The story of Orphan Black continues with a new installment of the beloved series in a new medium, at premium digital reading and audio platform Serial Box, with series star Tatiana Maslany voicing all of the characters. Set eight years since Project LEDA was destroyed for good, Orphan Black: The Next Chapter is released in weekly installments, with the first five chapters now available, and the remaining five chapters out on November 7th.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Tatiana Maslany talked about how this project came about, portraying all of the characters with just her voice, whether she adopts the characters’ mannerisms when voicing them, which previous character she’d missed the most, which new character she enjoys voicing, how the recording process works for doing all of the characters, and whether they’ve talked about doing any further installments of the story. She also talked about how the voice work compares to her work on the Netflix series Trollhunters and 3Below, what made her want to be a part of HBO’s Perry Mason revival, and which real-life person she’d love to be able to play.
*Check the end of the interview to see how to redeem a discount promo code*
Collider: I’m so glad to be able to talk to you about Orphan Black again, with The Next Chapter. When and how did you first find out about doing a project like this, as a way of further continuing the story?
TATIANA MASLANY: I was working in New York at the time, and they approached me with the idea for it. I met with some of the creatives behind it, who are developing it, and it just sounded like a really diligently researched and very loved piece. Everybody was really into it and working really hard to make sure that it was done right and that the fans would be into that kind of thing. It just felt like a really cool way to continue to explore this story without being on set for 18 hours a day.
Had there ever been any talk of bringing any or all of the other actors back to voice their roles, or was it always just going to be you doing this entire series, yourself?
MASLANY: I don’t know if they ever thought of doing that. I guess that would have been more like a radio play, and this is more of a traditional audiobook, minus the fact that it’s got sound effects and ambient noise. I don’t know if that was ever considered. It would have been awesome to be in the room together and get to play again.
Is it more difficult to portray these characters using just your voice? Are there challenges specific to doing that kind of work?
MASLANY: Yeah, totally. For us, when we were doing the show, there was always a focal aspect of it with where these characters were, focally. I worked with John Nelles, who was my dialect coach, and he always reinforced the importance that a lot of truth gets conveyed through sound. We have a real good bullshit meter for if somebody’s lying to us based on how they’re speaking. A neat way to approach character is just, vocally, how do they express themselves, not just with dialect, but with vocal tics or volume or speed of thought, or any of those things. All of the clones always had very different ways of speaking, and that was something that was really fun to do, so it was great to get to focus just that and explore it that way.
Do you find yourself adopting the characters’ mannerisms as you voice them, even if nobody can see that aspect of it?
MASLANY: Yeah, totally. There are postural things. I have to stay at the mic and focus on that, but there are definitely energetic shifts that happen, when I’m playing Sarah or Cosima, that are inherent to those characters. It’s fun to feel those muscles reigniting.
Did it feel different to return to this world and these characters, having had a little bit of distance from the series finale, and does it make it easier that you got to jump ahead in time with them, so that they are a bit different?
MASLANY: Yeah, they are different. As an actor, you shift and grow, and being away from the show for a little bit just inherently does that. But also, they’re written a bit older. That stuff definitely factors in, but they do feel like the same guys.
When it came time to get back into the headspace for these characters, were there things that you realized that you had missed, that you were glad you got to revisit, and was there anything that you were glad not to have to do in live-action anymore?
MASLANY: The only thing that was not fun about shooting Orphan Black, because everything was fun, was the hours. Getting to go to bed at a reasonable time after recording is all that I can ask for. Other than that, it’s really so much fun.
Is there a character that you miss getting to actually inhabit the most, and not just play through a voice performance?
MASLANY: Yeah, I’ve always had a soft spot for Alison, that dynamic with Donnie, her energy, and her physicality. That’s definitely stuff that I would love to get to do.
Since you’re not only playing the clones, you’re really playing everyone, what has that experience been like, getting to explore the other characters, in that way?
MASLANY: It’s bizarre. It’s very weird. It’s weird to be Delphine, and it’s weird to be Donnie, but it’s so much fun. I have so much love for all of those actors, and it’s really cool to get to revisit some of their choices and see if I can inhabit them, and not totally do a brutal job of it. It’s really fun.
Did you talk to any of them, before taking on their characters, to get any tips?
MASLANY: No, I just watched them. I worked with them so much and got to know them, as people. I watched interviews, scenes, and clips, and try to mimic them as best I can.
Which of the other characters are you finding the most fun, or that you’re partial to?
