Tatiana Maslany: "Emmy Snubs Put 'Orphan' on the Map" (Q&A)

'Orphan Black's' leading lady (multiple times over) dishes on clones, cult stardom and how she really feels about her prior exclusion from the Emmy club.
Amanda Friedman

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Tatiana Maslany, the star of BBC America's sci-fi drama Orphan Black, is finally an Emmy nominee. To the outrage of her fans, Maslany was snubbed by the TV Academy for the show's first two seasons (both of which brought her Critics' Choice Award wins). But the 29-year-old Canadian, who has played 10 different clones on the show, now has made the shortlist for best actress in a drama series, and spoke with THR about this milestone, the unique challenges of her role and how the show has changed her life.

After the last two years, were you beginning to give up hope that a nomination ever was going to come?

The awards stuff doesn't factor in for me. All I'm thinking about when I'm doing Orphan Black is Orphan Black. That being said, the lack of a nomination, whatever that meant, was actually the best publicity we could have ever had — it definitely put us on the map!

Maslany, in one of her many incarnations, in action on 'Orphan Black.'

What were the greatest challenges that you faced during season three?

It was really about making sure the characters were aging and growing and changing the same way I was, and trying to find new ways to express who they are. Also, it was fun to have clones who aren't necessarily good actors playing each other — they can't do any of the accents or anything. (Laughs.)

How did you first hear about Orphan Black and land the gig?

I did three auditions. The last was a two-day beast where myself and a few other girls did four of the characters in front of all the execs, on-the-fly, changing in front of them into the different characters. I'd worked with John Fawcett, who's one of the creators, on a movie years back, so he was familiar with me, but I don't think he thought I was old enough for the parts because he'd always cast me way younger. So I had to convince him I could be a mother and actually play my age!

This show requires you to balance preparation with improvisation. How do you show up ready but also loose?

I grew up doing improv so it's a huge part of my background and my process, but I also am very academic in the way I approach things — I love research, I love talking to people who have certain experiences and I love mining from intellectual material, books, films or whatever. So, in the initial stages of creating these characters, there was a lot of research, but I've worked with amazing coaches who have taught me that once you've done all that work, you just have to throw it away. So now I just have to trust that these characters are in my body and that I can improvise in them and not be married to the way that they are in my head.

A lot of your job consists of working with Kathryn Alexandre, your "clone double" (the person opposite whom Maslany blocks scenes in which she appears as a clone). Tell me about that.

Kathryn's the most amazing actor I've ever worked with. She's so generous, never gets seen on camera and the better her work is, the less she gets seen. Yet she puts in all the work that I do — dialect and character work — and watches all the dailies to make sure she's keeping up with how I'm moving and speaking in the characters. She has totally created these characters with me.

What has been the biggest change to your life in the relatively brief time since you started on Orphan Black?

The biggest change is the opportunities around me. I'm getting into rooms where I get to meet directors I would have never met before or work with an actor who's a fan — visibility just does that for you, and this show has offered me a great way to show that I can play a lot of different characters without doing a bunch of different series.