Maslany, named by Variety to its 2013 list of “10 actors to watch,” talks about the buzz surrounding her breakout hit series, Orphan Black.
Actress Tatiana Maslany
Tavis: Tatiana Maslany has the distinction of playing not one role but eight different characters, clones of each other, in fact, in the hit breakout BBC America series “Orphan Black.”
It’s a performance that won her the prestigious Individual Achievement award from the Television Critics Association and has put her on the short list of predictions for this year’s best actress Emmy nominations. We’ll start our conversation first with a look at a scene from “Orphan Black.”
Tavis: I told my crew I don’t know if we should set out one chair or seven chairs. (Laughter)
Tatiana Maslany: Just a whole line of them down there, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah, a whole lot of chairs. (Laughter) So let me get this out of the way right quick. So what can you tell me about this new clone, Jennifer? Okay, nothing? Let’s move on.
Maslany: Yeah, exactly, exactly. (Laughter) Absolutely nothing.
Tavis: Is there anything you can tell me about –
Maslany: About Jennifer?
Tavis: Yeah, the new one?
Maslany: Yeah. Jennifer sort of holds a mirror up to Cosima’s condition and sort of allows Cosima to see the potential for what could be going on inside her body, and what her future could be.
So she really, Cosima’s facing her mortality this season, and Jennifer is a large part of that.
Tavis: So you’re young, you’re beautiful, you’re vibrant, you’re brilliant, and I suspect all that allows you to play so many characters. But how difficult, how tough must that be?
Maslany: It’s, yeah – I mean, as an actor, it’s a dream. It’s so much fun. It’s tough, but it’s only tough because it’s technically a bit of a nightmare. But I think any actor would dive into it with joy and with gratitude.
It’s a dream role, and it’s written so well and so specifically. Each character has their own voice and their own life and their own dreams, and so it’s just really, it’s just fun.
Tavis: It also seems to be like a writer’s paradise.
Tavis: If you’re a writer on this show, the latitude and the leeway to write these characters must seem endless.
Maslany: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s that fun thing of working with the same canvas, so to speak, but getting to explore it in different ways. I think the hair/makeup team and the wardrobe team does the same thing.
They kind of work with the blank slate of me, but then get to, how can they change how my face looks, how can they change the structure of things, how can they help me express these people differently. It’s very much a collaboration with all of us.
Tavis: TV projects work like the speed of sound. You guys are constantly working on the next episode, the next show. I get all that. So how do you find the time, what’s your process – this sounds like an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” question.
Maslany: I love it. (Laughter)
Tavis: What’s your methodology, given the condensed time you have, to get into who the character is while the makeup folk are doing their stuff to make you look different? How do you find the time to get into the inner beings of the character?
Maslany: It’s a lot of work ahead of time, but then it’s just – I did a lot of improv as a young person, and continue to use improv as the kind of basis for how I work and how I live, which is just saying yes.
Saying yes to the craziness of the situation. If I kind of thought about it too much it would be like oh, no, I’m not this person. If any actor overthinks things they’re just going to destroy the suspension of disbelief, right?
So for me it’s just about saying yes to committing to the craziness and to playing and having fun in it, and knowing that all these people are within me.
Tavis: Have they put this – just between the two of us –
Tavis: Just between you and me –
Maslany: Yeah, us – shut off the cameras.
Tavis: Yeah. Have they put anything in front of you and you said you know what, that’s a clone I can’t play?
Maslany: Oh, God, I feel like I’m constantly faced with these challenges of I don’t think – when Alison at the end of season one watches Aynsley die, I was like no, no, no, no, no. No way that, she would never do that, blah, blah, blah.
I just realized that no, that’s such a gift. To get something where you’re going no first is like no, you have to do it then. You have to go into those things that are scary.
Tavis: I thought I read somewhere that when you’re on the set, oftentimes, depending on which character you’re playing, you listen to – you love music.
Tavis: But you’re listening to different types of music that might be collaborative with the character you’re playing. Does that make sense?
Maslany: Yeah, yeah, totally.
Tavis: Is that a true story?
Maslany: That’s fact. That is science fact.
Tavis: So if you’re rocking dreads, you’re listening to Bob Marley or somebody?
