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'Orphan Black' Is Back: Send In the Clones
April 17, 2014  | By Donna J. Plesh

[Editor's Note: TVWW contributor Donna J. Plesh died April 2, 2015, from ovarian cancer. She was 71. Donna covered television since the early 1980s, initially for the Orange County Register and its TV magazine. She also was a member of the Television Critics Association. Donna was always a cheerful spirit within the TVWW network and often gave readers a kind, up-close viewpoint in her interviews with a wide variety of television stars. She will be missed.]

A little more than a year ago, BBC America premiered the Canadian-produced science fiction drama/thriller Orphan Black, starring Tatiana Maslany, and it’s finally returning for Season 2, Saturday, April 19 at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

The series received a prestigious Peabody Award earlier this month to add to its growing list of accolades. For her performance, Maslany won the Television Critics Association 2013 Individual Achievement in Drama Award, a 2013 Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama Series. Not to mention the ultimate accolade: a devoted legion of fans who call themselves The Clone Club.

Maslany says she is amazed at all the critical acclaim and awards for herself and the show.

“I mean, first off, we were completely sort of blown away by the critical — or I was at least — by the critical response that we received. We’re a niche, odd, little show that could have kind of fallen under the radar. I think because TV critics and because bloggers and the Clone Club and all these people were talking about it, it got it out to a wider audience because, I think, in second repeats it sort of had an even bigger following.

“And it’s wild to sort of be seen differently, I guess, or have more visibility, but it’s rewarding. I’m an actor and I like having attention. There’s a reason I like being on stage. There’s a reason I like being in front of a camera, and it’s that interaction. You know, especially on stage, it’s the interaction with the audience. It’s that feedback, that response, and we’re living in a world where the response is kind of really instantaneous even though it’s delayed by a few months, but it comes at you pretty fast, and it’s rewarding to hear that people enjoy the show,” she added.

The series centers on Sarah Manning (Maslany), an orphan, an outsider, moving aimlessly through life. The premiere found Sarah in a subway station, where she saw a woman, who looked strangely like her, commit suicide by throwing herself in front of a train. The woman, whom we later learned was named Beth, left behind her purse, which Sarah quickly snatched up -- along with Beth’s identity, her bank account and her boyfriend, Paul (Dylan Bruce).

As the story unraveled and the mystery deepened, Sarah discovered she was a clone, as was the dead woman and three other women:  Alison, Cosima and Rachel. Adding to the intrigue, Sarah found out that there were dangerous factions at work set on capturing all the clones. She forged an alliance with Alison and together they’ve been fighting for their freedom and the safety of their loved ones, including Sarah’s young daughter Kira.

In the challenging multiple roles, Maslany plays all the clones — there were seven in Season 1, three of whom are dead for Season 2. Being on-screen so much of the time as one clone or another, the work can be formidable at times, says Maslany.

“It was daunting to come back to it (for Season 2) because I knew kind of what to expect, and I knew how much work it was going to be and just kind of the physical and the emotional sort of challenge of it. But at the same time there was a sense of, ‘OK, so we’ve done this’ so there’s not that pressure of will this work or whatever, will people buy the kind of gimmick of it,” she said in an interview.

The actress is interested in exploring the role(s) even more in Season 2. “I think that’s, to me, what was exciting about coming back for Season 2. I love all these characters so much, and Graeme (Manson, co-creator, writer and executive producer) and all the writers have continued to deepen it and flesh out the worlds of each of the clones (there is at least one new one in season two) and that, to me, was what was so exciting.

"I know these women now, so it’s just about going deeper with it and challenging them and stretching them and not getting stuck in, ‘OK, you know, I’m just going to do the Alison thing.’ It’s like, what about Alison going in that direction? What happens when she’s thrown into this situation? And we left them all at very tense places, kind of high stakes places, so there was so much to work with and the challenge of it continues every day. It’s what keeps me absolutely obsessed with the show and with the job and so grateful for it, too,” she said.

Playing so many different roles can be challenging, but for Maslany certain clone characters were more difficult than others.

“The one who scared me the most was Alison, because when I was doing the auditions and sort of approaching the characters for the first time because, for some reason, I wasn’t willing to admit that she is so much a part of me. She was kind of a scary thing to admit to being so that she was a hard one to kind of dig into or find the sympathy or the empathy for initially and, now, I love her.

"And I found Rachel to be really daunting as well, because of her entitlement and her wealth and her power, her kind of quiet power and, yeah, it terrified me. But that’s what’s so awesome about this show is that I get to try these things out that probably nobody would cast me in normally. I don’t think a lot of people would come to me for power CEO characters, so it’s really great to get to try it out,” she added.

And just how is the audience able to see so many personalities on-screen at once when Maslany is portraying clones talking with one another?

“We do it one character at a time so we have to block it all out beforehand so that we know exactly what’s going to happen, because it’s such a technical, structured sort of process. So, yes, I’ll block it as one character, figure out and make sure that it’s all good, and sort of pre-empt what the response might be on the other side in order to block that character as well. And then we’ll shoot, say, Alison for the first take, and we’ll do all of Alison’s stuff and her coverage and everything, and then I’ll leave, go change for an hour and a half and come back and do Sarah and respond to everything that happened. And we have the cue takes so we get to watch back exactly what happened. We get to kind of time it properly,” she added. 

Maslany says playing the Sarah character has taught her a great deal, and she has begun to adapt some of those lessons to her own life. “I’ve learned a lot from Sarah — from her strength and … she’s just such a survivor and she’s so gutsy with how she goes about getting what she wants and surviving.  For me I’ve learned a lot from her in that way. And I think she comes up in life when I need her, I guess, which seems really arty but it’s true. You know those characters because you’re revealing something about yourself in a more exaggerated, maybe more fleshed-out way. I think it awakens something in you that maybe you didn’t know you had,” she said.

Even after one full season, Maslany says her many characters on the series continue to reveal themselves so she still isn’t clear on each personality. Far from it.

“Honestly, no, I don’t think so. I still think we’re discovering it because it is such a unique premise and such a unique challenge for all of us. And I think as writers, too, it poses certain challenges, and I think getting comfortable with it would be dangerous. I think as artists you always want to push yourself to, ‘OK, so I feel I know this about myself or I know this about my work, but what’s the next thing?’

"There’s got to be something else. There’s new territory. There’s always new territory. And maybe, technically, I’ve become more comfortable in the clone scenes but you just have to keep digging deeper and pushing further, and I think that’s what keeps us inspired,” she said.
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