Interview With a Chameleon: Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany

We're not even halfway through 2013 and the race for breakout performance of the year is already over. Tatiana Maslany treated us to an acting clinic in the first season of BBC America's Orphan Black, a smart, taut science-fiction thriller about shady corporations, religious zealots, and murder investigations... as well well as suburban life, a mother-daughter relationship, and a brainy scientist doing research. That description makes the show sound disparate and confusing, but Maslany glues it all together, masterfully keeping things in order while playing seven (!) different roles as a set of clones. 

And the real Maslany is a delight, as I learned when I got on the horn with the Canadian actress to talk about how she endures such a demanding job and the events of last weekend's Season 1 finale.


This Q&A contains spoilers from the finale, so you may want to bookmark it for later if you aren't caught up.


Congratulations on the Critics' Choice Award nomination! How are you handling all this newfound attention?

Not well. Nah, I'm joking. It's a bit overwhelming, honestly, and surreal too. We only finished shooting about four months ago. So it wasn't even that long ago when we wrapped. People have seen the series already, and to be getting this kind of "buzz" off it is crazy. It's amazing. It's an overwhelming group of women I'm nominated opposite, I just can't believe it. 


When you auditioned, did you know the job would be so complex?

I think I was a bit ignorant in the beginning because I wanted the part so badly that I didn't think about how it was even possible to do it, or how much work it would be. Even the audition was a lot of work because I had to come up with all the different characters in the audition. During shooting the days were really long, and I didn't expect that. I'd never led a series before, so that was a whole other responsibility. It's crazy, but really empowering when you breathe in it. 


Whenever you received a new script and you weren't on the call sheet, were you thinking THANK GOD?!

Yeah, it was very few and far between. Usually when there was a scene without me, I was doing a changeover into the next clone. I think I had one day off, maybe a day and a half off, during the entire shoot. So it was full on.



What was your process of getting into each character? I know you have an improv background, did that come in handy?

Yeah absolutely, because so much of improv is saying "yes" and just committing in the moment, you know what I mean? That lent itself to these quick changeovers. I also did a lot of improv to help create the characters and build them. But also, the writing is so brilliant that each of the characters' voices is so clear on the page. [Creators] John [Fawcett] and Graeme [Manson] worked really hard on those first two scripts, and those were the only ones I had when I signed onto the show. The characters were so clear, a lot of the work was done for me. I also had a dialogue coach to help me with all the accents, who made sure I was staying on track. I would also find what I related to most in each character and elaborate on that, and make that the soul of the character. 


You also brought distinct physical presences to each character, particularly Alison and Helena. Is that something that helps you differentiate them, for example when you're walking so upright as Alison?

Yeah, totally! Jordan [Gavaris], who plays Felix, he always says you can tell so much about a person by how they load a dishwasher, and it's so true. You know, how you go about moving within the world you live in says so much about you are. A lot of the intellectual work I did on the characters I had to throw out the window and just be in their bodies. Like Helena, she's been treated like an animal her whole life, and consequentially she moves around like an animal and asexually, except when she dances, which is when all her sexuality comes out. 



AUDIO CLIP: Tatiana talks about the dynamic between herself and Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah's foster brother Felix, and how it changes depending on whether she's playing Sarah or Alison. (Click the play button to listen!)



I've read that you feel as though you are closest to Cosima. Does that make the part less interesting to play?

I think as far as the clones go, she's probably the closest to me but that doesn't me she is me at all. There are so many differences. Each of the clones has a great deal of me in them, but just a different version of me. I don't think it made it less interesting to play her. Sometimes the characters that are closer to you are sort of scary to play, because then you reveal more about yourself, you can't hide behind a mask or a set of bangs. 


In the season finale, Alison watched Aynsley die via garbage disposal strangulation! Did she do that just because she thought Aynsley was her monitor, or had their rivalry gone that far?

I think that Alison doesn't realize, necessarily, what she's doing when she's doing it. She's furious at Aynsley and she's terrified of her threatening her life. In Alison's head, Aynsley's a great threat to her family and her kids, and I think that can justify what she did. But I also think Alison didn't act in that moment, she didn't do anything. It's less so that she took a knife and stabbed Aynsley, she didn't do that. It was a momentary impulsive thing to not act, to not do something, and it ended up killing Aynsley. I don't think Alison was being very logical in that moment. She wasn't like, "Okay if I wait here long enough, she'll stop breathing." She was a little stunned and a little impulsive in that moment.



Because of Helena's situation, there's a large sympathetic part to her. When Helena and Sarah had their standoff in the finale, do you think there was any way they both could have made it out alive? Or do you think Sarah made the right decision to kill her twin?

