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From co-creators Graeme Manson (Flashpoint) and John Fawcett (Spartacus), Orphan Black follows a young woman named Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) who discovers she is, in fact, one of several clones after she witnesses the suicide of someone who looks exactly like her. The Hollywood Reporter‘s chief TV critic Tim Goodman praised the one-hour sci-fi drama, writing in his review, “It’s addictive and compelling — you want the next episode mere seconds after the previous one has ended.”
Maslany, a Canadian actress, talks to THR about the trick to playing distinct personalities and what’s in store for the remaining episodes of the season.
The Hollywood Reporter: Because the show has a unique premise, I imagine the audition process was out of the box too. What was the experience like?
Tatiana Maslany: It was a fight for sure. I had about three auditions where I read for the casting director and co-creator John Fawcett. In those auditions, I played maybe two characters but by the time we got to the final round — the chemistry test and the network test — I did, I think, five characters, or something like that. It was a really surreal day. I had a piece of clothing or item for each character to help me transition because it was a quick, unnatural way to do it. I didn’t have the luxury of an hour and a half of a costume or makeup change to shift into the new character. It really tested [me in terms of] committing to the craziness of it.
THR: Can you talk about the different characters that you play on the show?
Maslany: The lead character I play is Sarah, a working-class girl from the U.K. who is trying to shut the door on a seedy, rough past and start fresh. When she’s returned back to the place she grew up, she witnesses the suicide of a woman on a train platform who looks identical to her and she takes her identity, and falls headfirst into the mystery of identity. She starts to meet all these other women who look identical to her. I can’t exactly divulge how many characters I play but we’ve seen about four or five so far. The wonderful thing about it is they’re each written so specifically and with such complexity and with respect for each of the characters. There are no stereotypes; they’re very well-developed and well-written. For me, it’s a total joy to dig into the different women and embody them differently. As much as it is a sci-fi show, it’s very grounded in reality, it’s grounded in real people in extraordinary circumstances. The clone backdrop is a cool bridge between sci-fi and reality.
THR: I read that in order to get into the mindsets of the different women, you actually created separate music playlists to differentiate character A from character B.
Maslany: There was a lot of work with the world view of the characters, like how did they see the world and how had they grown up. How did that change the way they walked around in the world or responded to the world or threw themselves in the world — in what capacity do they do that. It was a lot of work on nature-nurture, which is very much a theme in the show: What does our upbringing inform about our personality? How can it be different from people who look exactly the same but were raised in completely different places? I looked at cultural differences; some of the characters have money, some of the characters don’t have money. That stuff shifts how someone responds to the world. The music for me was an extra step, something that physicalized that or made it more emotional for me. Music is like a lifeblood; it changes the way I move, it changes the way I feel about myself, the way I walk into the room is different depending on the song I was just listening to. The external development of the aesthetic of each character.
THR: What should we expect in this ongoing mystery that Sarah has embarked on?
Maslany: We really start to delve into every separate woman we’ve met so far, and their worlds. Those worlds, we start to elaborate on them and those will start to collide. You see crossovers. The relationships start to develop more. We really start to understand how these women are coping with their situation and also the questions that they have. The show is one of those shows that you watch and you hopefully want to discuss it afterwards, and have theories on what will happen next and have their questions. Each episode having answered questions but having opened the door to other possibilities. That’s what makes it addictive television and fun to watch.
THR: Do you have a favorite moment coming up?
Maslany: There’s some great stuff with [Sarah’s adopted brother] Felix (Jordan Gavaris); he has some awesome things coming up. Things go nutty.
THR: It’s already nutty, so it’s going to even nuttier?
Maslany: I think it warrants it because the world is very specific and very clear. We have space to play in that world. It’s very much its own world. [The show] has its own rules, its own humor, its own aesthetic.
THR: How would you describe the final episodes of the season?
Maslany: Epic. [Laughs] Alliances start to get tested and we wonder who’s on whose side. The tensions of the relationships start to grow.
Orphan Black airs at 9 p.m. Saturdays on BBC America.
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