While all the major networks seem incapable of launching slow burn serialized sci-fi dramas, BBC America is taking them to school with the exhilarating, inventive and hypnotic Orphan Black.
But the show's expertly plotted twists and hair-raising turns would be nothing without star Tatiana Maslany. The perfect conduit for the myriad of cloned characters the 27-year-old is tasked with bringing to life, it's as if she too were created in a lab explicitly for this performance.
ETonline caught up with 2013's brightest new star to talk about this massive undertaking, how she keeps all her characters (five and counting) straight and what fans can expect from Saturday's all-new episode of Orphan Black!
ETonline: I would imagine wrapping your head around this role was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. True?
Tatiana Maslany: Totally. That's exactly it. When I read the script, all I did was want it. I just wanted it. I was completely obsessed. I was so hungry to play this part. And then when I got it, the terror set in [laughs]. It's such a huge responsibility to carry a show, let alone be able to be very specific and committed to each one of these separate women. I couldn't make any of them a stereotype, or a one-off character. It was super daunting, but at the same time, I've never loved hard work this much. The writing is so incredible, the cast is unbelievable and so there for me. It's a huge commitment, but I've never felt better about a choice I've made in my life.
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ETonline: So far, you've played five different characters on the show -- often times in the same scene. How do you keep their individual characteristics and their individual storylines straight in your mind?
Maslany: I try not to have too much of a stranglehold on the overall story because I would absolutely lose my mind if I tried to anticipate anything. For me, it's about cluing into each woman and finding her walk and her rhythm and her world view. I use a lot of music; I have different playlists for every character and different dances for every character that settle me into my body. I have a Cosima rave dance and Alison is ballet. I have a huge dance background, so that was how I tapped into it.
ETonline: I'm almost scared to ask, but what kind of dance do you perform to play Helena?
Maslany: [laughs] Weirdly she's very sexual because I think she's repressing a great deal of animal sexuality. She has this contrast in her, which is, "I am light, I am from God." But I think it's masking this demon inside of her. It's very frenetic, very animalistic, but also very masculine and sexual.
ETonline: The last episode ended with a stand-off between Sarah and Helena. Where does Saturday's episode pick up?
Maslany: What you'll really start to see in the next couple episodes is all the relationships being tested and doubted. People's alliance will be revealed or questioned or theorized about. The tension really is in these relationships being under scrutiny. We're starting to see the clones as potentially part of a greater experiment, or something -- and this is what the women are dealing with in their personal lives with the people they love.
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ETonline: Sarah had a line in last week's episode where she referred to the proverbial "they" in terms of the clone creators. Is this the start of a more conspiracy-driven storyline?
Maslany: Absolutely. But as much as it happens on a broad-scale, it's more reflected in the relationship between the women and with the people in their lives. As much as it becomes a big time conspiracy, it's always grounded in the relationships, which is what makes the show deeply personal. There's not a lot of looking up at a big face of God, they're looking at the people in their lives to see who they can trust.
ETonline: I have to say, I really appreciate that your show caters to an intelligent viewer and doesn't feel the need to spoonfeed answers.
Maslany: Totally, and that's what I love about the writing. It's not dumbed down, it understands that our audience is willing to put in the time to get to know characters and we don't have to be immediately likable to be compelling. Orphan Black allows for people to have debates and theories and allegiances to different characters; to trust characters and hate other characters, but it doesn't tell you who is good or bad or right or wrong. That's the most exciting storytelling in my book. Some of my favorite shows are ones where the characters are vile and human and flawed. That's what makes me want to keep watching a show, not writers telling me how to feel about characters.
ETonline: And I think you really see in that in the show's choice to make Sarah the protagonist.
Maslany: Totally. She's a hustler and manipulative but at the same time, she's got this very loyal heart, is extremely vulnerable and utterly lost. It's a fascinating story to tell because it's not: "She's good and that's why you should root for her." I think we can recognize ourselves more in Sarah than a character who is cookie cutter perfect. I don't recognize myself in people like that and don't want to watch people like that. I would much rather watch someone who challenges my ideas of humanity and that's why I love Helena. As much as she could be deemed "evil," I feel a great compassion for her struggle. What is her past and what made her the way she is? That question is interesting to me.
ETonline: Well, how much will we learn about their past and what made them the way they are this season?
Maslany: I can't go into lots of detail, but we do peel back the layers. Every episode reveals something new, and answers a lot of questions -- but those answers open up new doors and pose new questions. All their worlds become very intertwined in the coming episodes and we get to know a lot more about Alison and Cosima, and they start to become lead characters as well. Not just support for Sarah.
ETonline: Will we meet more clones this season?
Maslany: I can't answer that! You have to tune in and see, but I won't say no [laughs].
ETonline: As the show continues on, there's a very good chance you could, eventually, have to play 20 different clones in a single scene. Have you thought about that?
Maslany: Honestly, I've tried to forget about that idea as much as I can because I've already got so much going on with these four characters. There is a fear in me that I could tap out on the number of people I can play, but then I get a new script and can just hear the voice, which is why our writers are so awesome. Plus, as a person, you keep experiencing new things, which make new facets of yourself available to pull from. I think that's the journey of an actor as well. I can't play a 40-year-old woman yet because I haven't lived that yet, but once I do, I'll have that power to pull from and all those experiences to draw from to make my characters richer. Hopefully I'll have lived enough this year so if we do come back, I can pull out a New York gangster clone for season two.
Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on BBC America.