It's hard because I'm thinking about it from both perspectives. As Helena, I'm like, "That was horrible! I didn't want to die." (laughs) And then as Sarah, of course she had to die. I think one of Sarah's huge regrets was when Helena took Kira. When she got hold of Kira, that was it. And yet, there was something in Sarah that couldn't pull the trigger at that point. She couldn't do it. Because Sarah is a human being, she's fallible, she's conflicted. I think there's a resonance in Helena that Sarah feels that she can't explain. And it's not logical and it's just based on the fact that they're sisters. I think it had to happen. It's hard to split my brain that way, I've never been asked a question like that where I had to see it from both sides. 


We also met Rachel Duncan for the first time in the finale, but we don't know a lot about her. What do you know about her?

I know a bit about her past, and it sort of helped me create who she was, even in those brief little scenes we saw her in. I'm really excited to explore more of her. She's a cool character, she's really quite ruthless and quite cold, and that's something we haven't seen yet in the clones. They all are quite emotional and quite human, we see great humanity even in Helena in the writing. But Rachel is written very coldly, I'm really excited about playing her. Really scared and really excited.


There are a lot of people assuming she's the original, is that a fair assessment?

Oh god, you know, I don't know. It's amazing the theories that people come up with on message boards. It's incredible. They're things I would have never thought of. And that's definitely one of them. 


And can we assume when Rachel made the phone call after Sarah's rejection and said, "You know what has to be done," it was to Mrs. S, who then took Kira?

I have no idea. (laughs) 


What clone would you trust most with your life?

Geez. That's a really good question. Like, Katja? I don't know. Sarah is a little untrustworthy, isn't she? She's a bit selfish. And Cosima has been known to leak information. And Alison would definitely be too self-serving to take care of me. If I were Kira, I'd trust Sarah but I'm not her, so I dunno. (laughs) Let's go with Katja.


Special thanks to Tatiana Maslany for speaking with us! Orphan Black Season 2 will air in 2014 on BBC America

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Is Tatiana awesome or what? She's so versatile. I think I'm in love with this actor but I cannot decide which of her characters that I prefer the most. All of her personae are so different and they're all absolutely delicious in their own right. She deserves an Emmy nod. If she doesn't get nominated then the whole thing is rigged ... seriously, either the show or it's star -- no, both! -- deserves something for being one of the most entertaining new shows of the entire season! I hate to wish away my life but Spring 2014 can't get here fast enough!!!! Please, Tatiana don't stray too far from the telly. Do a few guest appearances. Give your fans something .... Some of us really need to see that smile again that's NOT from an episode rerun.
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Great interview Tim! And what a nice surprise for us!

Hearing your voice really makes me miss Totally Tubular though. Any plans for more of that?
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I hope you told Tatiana that we twisted your arm until you watched the show, lol.
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so true! they should be embarrassed that it took them so long....how many weeks did we have to riot on the FTW/WTF list to get them to "listen"...
Just like Banshee.....
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Tim you are so lucky to get to interview her ! Perks of your job that you get into a series only weeks ago and now can interview the star ! Can I be you? Haha...
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What a lovely surprise :) And thanks, Tim, for asking all the right questions.
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Thanks for this Interview.

Tatiana Maslany and Vera Farmiga in Bates Motel are my two favorite Actresses this Year!
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Yes they were both superb!
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Thx for the interview!
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I don´t know how many times I already wrote this before but I have to say it again this show is simply awesome and definitely has become my favorite show on tv. I enjoyed watching every minute of it and after the season finale I watched it again and it was thrilling like the first time and this doesn´t happen very often when you watch a show twice in that short period of time. About Tatian I can only say she is brilliant it never felt like watching the same person and she is playing seven at the same time brilliant thats all I can say. So I thank her and her team for a mind blowing first season and bringing back my hope that there is still good sci fi television out there that doesn´t need super expensive special effects only a few brilliant actors and a good storyline. so thanks for that and I really can´t wait for season 2 so I will probably watch the show a few more times before season 2 starts
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Thank you!!!! Tatiana FTFW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Great interview! Very interesting person and talanted actress and I hope she will be nominated/winner for a lot more than Critics' Choice Awards!
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Hey, huge fan of the show. But I'm amazed and shocked, a little shamed, to say that I actually thought there were atleast twins that played the clones, because some of the scenes are so authentic and realistic, I mean wow, it's mindblowing. I hope you realize how hard it is to act against a shadow, talk about getting into character, w-oooo-w!

So looking forward to season 2, I think we've just scraped the surface of the whole plot and it'll be a pleasure to see how it all plans out. Hopefully some idiot-board-pud gets his panties twisted because the show doesn't reach out to all audiences, or the general, and decides to cancel the show in a disaster-holocauster bad decision like cancelling Firefly for example. It still blows my mind of the stupidity of these higher-ups when I think back to that day.

Anyways.. Helena was kind of my favorite, so I'm in mourning - but I imagine that she'll survive in some way. /begs the gods of sci-fi to make it into reality.
Why? Because, she was such a dynamic force of impact on any scene or episode she was in, she made the show a lot more interesting, even if she ended up being a bad guy in some of her most memerable scenes.