MASLANY: Delphine is really fun to play. I think fans are gonna be excited because Cosima is a massive part of the continuing series, and I really love that. I love that character, and I love to explore that dynamic.
Because you can get so much deeper into who these characters are. Even the ones that you thought you knew, you get to voice internal monologues that you didn’t get to do before. Do you feel like you’ve learned anything new about the characters that has surprised you by revisiting them in that way?
MASLANY: Yeah, it’s always interesting to work with writing where you’re getting the actual internal thoughts of somebody, and not just stage direction. It’s really fun to get to read how somebody has interpreted what Cosima is thinking, or how the inside of her brain works. I find that really fascinating, and I definitely learn new things about them through that.
When you record this, do you have all of these conversations with yourself at one time, or do you record the characters separately? How does the actual process of that work?
MASLANY: It depends how on warm I am. If I’m in a flow, then I can go back and forth. But sometimes, it’s really tough. Even when we were doing read-throughs for Orphan Black, all throughout the seasons, Kathryn Alexandre, my clone double, would always read the other clones opposite me in scenes, so that I didn’t have to switch back and forth, and I could follow one track because the switching is a little bit lacking. I went to a Futurama live read and got to watch Billy West switch between Fry and the Professor and all of these characters within not even a second, and not even a breath, and he was in a different character, responding to himself. That’s another level of skill, and I have so much reverence for that. I certainly could not do that, myself.
Have there been any conversations about doing another chapter or two of this, and continuing to tell this story even further down the line?
MASLANY: I don’t know. I don’t even know how this one ends. I haven’t read to the end of it, or received the last few scripts, so I’m interested to see where it ends. But I definitely don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility.
How different has this experience been from the voice work that you’ve done with your character on Trollhunters and 3Below? Is it a very different experience to do that work?
MASLANY: Yeah, totally. With animation, you know there’s gonna be a visual element to it, so you know there’s another collaborative aspect to it that’s gonna help tell the story. Whereas this requires more of an imagination and connection with the audience. You have to tap into that place where somebody can visualize something because of how you’re doing it, which is a bit different than with animation. But it’s so much fun, and the animation is just amazing.
I also have to admit that I don’t know if I would have given a second glance to a Perry Mason revival without Matthew Rhys signing on. And then, hearing that you were going to do it with a character that sounds so fantastically interesting made it even more appealing. When that came your way, what was your initial reaction to it, and what ultimately sold you on doing that?
MASLANY: Well, I didn’t know what Perry Mason was. I wasn’t familiar with the original show. But I read the script, and I was laughing and so into it. I just found that the world that Ron [Fitzgerald] and Rolin [Jones], the writers of the show, have created is so fascinating. It’s just so populated with amazing characters, and that’s what has always drawn me to a script, but specifically with Perry Mason, every single character is so amazingly written. And my character specifically, Sister Alice, I’ve just never read somebody like this before. She’s an evangelical preacher in the 1930s, sort of based on Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, who was a real woman from Canada that came down to the States and created one of the first mega-churches. So my character is soft based on her. She does these huge sermons for hundreds of people and speaks in tongues, and gets embroiled in this mystery. She’s fascinating. I just love her. I remember laughing out loud, out of excitement, when I was reading the script.
What’s it like to get to do sermons like that and perform them in front of all those people?
MASLANY: The first sermon that I had to do was in front of the entire cast, so that was Matthew Rhys, Gayle Rankin, John Lithgow, and all of these people that I admire so much, and four hundred extras. I was like shitting myself. I was like, “This is either gonna go so badly, or it’s gonna go fine.” But fortunately for me, I’m on a set with the most wonderful actors who are all so supportive and generous, and I felt very taken care of. Ultimately, the character is just so much fun that I forgot about my fear and allowed her to speak. I had a week where I was doing sermons every day, and I blew out my voice, so on my birthday, I had no voice.
If you could play any real-life character, historical figure, or even someone from some sort of source material, is there a character that you would just love to play?
MASLANY: I don’t know. That’s such a tough question ‘cause I never would’ve seen Sister Alice coming. I couldn’t have ever predicted that, and she ended up being such an incredible dream character. But there’s a woman, named Giulietta Masina, who was [Federico] Fellini’s wife and in so many of his films. Watch La Strada or Nights of Cabiria. She’s incredible. I think she’s just really fascinating, and I’ve been told in the past that I kind of look like her, so I’m obsessed with the idea of playing her.