Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany on Shooting in the Arctic and Making a Boston Marathon Bombing Movie With Jake Gyllenhaal

Photo: Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

We all already know that Tatiana Maslany has some serious range, being that she's played an array of clones on BBC America's Orphan Black. But this year at Cannes she got to show off her intimate side, as well as some serious Canadian winter fortitude, in director Kim Nguyen's Two Lovers and a Bear, which sees Maslany as a woman who sets off on a trek through the North Pole with her boyfriend (Dane DeHaan) to leave behind their small town and her mysterious past. We caught up with Maslany and talked about her snowy adventures, post–Orphan Black film plans, and working with Jake Gyllenhaal on 2017's sure-to-be-devastating Boston Marathon bombing drama, Stronger.

At this point do you know there will be a season five of Orphan Black?
We don't know yet. It's looking hopeful but we're not sure yet.

It's insane you haven't won an Emmy for your performance in the show. I read somewhere that someone called it Olympics-level acting. How do you stay in fighting shape?
I feel like it's a natural thing for actors to do to want to play characters. People who do one-woman or one-man shows, or sketch comedians — lots of people are interested in stretching who they can be, changing their aesthetic, changing their internal mechanisms to tell a story differently. I think it's a natural thing for actors.

Do you relate to one clone more than the other?
Sometimes, yeah. It kind of depends who I'm playing or what they're going through, but I definitely like Sarah or Cosima as kind of my vibe. Sarah I've just kind of grown up with over the years. She's always felt like the heartbeat to me. And Cosima has a similar energy to me. She's interesting people. Alison, too. I don't know. They're all bits of me. I relate to all of them.

You've got such limited time with the show you must have to think strategically about what films you choose to do.
I wish I could have a strategy about it, but for me it's about what turns me on. What makes me excited and scared, and also what's challenging and different.

Like playing young Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold last year?
That was amazing. She's such an incredible actor and to be a part of that story [Mirren plays an 80-something Jewish refugee who takes on the Austrian government to recover artworks that belonged to her family], and to speak German throughout the whole film, and to work with [director] Simon Curtis — all those things contributed to why I was kind of desperate to do that part.

Get any advice on how to be more like Helen Mirren?
She was just, like, "Make this character your own. Don't worry about what I'm doing. You bring her to life, I'll bring her to life. If we're true to the script, people will understand that that's the same woman." So she was very much about giving me ownership of that character.

So what turned you on about Two Lovers and a Bear?
I read the script during shooting last season of Orphan Black, and it was so intriguing and poetic and beautiful, and dark and funny at the same time. It had this element of surrealism in it. And Kim Nguyen did this film, War Witch, that was just incredible. So well-observed. It just felt like I was getting to witness a slice of a person's life. And then the possibility of working opposite Dane DeHaan. He's one of the coolest actors. He's so transformative and so compelling and magnetic.

What were the shooting conditions like? Because it's supposed to take place in the North Pole.
Well, it shot in Nunavut, the northernmost province of Canada, which is, like, the Arctic. I was in electric long underwear.

I didn't even know they made that.
Oh, yeah, baby. When you live in Canada, you're very aware of electric long underwear.

Did you grow up under similar conditions?
I'm from Saskatchewan, which is a province in the middle of the country. Very unpopulated. There's like a million people and it's bigger than Britain. It's huge, and it gets very cold. So I was kind of used to this sort of climate, but I wasn't used to the landscape. The landscape is, like, lunar. It's so beautiful. There are no trees and it's mostly craters of ice everywhere. Just white, for as far as you can see. Silence. There's very little light pollution, so you can see the northern lights. It's very magical.

Did you have any moments of danger? Of getting too cold or almost falling into an ice crater?
Or getting eaten by a polar bear? Because we worked with a polar bear. There was an element of danger there!

Yeah, they seem so sweet, but they're ferocious, right?
Their paws are like the size of your body! They will squish you. They will eat you alive. They're very vicious. So, yeah, that was pretty cool and thrilling. And we snowmobiled to set every day. We'd drive to a certain point and then we'd have to Ski-Doo to get to the location, which was always over ice rocks and stuff like that. It was the coolest thing ever. And we got to build an igloo with everybody.

I don't remember that from the film.
It's not on film. It was just, like, for fun. [Laughs] It was just an outing. We got to witness throat-singing, which is this beautiful, Inuit singing style that happens in the throat. It's like partner singing. It's so amazing. Oh, and we ate arctic charred caribou.

That you caught yourselves?
We didn't catch it ourselves [Laughs]. We had friends — lots of people opened their doors to us. We got to meet so many cool people. It's just the journey of two people who are in love and have to escape, to go south, trying to get away from their past. It's really simply told, and I think the landscape and the location and the love between these two characters is the main focus of the film.

How did you actually do any work with that polar bear?
Very carefully! There was an electric fence around her, that you can't see in the movie, so she wouldn't come at us. You just have to be careful, listen to the trainer, and make sure you weren't, like, waving food in her face.

You also had another movie at a festival this year, The Other Half, which got great reviews out of SXSW. You were a bipolar woman who falls in love with a depressed man, played by Tom Cullen, right?
Yeah. It was directed by Joey Klein, a first-time feature director and one of my best friends. And Tom Cullen, an amazing actor. We're all very close, and we've been attached to this project for like five years and finally got to make it. It was sort of a passion project for all of us. I've never had such a stake in a project before; I was a producer on it, too, so it was just so cool to go to SXSW and see it with an audience and talk to people afterwards.

It's also a super-intimate two-hander, like Two Lovers and a Bear. Are really simple stories with tiny casts something you need to take a break from the complexity of Orphan Black?
I think it's more a break from the kinetic nature of it. I'm doing a movie right now with Jake Gyllenhaal called Stronger, directed by David Gordon Green. Jake's the lead. He plays Jeff Bauman, who was one of the people affected by the Boston Marathon bomber, and I play his girlfriend — now his wife, Erin — and I really love getting to work that intimately with another actor. I've been lucky to work with incredible scene partners and I've learned so much on these projects. Not having to switch between characters and carry the whole thing by myself can be really nice.

Has it been emotional filming in Boston?
Yeah, I mean it's such recent history. And the marathon was happening when we were there recently, so it's very sensitive. Obviously it's a horrific thing that happened. But the cool thing about that city, and getting to know the people in that city, and going to, you know, a Red Sox game or a Bruins game, it's just feeling the spirit of the city and how much they — this story is important to them. It means something to them and it's really incredible the way that they've supported it. There's a huge responsibility on us in telling this story and making sure that it's defending what happened to these people.

Did you and Jake meet Jeff and Erin? A girlfriend role isn't something I'd expect you to want to play.
Yeah, we've hung out quite a few times. We went to Red Sox things with them. She is such a strong woman. She really is a large part of why he's able to survive this thing. She's an incredibly powerful person and had to withstand a lot of difficulty to get to where they are. It's very much an equal thing, the two of them. It's not the girlfriend who's just kind of there, being an accessory. She's very much her own person.

So does Jake basically have to act without his legs?
Yeah, there are a lot of different rigs and things like that, and CG that will be put in later. His transformation's amazing. He's such a physical actor and he's so committed to that character. He really understands commitment and integrity. 

And then what about right now, once you're done shooting Stronger?
Then I'm going to chill I think, for a little bit. Just hang with my friends in Toronto, because that's my favorite thing in the world. A lot of them have babies, so I just want to, like, be covered in a pile of babies.