You'll be seeing a lot of actress Titiana Maslany on her new series, Orphan Black, which premieres tomorrow on BBC America. And not just because she's the star. The new series, about a down-on-her-luck woman named Sarah who realizes she's a clone, means Maslany will be popping up all over the series as her various clone characters.
Orphan Black is “unlike anything that has ever been on TV. It's funny, it's dark, it's full of complicated characters who aren't instantly likable, who aren't cut and dried, who aren't black and white, who aren't good or evil,” said Maslany in an exclusive interview with Blastr. “It doesn't spoonfeed you. It's going to challenge you. It's going to confuse you. ... It's just so weird. It's got its own universe. It's got its own sense of humor. It's got its own rules. I think that's the kind of specific universe people can really, really dive into.”
Maslany plays Sarah, a troubled woman whose daughter has been taken away from her, who sees someone who looks exactly like her commit suicide. Shocked, Sarah makes a rash decision to grab the woman's purse and goes to her apartment. However, once she gets pulled into the woman's life, she discovers it's not so easy to get out, especially when she turns out to be a clone who's at the center of a mysterious conspiracy.
“Sarah, the lead girl that I play, is incredibly complex and fascinating on her own,” said the Canadian actress. “ I would have been happy to just play her. But it's totally an actor's dream to get to play this many roles and so many well-written characters as well. The show is a sci-fi show, but I've always seen it as a character piece. That's what grounds it and makes it even more compelling, is that the characters are so complex and well-written and funny and dark and everything.”
According to Maslany, “Sarah's on such an incredible journey on the show. At the start we see her and she's come back from a life that she's trying to get away from [something] that was really rough and really difficult. She made a lot of bad decisions and she's trying to redeem herself, in a way,” she said.
Sarah's decision to take over the life of the woman, Beth, who died, seems at first like it might solve all her problems. “Beth had money, Beth had a hot boyfriend who seemed to care about her. She had this gorgeous house. What problems could she have? I think the more Sarah gets to know Beth's life by being her, the more she discovers how nobody's life is perfect. There's a sense of empathy that she develops for this woman who's so vastly different from her,” said Maslany.
Becoming Beth, however, only complicates her desire to get back into her daughter's life and be a mother again. “That's her goal, and every part of her body wants to be that. She's not equipped to do it. She has never been a mother in a traditional sense. She never had the education, as far as life experience goes, to be that still, stable person that a child needs. I think that's what's so wonderful about Sarah's journey. It can sustain contradiction. Every part of her wants to be a mother, and absolutely every part of her is screaming that she can't do that. She's not worthy of that. So in terms of 'Who am I?' and 'Can I change?' and 'Can I be different?' and 'Can I be better?', it's something we can all relate to, even though it's not written out in layman's terms like that. It's the overarching concept behind the story,” she said.
But, of course, Orphan Black goes beyond Sarah's story. Playing clones proved a joy and a challenge, especially when it comes to playing multiple versions of herself, often within the same scene.
“My brain didn't really stop going. I would go home and still be working in my sleep, because you can't really shut off your brain when you've got that many people buzzing around in it. That sounds so actor-y, but it's totally that way. I'm always thinking, 'How can I explore these people more? How can I develop them further?' And I can't just focus on one of them. I have to keep a few of them in my head. So, yeah, it's so bizarre having finished it now. It feels like it was a big dream,” said Maslany.
The other part of the equation was even more of a challenge. “It's a technical nightmare. It's ridiculous. It's a kind of camera that's called the Techno-Dolly. I don't know if that's the technical term or just a cute term that we use for it. You basically have to shoot three passes, or four or five, or however many passes until we get the camera move correct. And then basically everybody else leaves the scene except for me, and I start talking to the X on the wall over there. It's a really surreal experience. I mean, the whole show was an insane challenge, but being present within a very highly technical, specific environment is something that I was really struggling with sometimes. As an actor, you want to be able to listen and adapt and play and change things up, but when you have to stick to the same thing, you almost have to pre-empt your improv or predetermine your responses or your reactions.”
But it wasn't all a challenge. “The coolest thing about it is that it captures you back into your imagination and all that stuff that as a kid you fostered. We could believe we were one thing so quickly and we could believe we were something else the next second as kids. And then as adults, that means you're crazy. But as an actor, you kind of have to go back to that place of total imagination and playfulness and openness. This job is really great for reminding you of that wonderful place that is creativity and believing something is there when it's not,” she said.
Here's a look at Orphan Black:
Orphan Black premieres on Saturday, March 30, at 9 p.m. on BBC America.
Will you watch?