Tatiana Maslany On Looking Herself In The Eye

Apr 18, 2014
Originally published on April 18, 2014 10:10 am

Tatiana Maslany plays Sarah — and some other people — on BBC America's sci-fi show Orphan Black. On Friday's Morning Edition, she speaks to Kelly McEvers about how she manages to play all those different women from different cultural backgrounds, not to mention women with different mixes of malevolence and likability. Technically, it's no picnic: Just ask the tennis ball that sometimes plays her head.

But it's not all about the technology: Maslany also talks about the discovery at the end of Orphan Black's first season that some of her characters may be, in a sense, someone else's property. "That always resonated for me as a woman to have this idea of our bodies not being our own," she says. "That they're owned by someone else. That the image of them is owned by someone else. I feel that's a very resonant theme for young women like myself, and especially women in this industry."

Orphan Black returns Saturday, April 19, at 9 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Back in the day, the only reason you might watch BBC America would be to watch reruns of British TV shows like "East Enders," but now the network's doing original programming too. They have a new hit with the sci-fi drama "Orphan Black." Its second season starts tomorrow. The show just won a Peabody Award. The committee called lead actress Tatiana Maslany a marvel.

The show starts with Maslany playing a British con artist named Sarah. She thinks she's an orphan, but then, she keeps discovering all these people who look exactly like her but have totally different personalities. She eventually learns they are clones, part of some weird science experiment. Here's the main character Sarah meeting one of her clones for the first time. This one's a Canadian soccer mom. And keep in mind, Maslany is playing both parts.


TATIANA MASLANY: (as Sarah) Please, just tell me who are we to each other.

(as clone) Are you kidding me? That is not my responsibility. You need to get out of here.

(as Sarah) Ey, Tell me what the hell...

(as clone) Let go, don't touch me.

MCEVERS: Maslany says she has a lot of the soccer mom in her. But the character she says she's most like is another clone named Cosima. She's a PhD student in evolutionary developmental biology, ...

MASLANY: (as clone) You need to get out of here.

(as Sarah) Oy, tell me what the hell is...

(as clone) Let go, don't touch me.

Maslany says she has a lot of the soccer mom in her. But the character she says she's most like is another clone named Cosima. She is a PhD student in evolutionary developmental biology, or evo-devo.


MCEVERS: And she's named after the science advisor to the show, right?

MASLANY: Yeah, that's right. Graeme Manson, who's one of the creators of the show, his good friend Cosima is who we sort of base the character on. And I just watched her talk about clones and the way she talked about science was the same way that I've seen my friends talk about art.

MCEVERS: By the end of the first season, Maslany ends up playing seven different clones, from all over the world. Each one has her own look, mannerism, speech, some of them have different accents.

MASLANY: I studied French, German and Spanish and ancient Greek. I don't know why, that was a total misstep.


MASLANY: Never used it.

MCEVERS: Super useful, yeah.

MASLANY: Yeah. Super useful.

MCEVERS: Because, you know, a couple characters, one's Ukranian, one's German.


MCEVERS: Maslany says she's made a playlist for each clone and the way she gets into character is to listen to the music.

MASLANY: Music, to me, moves me so differently depending on what kind of music it is. It changes my mood, it changes my sort of - my physicality, everything. So I've used music for each specific character, like Sarah, the sort of English punk girl. You know, a lot of The Clash, the Streets, Dizzy Rascal, the Prodigy and stuff like that. "Breathe" was the song that was kind of her heartbeat.


MASLANY: It was dancing around, being inspired by the music and allowing it to change the way that I stood or the way that I moved. And I knew that I had to differentiate these women, I knew that I couldn't kind of do the same thing for each of them.

MCEVERS: There are so many scenes in the show where you are interacting with yourself, you know, sometimes even three different versions of you. I mean at some points you're just like sitting on the couch but other points you're, like, fighting with yourself.

MASLANY: Uh-huh.

MCEVERS: I mean how, technically, does this happen?

MASLANY: We use a specific camera that's called the Techno Dolly which memorizes camera movements and then I'm - it's so hard to explain this early in the morning, but it involves me being there and looking at often a tennis ball across from me and sort of watching the tennis ball walk across the room.

MCEVERS: So basically this robot camera just kind of memorizes the moves in both scenes so you can synch it up later in the editing room.


MCEVERS: Is that an OK way to describe it?

MASLANY: That's a really OK way to describe it. And, you know, we can also watch back the playback on the day because the technology is so advanced. We can actually see when my eyeline isn't - you know, if I'm looking at my hand instead of at my face or if, you know, or if I'm looking at...

MCEVERS: And you just have to retake it.

MASLANY: Exactly. And so it's very specific and very detailed.

MCEVERS: It's clearly a really fun and challenging project, but do you also think it's important, I mean in the way that a sci-fi show can be? Do you think this is something that's kind of a conversation about science and what we may be able to do with our bodies in the future?

MASLANY: To me the clones represent the many ways our lives could go, the many possibilities for any one person. And to me it's interesting to - at the end of season one we sort of find out that the clones have been patented and that always resonated for me as a woman to have this idea of our bodies not being our own.

There's this media ownership over the images of women's bodies and there's such an emphasis on your body representing who you are and defining who you are and also fitting into a specific box. And I feel that's a very resonant theme for young women like myself, and especially women in this industry.


MCEVERS: Tatiana Maslany is the star of "Orphan Black." The new season starts Saturday on BBC America. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.