Emmy Watch: Tatiana Maslany shows many shades in 'Orphan Black'

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Image Credit: BBC America

Leading up to today’s deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com is featuring interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.

Could BBC America’s addictive new drama Orphan Black hold the flag for classic sci-fi when Emmy nominations roll around? Tatiana Maslany, the show’s captivating and chameleon-like star,¬†sure hopes they can.

“It would be so amazing if the show got nominated or we got out there; I think people would be really excited about that because so many incredible sci-fi-shows go under the radar and don’t get taken seriously in award season,” she says. “But I think sci-fi definitely belongs there because it tells sort of subversive stories about society without hitting you over the head. It puts very real stories into the context of a fantastical world, so there’s a sense of escapism but there’s also a sense of, ‘This isn’t far from our reality.'”

Reality has just started to set in for the newcomer, who has burst onto the scene to become a dark horse contender for a nomination this Emmy season. In a Q&A with EW, she talks about the show’s success and some of her most challenging scenes. And with seven different roles, she had plenty to choose from!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you first scored this role and saw how many parts you were going to be playing, did you feel from the offset it was going to be such a lauded and special role? 
MASLANY: I didn’t see any further in the future than trying to get the part. I was just so hungry for this challenge and this role. I didn’t really think about how it would be received or anything. I kind of assumed it could sort of fall by the wayside because not a lot of stuff that I’ve done has really had this sort of reach. So I never expected anything like this. And, you know, I think I was aware that it could go totally wrong because it’s kind of a [detailed concept], and I’m kind of putting myself out there quite completely. So I was a little nervous about it, but I loved the writing, and I knew the way the show was being shot was full of integrity and artistry. I just felt like it was a very special piece regardless of what people were going to say about it. I was very proud of what we’d done.

The thing everyone is talking about this season is, obviously, that you played seven different roles on the show. Tough question time: Who’s your favorite?
That’s an impossible question. I love all of them, and they’re all really special to me. I think that’s the cool thing about it; there wasn’t one that I was rooting for. Like, I was asked the question, “Do you think it was good Helena died?,” and I was seeing it from both Helena and Sarah’s perspective so I couldn’t get a clear idea of what I thought about it because I was seeing it from two different perspectives. They’re all fully formed on the page and fully formed characters. I can’t pick!

Every clone had several great moments throughout the season. Which ones stand out to you?
There was a lot of different stuff that came out throughout the season that was a challenge. Episode 9 was such a challenge all around because you see Helena — I’m trying not to confuse the episodes — but I think that’s where we see her in the cage; Sarah’s in the hospital, praying for her daughters life; Cosima and Delphine come to a head; and Alison has her intervention. So it was a huge episode and hugely dramatic and all the clones got pushed to the extreme and pushed to their limits. I was also pooped at that point. Thankfully my body was available to me still and I was able to be there and be present. But it was a tough episode. We also got introduced to Rachel in that episode. Even though it was just one line, it still meant I had to have her completely prepped for that day, so that was another challenge that episode brought forth.

Then you had those episode where a clone would impersonate another clone, which you’ve talked a bit about. But were any of those particularly challenging?
I think Alison playing Sarah, I was really scared of it because it can get a bit camp because Alison can be a bit camp sometimes. So that was actually really fun to play. Playing Helena being in the police station was really fun and really challenging because you don’t want to overplay it and you don’t want it to look like a farce. So playing those levels was really fun. Also, Helena was way left of a talented mimic than Sarah or Alison. She’s sort of outside societal norms so she wouldn’t know how to mimic somebody very well. That was fun to play with as well.

I thought it was so brilliant when Helena grabbed the muffin off Beth’s desk and started eating it because I was screaming, “You’re giving yourself away!”
Totally! Her little animal impulse comes out.

I have to ask you about those impulses. There’s this one scene where Helena is eating jello at the diner with Sarah, and I was completely grossed-out by how she consumed that jello. Tell me about filming that scene.
Afterward, because I actually put sugar on it and we’d shot for like an hour, I’ve never felt so high on sugar in my life! I was, like, vibrating and talking 700 miles a minute because I was so jacked up on sugar. That’s all I can remember of that day.

I feel like this show does a great job of servicing to many characters, like you said, but is there one twist or moment that shocked you?
I think when Helena killed Amelia, her birth mother, that was a pretty shocking twist for me to read. And it was fun to play because there are so many levels to it, and it felt symbolic, in a way, of Helena’s abandonment. The way she goes about so viciously killing her [mother] was just shocking. And also Alison letting Aynsley die. Wow, I am still in shock that happened, in the best way. It pushed Alison to a whole new level.

It also added a new rawness to that character. I mean, during her “torture scene” she used a glue gun.
Totally. And safety scissors! But this was real. The cool thing about Alison, in my head, is that she’s in a constant state of denial and it’s her happiest place to be. So to have been denying something this huge and raw, she’s going to have to work very hard to push down and that’s going to be fun to play.

Read more:
Emmy Watch: Michael Cudlitz on being handcuffed in his underwear for ‘Southland’
Emmy Watch: Parker Posey on channeling Ruth Gordon in ‘Louie’

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