On BBC America’s cult hit sci-fi series Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany stars as scruffy English con artist Sarah Manning, an unwitting product of a sinister cloning experiment. But as you might expect in a show about clones, there’s more: Maslany, 28, also took on the roles of a Canadian soccer mom, a Minnesotan microbiology student, a Ukrainian assassin and German cyberpunk. Even Meryl Streep might get dizzy at the prospect of what heavily accented acting challenges are in store for season two, which premieres April 19th.
We spoke with the Canadian actress about Orphan Black fandom, acting opposite herself and her comedy roots.
What feels different for you going into this season?
The visibility we have right now is different. People know about the show, are fans of the show, people tape the show. There’s an audience now, where before it felt like we were creating in a vacuum — sort of doing it because we loved it and didn’t know if it was going to be anything, or a hit…or even work. And it has! Now there are people who have theories about the show, input, ideas and it’s a different world for those reasons.
What about in terms of your performance? Has acting with all the different versions of yourself become any easier?
Oh my god, I’m not even remotely feeling like I’ll figure it out. Every character sort of has their own world, so it feels like we’re shooting a different movie every day. Even if I get comfortable in the process or I feel like I have an ownership over it, it doesn’t stop evolving and I don’t think I’d ever want it to. I want it to keep growing. As an actor, that’s what I have to keep doing — making sure it doesn’t get easy.
How hard was the acting challenge initially?
Once I got the part, I went, “Oh shit!” Like, how does this actually happen?
Is there a clone that’s easiest to play?
There are certain clones that are easier on my vocabulary or my movement or even dialect, but [soccer mom] Alison, I was so scared to play her. I couldn’t relate to her. One of the creators said, “She’s the most feminine of the clones,” and I was like, “What?” For some reason, I had this sort of lock in my head on what it meant to be feminine. But I love all the characters. I feel really lucky that I get this whole gamut of women to play.
There’s a long tradition of actors acting opposite themselves, or playing different roles in the same movie or TV show. Have you watched any of those performances for clues on how to pull it off? I’m thinking of something like Michael Keaton in Multiplicity.
I saw Moon with Sam Rockwell; he does scenes with himself, and he’s an actor that I love because he’s so unpredictable. To see him within that structured context — I watched a lot of that. I watched Toni Collette in The United States of Tara, too — the full body commitment. How do you pull that off? What’s the tone? I should definitely sit down and watch Multiplicity.
You’ve probably also spent time studying Jean-Claude Van Damme’s work in Double Impact.
I haven’t. What’s that? Does he play against himself?
Yeah, he plays twins.
That sounds amazing! I’ll have to see that too.
You trained heavily in improv comedy. Is there much skill overlap between that and your work in Orphan Black?
Yeah, because you’re creating characters in the moment and you’re trying to make them as fully-formed as possible, which is something I’m focusing on all the time now just in a different context. There’s also something about character creation that I learned from improv — your imagination is really in high-gear and Orphan Black involves a lot of imagination.
Tell me about guesting on Parks and Recreation? As a comedy nerd that must’ve been pretty daunting.
It was the scariest thing I ever did! I revere comedians more than anyone else. They’re the epitome. And to be on a show and meet Amy Poehler, it was so much fun.
Were you a sci-fi fan before Orphan Black? Or a TV fan generally?
I love TV, but other than being a Buffy fan as a kid or loving Futurama, I was never that into sci-fi. But even Orphan Black, it’s an awesome opportunity for what sci-fi can be. The premise is sci-fi but the show doesn’t feel sci-fi, if that makes sense.
Sci-fi fans are generally rabid, and so by extension are Orphan Black fans. Do you check in with the community around the show at all?
I get tweeted at a lot. I resisted Twitter for so long but it’s just something you gotta do. It’s crazy, there’s such a movement of fans online. They have a community and find a voice to express themselves. I don’t think we’d have a show or a second season if not for the fans. They force their parents to watch it; force their friends to watch it. There’s fan art on Tumblr. I keep up with it — it’s amazing.
When people recognize you on the street, do you get the sense that they identify you as a certain clone more than the others?
It’s clones in general. I’m just a clone girl. It’s the weirdest cross section of people that recognize me — it’s teenage girls to couples in their forties. It’s a cool kind of group.
You should have some Orphan Black-style fun by telling people who come up to you that you’re not you.
The next time I get recognized, I can say, “I’m not Tatiana Maslany, I’m a clone” — just to blow some minds.