Eye on Emmy: Orphan Black Star Tatiana Maslany Surveys the 'Most Intense' Acting Gig of Her Life

Tatiana Maslany Orphan BlackPlaying one role under a tight television production schedule is hard enough. But for Tatiana Maslany, the star of BBC America’s clone thriller Orphan Black, that would be an easy day at work.

The versatile young Canadian actress inhabits seven distinctly unique characters — more if you count when one “sister” impersonates another — and often plays opposite multiple versions of herself.

It’s an impressive feat that has rightfully earned Maslany many kudos, including a Critics Choice TV Award for Best Actress in a Drama and a Television Critics Association Award nomination. And if the Emmys truly appreciate quantity coupled with quality, it could land her on the list of lead drama actress nominees next month.

RELATED | Emmys 2013: The Lead Drama Actress Race in Review, Including Our 6 Dream Nominees

TVLINE | Have you recovered yet from filming Season 1?
I like to think I have, but I keep getting sick, so I don’t think I have exactly. [Laughs] It was pretty intense. It was the most intense shooting schedule of my life. Just very demanding as far as my creativity went and my imagination and physically how far I was able to push myself. It was definitely a test of endurance, let me tell you. I learned a lot about myself as an actor and just what it takes to lead a show. I’ve never led a show before like this. Not to mention, being the five leads on the show, it was an insane learning experience. But ultimately, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever gotten to work on.

TVLINE | How did you keep up your stamina?
All of the changing into a new character actually gave me a new rush. Every time I switched characters, I was like, “Oh, awesome, it’s a new day!” I felt like starting again. [Laughs] It was obviously extremely difficult, as well, and exhausting. I felt like I was just running on adrenaline for a good chunk of the four months, because there was no time really to be like, “Oh, I’m tired. I don’t feel like it.” It was just like, “Go, go, go!” It was just adrenaline that kept me going.

TVLINE | How did you keep each character’s arc and motivations straight? Did you have a crazy bunker with flow charts somewhere?
[Laughs] I was like, “I’m going to have charts on the wall for each character’s timeline and what they know, what they don’t know.” And it ended up being that I just had to really play instinctively because we were moving so quickly and I had very little time to prep between things. So I spent a lot of it just being in the moment and just committing very fully to each shift in the characters, using music to get me there, using the amazing costumes that inspire me. The writing is such that the voices are very clear, as well, so it wasn’t like I really had to push anything. It was there in the writing.

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Tatiana Maslany Orphan Black

TVLINE | Each clone has little quirks and mannerisms of her own. How much of that was written into the script? And how much of it was you putting your own interpretation on things to help differentiate them?
The mannerisms were a combination of working with the creators, Graeme [Manson] and John [Fawcett], but also that’s where my input came in, with specific embodiments of those people. Alison’s frigidity and her little tics and things came with just spending time with the character and playing with her, with her music and looking at where she comes from, which is also the writing. But then it was me specifically manifesting it. So a lot of those quirks came from me and were my way of differentiating the characters.

TVLINE | Alison walks like she’s really tightly wound up.
Yeah. I wanted to play with the idea that she was heavily trained in ballet as a young girl and was never good enough to do it on a professional level, but that she’s maintained all of that posture and all of that tightness and holding your butt [and] stomach in. And she breathes up higher because she’s panicking a lot of the time. Her breath is up in her chest as opposed to kind of there down into her crotch.

Tatiana Maslany Orphan Black

TVLINE | Helena’s posture is very hunched over and almost monster-like. How did you develop that?
I  wanted to play with this idea that Helena’s idea of herself is light and saintly. Her hair and everything is reaching to heaven, but that she’s double-faced and she’s kind of an animal. She’s almost very masculine, very sexual — masculinely sexual? Sexually masculine? [Laughs] But trying for this lightness, dreaming of being light.

TVLINE | Sarah says “yeah” a lot at the end of her sentences. Was that part of the script?
I don’t think that was really scripted, but I’ve got a lot friends from the UK. I might be generalizing when I say that that’s a tic that some of them have. So it was just something that I started to do when I was watching films and stuff based on that world that they’re from. It maybe became a bit much. [Laughs] But it was my thing for her, my little tic.

Tatiana Maslany Orphan Black

TVLINE | And what sets Cosima apart from the others? Aside from the hair, obviously.
Cosima’s brain is working 100,000 miles a minute faster than everybody else’s. She’s very intellectual. Everything’s happening really quickly in her brain. So for her, she’s trying to explain things to people on a base level which they’ll understand, but she’s operating way faster than they are. So her mannerisms are a lot of hand gestures trying to make you understand, trying to paint pictures with her hands. And [there’s] also a lightness and a cute quirkiness. Cosima thinks she’s quite cute, and so she plays that up a bit, which is cool because she’s super intellectual, too. So it’s not like she’s just getting by on her cuteness. She’s a mix.