Until next time
More+
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I always thought the same that they must be at least two of them (real twins) or some sort of extreme level of Mission-Impossible-Masking involve doing it but hats off and thumbs up for the girl in Action. Well deserved nomination and well deserved fame.
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*CORRECTION* Hopefully some idiot-board-pud WON'T/DON'T/DOESN'T get his panties twisted a jar because the show doesn't reach out to all audiences, or the general, and decides to cancel the show in a disaster-holocauster bad decision like; cancelling Firefly for example.
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Cancelling Firefly, what huge creep came up with that idea.With this poor decision making, I'll betya he's homeless and dead drunk in some skanky alley pissing blood. Degenerate piece of scum.
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Man, I am your fan forever for doing this.You have no idea how much I appreciate you going all your way for that show, which is presently my all time favorite.The interview is great and the sound bite very cool.You asked all the right questions, and that was just excellent.
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WHAT??? I assume sarcasm since you said "appreciate you going all your way for that show"...you do remember us on our knees begging them to review the show and they ignored us until the finale (flashbacks of BANSHEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

but it was a good interview;-) so well done with the interview and the review.

I KNOW I will be ignored but will Orphan Black's Season 2 episodes all be reviewed?
I don't know why I bother to ask....I do know the definition of crazy!
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I think it is safe to say that Tim is now on the side of the angels and will review season two. What me sarcastic? Okay yes it can happen but not over OB.Never!!!!!!! ( but maybe about BANSHEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
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It's true, Tim posted an angel-wing-cutting razor on his pinterest.
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Excellent article/interview!

I hope you told her about all the love we fans gave the show and her on this site!
Well, maybe not since threats were made (FF, etc...) to get it reviewed;-) lol
Great job with the interview and questions!!

PLEASE PROMISE each episode of Orphan Black season 2 will be reviewed!

hmm, next mission anyone? lol
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Hellooooooo Tatiana
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I'm glad she sounds like Cosima because that's my favorite clone.
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This show was a surprise gem, saw that it was sci-fi and that image of Tatiana features that looks like a wallpaper and just got hooked to the show. The tense almost jarring music and sound effects, the actors, the story's pace. Sheer gold head trip, if I was a drug dealer/manufacturer I would make acid tabs of that image, you could drop 2 or 3 Tatiana's go to a club where people dance with tails and call a doctor of Neo-lution in the morning.
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There should be one clone through whom she's just playing herself.
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So the character would be an actress who is playing clones on tv? Only if a plot revolves around Alison pretending to be Tatiana playing a clone named Sarah pretending to be a clone named Cosima.
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No, I meant just her personality. But I like your idea better.
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Acting goddess, I'm telling you.

Congrats, Tatiana - you deserves all the praise you are getting.

And, as always (mostly), good job, Tim!
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Can't comment now that you've drawn her attention. She might be reading. Too weird.
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best actress on television.
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I love Tat so much, she makes this show so amazing. I remember her saying before that she was most afraid of playing Allison because she was the most similar to her personality wise, but hearing that she is most similar to Cosima is interesting
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Wonderful! Can't wait for season 2.
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Great interview.
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You have clearly paid attention to what the members want to read about. Thanks for that. Whatever yearly bonuses you are about to receive, you've earned them.
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Tatiana Maslany may be my first legit celeb crush lol completely amazing actress and sounds really nice! Is it spring 2014 yet?
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Great surprise interview! She comes off as one of the most grounded appreciative young actors. She worked so hard to get all of those performances on film and all she does is pass credit elsewhere. I can't wait to hear her acceptance speeches. That doesn't even exist in the US anymore. Fawcett and Mason found the perfect actress to give their script life. "Orphan Black" was one of the best surprises this year taking a premise that had a greater chance to fail than succeed and then making people wonder why they weren't watching it from the start. A show so good they renewed it without question before the season that just finished filming was over despite its anemic ratings. Numbers will improve with exposure. Like from good interviews like Tim's. (Now please admit you were wrong about another great surprise from this year and get on the phone with someone in Charlotte to see how "Banshee" is shaping up for next season.)

Good luck Monday Tatiana Maslany!
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Nifty comment, very well written.thumbs up to you, Whedonrules.
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YES!!!!
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Thanks Tim. We caught up in time for the last episode. Really good show. For people like me loathe procedurals, this is one of the best serial stories around. Get on it! Can we start a Felix fan club? Best supporting character around.
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2014?? I guess I'll just have to watch season one over and over until then! LOL!
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Thank you Tim (and Tatiana). Enjoyed the interview.
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I can't wait for season 2!!
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I really wish we had gotten to know Katja better..
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I love Orphan Black. I love Tatiana Maslany.

Therefore, I love this interview. Thanks.
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Fantabolous interview. This show is one of my new guilty pleasures. It totally snuck up on me. But she is an incredible actress. Incredible.
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No need for it to be a guilty pleasure, nothing to be guilty about! It's just pure pleasure ;)
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Awesome! Nice interview, Tim!
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