Maslany: No, I’m listening to, like, electro and, like, ravey music, ambient music. Yeah, there’s a lot of different styles of music that are used for each of the characters. And it’s just –
Tavis: What’s the music do for you while you’re trying to get into that head space?
Maslany: It’s like an internal rhythm of the character. We all have like a rhythm to our thoughts or to our movement or to our whatever, just like a kind of sense of us that can be attributed to music, I feel.
Dance has always been a really important thing for me, so being able to physically express the characters through music and dance is like another layer to things.
Like Alison’s internal music is musical theater, so it gives her that sense of drama and that sense of heightened thing. Like for me, musical theater is very emotional and very wrought, and so she has that going on, but she kind of pushes it down. But it’s still, like, buzzing in there.
Tavis: Have you done musical theater in your past?
Maslany: Yes. Yeah, I love it, I love it. I did it when I was a kid and I’m scared of it now, but I love it. (Laughter)
Tavis: Why are you scared now?
Maslany: Because it –
Tavis: You can play everything now, anybody.
Maslany: No, no, no, no, singing’s tough. Singing is a hard thing, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. I ask that question in part, Tatiana, because Hollywood is infamous, as you know, for making you all seem like overnight sensations, like this all just happened in the last 24, 48 hours.
Tavis: When one gets into your back story, they realize you’ve been doing this since you were nine?
Maslany: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Tavis: So before we discovered you through this wonderful series, what were you doing?
Maslany: I was doing all kinds of things. I worked since I was nine, so I’ve been doing theater, TV, film, lots of indie film.
Tavis: From Canada.
Maslany: Yeah, yeah, all over Canada and in the States a little bit as well. But yeah, just working. It’s nice to be on a project that kind of gets me over here, because you guys have a lot of say in what goes on, yeah.
Tavis: What do you – not that you have anything to do about it or do with it, because you have to look at the stuff that is coming your way that makes sense for you as a thespian.
But what do you make of the fact that this becomes the vehicle that introduces you to all the rest of us?
Maslany: Yeah, it’s excellent. Anything that – I’m so grateful it’s this job, too, because I feel like I took this job because I loved the acting challenge of it, and I knew it was a big risk.
I also feel like I can’t really be typecast because of it, that hopefully – well, unless people just approach me with multiple characters (laughter) and I just do that for the rest of my life.
Tavis: But that ain’t the worst thing, though.
Maslany: Yeah, right.
Tavis: So what is it about the show that works for the audience? You have a growing audience. It’s blown up social media. There’s a hashtag, #cloneclub.
Maslany: #Cloneclub and the Clonesbians, yeah.
Tavis: I see that everywhere.
Tavis: What do you think about this is resonating for the audience?
Maslany: I think a lot of our fans are young women, and I think there’s something really exciting about seeing a story about a whole bunch of young women that maybe they can relate to one over another, or they can find something in themselves in each of them.
I think it’s unique in that way. It’s a woman’s story, even though it’s a universal human story, it is from the female perspective, and I think that’s really unique and important.
Tavis: Unique and important – is that empowering for you in some way?
Maslany: Absolutely, absolutely, and I think the writers give the complexity to these women the same way they would to any character and to any man. We need more of that.
Tell you a little inside joke. Don’t tell my staff I told you this.
Tavis: But I was looking at a list the other day in our office about your coming on the show, and somebody had made a mistake and they had written on the rundown that you were the star of “Black Orphan.”
Maslany: Right, always. (Laughter) I always get that. I’m like (makes face).
Tavis: I said, “No, I know some Black orphans.”
Maslany: Yeah, it’s a different thing.
Tavis: A different thing, though.
Maslany: Yeah. (Laughter)
Tavis: This is “Orphan Black.”
Maslany: This is “Orphan Black,” yeah.
Tavis: On BBC America. It stars Tatiana Maslany, and as seven, eight different people. You’re getting all the paychecks, huh?
Maslany: I am. Just raking it in.
Tavis: Just raking – (laughter).
Maslany: Yeah. Just rolling in it.
Tavis: I’m delighted to have you on for the first time, hopefully not the last.
Maslany: I hope so.
Tavis: Good to see you, Tatiana.
Maslany: Yeah, thank you.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
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