TVLINE | The clones also impersonate one another often. What’s the trick to blending two characters together?
I don’t try to play the other character until I’ve settled into the character that I actually am. I really try to make them as strong as possible and then let them play that other person. So when I’m Alison playing Sarah, I’m Alison first and I go vocally from where Alison speaks. I go physically from where Alison walks, but then try to drop in little hints of her idea of Sarah. That’s the other thing – it’s not that she’s really good at Sarah. She’s playing the version of Sarah that she imagines. She’s stereotyping Sarah and then playing her. It’s not intricate, and it’s not detailed, necessarily, or a full, complex version of who that person is. If I were to impersonate you, I wouldn’t know all of the intricacies of your life, but I could take the outside that I see and then play with it. That’s the most fun. I love doing that.

Tatiana Maslany Orphan Black

TVLINE | Are those your favorites to play? When one clone is pretending to be the other?
Yeah. I mean, it’s a bit of a mind-F. It’s a bit screwy in my head, but it’s definitely the most fun because there are so many layers to it, it’s ridiculous.

TVLINE | Which one is the most difficult to play?
They all have their own challenges. Helena is quite difficult because of how animal she is. I really can’t get into my head at all. I really can’t let the accent make me self-conscious. I can’t let the animal-ness make me self-conscious, so she was scary.

TVLINE | Sci-fi shows and their casts usually have a tough time gaining traction when it comes to the Emmys. Why do you think voters should take notice?
As much as it is a sci-fi, I feel like it’s very much a character piece and very grounded. It’s very much based in real characters and real reality and real responses to the world. It’s human beings existing in a fantastical world.

TVLINE | And you should get seven nominations, one for every character.
[Laughs] I don’t know about that. What if three of them were nominated, but one of them wasn’t?

TVLINE | It would probably be Alison that wasn’t nominated, and then she’d be really upset about it.
Yeah, she’d be so pissed off. This was her big break. [Laughs]

A version of this interview first appeared in the pages of TVLine’s print sibling Awards|Line. The specialty Awards|Line editions canvass various facets of the Emmy and motion pictures awards season and include deep coverage, analysis and interviews with the leading contenders and industry players.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. queerbec says:

    This woman is terrific! Can’t wait to see more of her take on Rachel. I have a feeling that we may see Sarah undertaking this impersonation in the second season.

  2. Chris says:

    TM for the Emmy Gold and win! Listen if this category is filled with the same old same. I’m going to scream because Kerry Washington, Vera F., and TM have to be in leading actress! They just have too!

  3. Jack says:

    Ask them if Helena’s really dead!

  4. Sam says:

    Overrated actress, overrated show.

    • Claude says:

      People who click on articles about actors and shows they don’t care for just to make disparaging remarks are douchebags.

    • There’s always someone who has to go against the grain. There is nothing overrated about her performances. Which can’t be said for Anna Torv…

    • dude says:

      I personally love Orphan Black but I can understand it being called “overrated” because it probably isn’t as great as the hype makes it out to be BUT there’s nothing overrated about Tatiana’s performance. That was acting in its finest form.

    • Sam says:

      Boo! Ashamed to share your online name.

      • Claude says:

        Because being willing to admit you’re one of the meager handful of people with the incredibly uncommon name “Sam” is an inspiring act of moral courage.

        • Claude says:

          Apologies if you are not the Sam who made the overrated comment I thought you were razzing the guy who signed his comment “dude” for not giving his real name.

          • Claude says:

            Damn this comment system for not giving me the ability to delete or edit if I post something I regret!

    • Um No, are you honestly serious? I started watching when it premiered (before all this hype stuff started) just for curiosities sake because it looked really weird. And watching Tatiana play these many roles so seamlessly was astonishing. Not once watching the show do I think about how this is one actress playing all these parts even when she is acting with herself in scenes. This hype is all recent because people are actually beginning to catch on to how much of gift this show really is.

  5. Brooke says:

    If Fringe couldn’t get anyone nominated for their one-character-multiple-ways amazingness, I’m not holding my breath that another genre show will do it. But it would be nice to be proven wrong in this case.

    • dude says:

      Fringe never had Emmy buzz. Tatiana does.

