be them. I want to be like them. So, just to be on set with Amy Poehler, who’s one of my heroes, was a total dream come true.
What was that like to do something lighter and funnier?
MASLANY: It was awesome. It was one of the nicest sets I’ve ever walked onto. They’ve been doing it for five seasons now, or they just finished their fifth, and it’s like home. They’re like family, and so light and funny. Everybody is wonderful. Everybody still loves the show, after all these years. They love going to work, each day. They’re all just really good people. It was awesome.
Now that you’ve discovered your potential, are you looking forward to putting all of your undivided focus into one role?
MASLANY: Totally! I’m excited to work on something where I have a bit more time with it, to explore one personality. That’s definitely exciting to me.
Do you have a dream role that you’ve always wanted to play?
MASLANY: I would love to work with Gena Rowlands. I just don’t know in what capacity. I’d play her daughter or granddaughter, or whatever. I would just love to work with her, in whatever capacity.
Orphan Black airs on Saturday nights on BBC America.