Emmy's Dark Horse: 'Orphan Black's' Tatiana Maslany

The BBC America breakout's surprise Critics' Choice Award win sets Hollywood abuzz.

This story first appeared in the June 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Meet Emmy's newest dark horse: Tatiana Maslany.

On BBC America's sci-fi drama Orphan Black, she plays nearly a dozen clones -- each a unique and fully realized character. She celebrated the conclusion of the show's first season with a stunning best actress win at the June 10 Critics' Choice Awards, where she topped the likes of Homeland's Claire Danes and The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies.

With a groundswell of support from critics and industry insiders (Damon Lindelof, Kevin Williamson, Shawn Ryan), Maslany could add another trophy to her mantel (which already includes a Sundance grand jury prize for her breakout role in 2009's Grown Up Movie Star) thanks to a nomination for a TCA Award for achievement in drama.

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The Hollywood Reporter: How did you get into acting?

Tatiana Maslany: I was a dancer as a kid, and my mom saw an audition for a community theater production of Oliver and asked if I wanted to do it. I was 9 and just wanted to be onstage!

THR: How do you prepare to play all these characters, with each having so many specific attributes?

Maslany: I have a big background in improv. For me, it's more of an internal rhythm, a sense of their drive through life that gets me into the character. Knowledge of what they want, are afraid of and where they came from.

THR: Between the Critics' Choice, the TCA nom and now Emmy buzz, how are you handling all the attention?

Maslany: It feels like it has come out of nowhere. I take it with a grain of salt; it's really wonderful, but I can't put my work's worth on whether I get an Emmy nomination.

THR: Sci-fi often has been overlooked at the Emmys. Why should Emmy voters be taking it seriously now?

Maslany: The stories we're telling, and the focus on characters, is becoming really important. Homeland has that in spades. Game of Thrones has it. Just because it's in the sci-fi context doesn't make it lesser than. People are seeing past the genre and understanding that the stories are being told compellingly.

THR: What's been the most challenging part about this role for you?

Maslany: The one thing I always have to come back to is what the character wants and why they want what they want. For Sarah, it always comes back to [her daughter] Kira and keying back into Felix. For Cosima, it's about making my brain work quicker and making my internal workings more kinetic. For Alison, it's being uptight and trying to control things. For Helena, it's being a dick (laughs) and trying to freak out the crew as much as possible. It's a dream job but it's f—ing exhausting but completely rewarding.

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THR: How are you on set when you have to play a specific clone? How do you prepare to play each one?

Maslany: The turnover between characters is quick, like an hour and a half. As soon as I'm taking off Sarah's clothes and putting on Cosima's, I'm listening to Cosima's music, I'm changing dialect and speaking, moving, thinking like her and shifting my physicality. I have an amazing dialect coach who sits with me while I'm getting hair and makeup done and bounces it off me and makes sure I'm in the right place. When I walk on set as Cosima, there's a dance that happens, which the crew has now taken to doing when they see her coming, and they dance with me. They're up for the process. 

THR: Which clone is the most challenging for you to play?

Maslany: When a clone is impersonating another clone. I almost feel like that's less challenging in a way because there's so much room for me to make it what I want it to be, like a mish-mash -- mistakes can happen, accents can slip. That's part of the creation of that in-between character. I love playing a clone playing another clone. Helena is quite difficult, not because I can't relate to her because I feel like I do quite strongly, but because she exists outside of societal norms and the way people function in social situations. She's been bred as an animal and with a lot of violence and abuse instead of love. The base of her is quite feral, and it's a lot of energy to go to a place like that, and a lot of shedding of external norms and digging into that really animal place, which I love doing, but it is a shift. 

THR: How do you keep track of all the characteristics that each clone has?

Maslany: It's more of an internal rhythm or a sense of their drive through life that gets me into the character. Knowledge of what they want, are afraid and where they came from. I put those ideas into my body as early as possible in the process so that I was dancing as the character, walking around as the character, working on dialect and trying to take it out of a mental place because then it can get quite heavy and intellectual, and you can be thinking instead of trusting that my body knows where that character is coming from.

THR: Which of the clones would you say most resembles you?

Maslany: Cosima, because I think our upbringing is quite similar. She was fostered in a very supportive and intellectually creative environment. Her parents were probably professors, not that mine were but I was very much supported in whatever I wanted to do and made to feel quite loved, strong and confident. Cosima has that, and I really relate to her energy and fascination with people and wanting to see the positive. She's so focused on her work that it can get quite insular, and she can get quite lonely and have a one-track mind. When she meets Delphine, her world blows up and she doesn't know how to even deal with the emotions she's feeling and how much she wants Delphine. I relate to that kind of loneliness in your work, where you're so focused on your work that you forget to live sometimes.  

THR: Of all the clones, whose death would most upset you?

Maslany: I was sad to see Katia go because I would love to be German a bit longer and explore her. But I'd be really devastated if any of them died.

Tatiana Maslany was photographed by Amanda Friedman at The Bungalow in Santa Monica