      • Sam says:

        Fringe got lots of Emmy buzz since S2. The multiple character stuff wasn’t its forte, John Noble was. He couldn’t get a nomination, but I can’t really blame the Emmys. There are plenty great actors out there in amazing shows. We’re lucky, we’re living in a golden era of TV, even if most of it happens on cable. Fringe was a good show for a couple of seasons, but, realistically, it never was among the best.

        • ashok0 says:

          I thought Fringe was a good show few a few seasons, but by S3 it wasn’t just among the best, it WAS one of the best. Anna Tov was INCREDIBLE in S3, I still can’t believe she didn’t get an Emmy nomination. Nothing against OB but I thought Fringe really was better at the multiple character stuff. Hopefully Tatiana and John Noble will get a nom this year but I’m not holding my breathe.

          • Sam says:

            Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I didn’t find Anna Torv all that good in S3. An Emmy nomination for her was a huge stretch for her and just wishful thinking even then. Tatiana is getting all the press and all the praise so early, because she deserves it.

          • Frank says:

            @ashok0 Wholeheartedly agree.

  6. ruby says:

    I know everyone loves allison,but ma fave is Helena!!she was badass,hope she isn’t dead..tatiana is awesome,can’t wait for her emmy nomination!!

  7. Tina says:


  8. guest says:

    Just go ahead and give all the awards to this woman!

  9. noa says:

    i actually think Alison is the one she should get an award for… she’s my favorite clone anyway…

  10. Sam says:

    Tatiana is talented, smart and charismatic. A rare gem. Playing multiple parts has been done to death before, above all in scifi, with varying degrees of success, but Tatiana blows everybody else out of the water. The way she makes each of the clones multifaceted and unique with seemingly ease staggering. She deserves all the awards.

  11. Alex says:

    Her descriptions and explanations and motivations for each character was a good read. It’s obvious she’s got a clear and thorough understanding of each character, no wonder she’s so great.

  12. JT says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t get nominated for an Emmy.

  13. cjeffery7 says:

    HAHAHA love the quip at the end about Allison not getting nominated! so true.

  14. lisa says:

    Cosima is just so cool I want to be friends with her in real life

  15. Elizabeth says:

    I’m boycotting the Emmys if there is no nomination for this lady. Most unique, fascinating performance I have ever seen. Bravo Tatiana!

  16. phamster says:

    I love the show and love the characters. This interview sounds like the actress really is into the science, for lack of a better word, behind doing multiple characters. She says she did not have time to really think about each one but it sounds like she has. I am hoping that since Peter Dinklage won two years ago that maybe that was enough to break this genre ceiling that the Emmys have. However, it also has 5 years of completely ignoring John Noble. I think if this actress does not at least get a nom, us genre fans should just give up hope!

  17. Babygate says:

    I do hope she gets nominated because it would be a huge validation of her work and talent. But she most likely will not win because taking the context of the show into consideration, it just doesn’t have the critical acclaim of others like Scandal or Mad Men, etc. However, if the same people like Juliana Marguelis get nominated I will be upset. I can understand a Kerry Washington or Monica Porter winning because they’ve had amazing seasons, but not the same Hollywood elite.

  18. Mel says:

    So happy to be watching her brilliance!

  19. L Spencer says:

    We waited til the season was over to watch Orphan Black. Started on Monday and finished the season by Weds. We could not stop watching. With every commercial break, I needed a break! Can’t remember the last time a show left me stumped as to what would happen. Actually this show is so fast moving that I didn’t have time to guess. Award winning acting. Tatiana’s future is a very bright one indeed. Interesting plot line, lots different directions this show can take.

  20. Fire says:

    She deserves ALL THE AWARDS. Nobody deserves an Emmy more than her, I mean she plays like 7 characters so convincingly, what a talent.

  21. Errol R says:

    Just finished watching the entire series. It’s astounding how well-written the show is and how amazing Ms. Maslany plays each character. She doesn’t merely deserve a nomination, she deserves an emmy. The scenes where one character is attempting to embody another character are simply astounding. I’ve never seen any actor perform such a task with such fluidity.

  22. Blake R says:

    Every time I saw Helena I was looking for a flaw in the performance, but it was always perfect, just like the rest of the clones. People clearly appreciate high-level acting and phenomenal writing.

  23. Kenn says:

    Go Tatiana!!

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  25. Sam Spencer says:

    I have been totally blown away by this show and am in utter disbelief of how talented Tatiana is. the first episode was terrific and after the second I was completely hooked! If Ms. Maslany isn’t showered with awards for her efforts, a criminal investigation will be in order. I can hardly wait for Season Two.

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