There’s never been a performance on television quite like Tatiana Maslany’s on Orphan Black. A chameleon in every sense of the word, she’s managed to create not one, but nine memorable performances in the span of its two seasons, oftentimes playing opposite herself. When she was overlooked for an Emmy nomination last year, fans of the show created a stir, and rightfully so — she’s delivering intricate performances on one of the most exciting sci-fi/action shows around. And with a co-starring role in the time-spanning Helen Mirren/Ryan Reynolds movie Woman in Gold, and the third season of Orphan Black premiering across all AMC networks this Saturday, Maslany’s busier than ever. Vulture spoke with her on a short break from shooting her next film.
Are you somewhere very freezing right now? I saw on Twitter you posted pictures from like a snow, tundra place.
I am in a snow, tundra place. It’s the northernmost territory of Canada. So like, arctic.
It looked like you were in an igloo at one point?
Yeah, we had a friend who took us out and taught us how to build an igloo.
Wow, so that’s where you are right now.
Yes, I’m about to get into an igloo.
You’re shooting a movie up there?
Yeah, I’m filming a movie called Two Lovers and a Bear. It’s an awesome script written by Kim Nguyen and I’m working with an amazing actor named Dane DeHaan.
So, I’m going to ask you some clone-y questions right now, which I’m sure you’re overwhelmed with.
One thing I’ve always been curious about: When you’re first establishing a clone character, how many steps does it take to put together? Do you have the director, the writer, the costume people, the makeup people, all throwing things into the hat with you?
Yeah, it’s definitely a very collaborative thing, and all of them approach it in a different way. When I first signed on to the series the writers had projected like five different clones that we were definitely going to see, but then Rachel came in at the end as kind of a surprise. And [the writers] wanted to figure her out with me, like where was she from, what was her look, who she was. And hair and makeup have sometimes taken a character in a fully opposite direction than what we’d talked about initially.
Like Helena was a full hair and makeup 360. I think she was supposed to have black hair, black makeup running down her face or something. And then hair and makeup came out with this sort of blonde hair, angel/demon look that sort of shocked everybody and was just perfect.
I imagine you have read-throughs and rehearsals and the clones go through a lot of iterations before you settle on their personalities.
Yeah, I think they’re like any character for me. It takes a while to get to know them. The most important part is just being on set and doing it, and taking in the responses of the actors opposite me and seeing what they give. You know, Jordan Gavaris [who plays Felix] will treat me completely differently depending on who I’m playing, and that really informs a lot of my character. So there’s a real collaboration.
And there’s an actor who works with you during those clone scenes so you have someone to play off of, right?
Yeah, Kathryn Alexandre. I’m so lucky to have her because she’s such a cool, strong actor, with so many awesome ideas. I remember this pivotal scene in the tenth episode of season two with Sarah and Helena, and Kathryn was playing Helena and improvising all these awesome little moments, and they all survived. They all became part of the scene. So when I turned around and did Helena I stole lots from her. I really owe her a lot in terms of character creation.
I remember reading about the complicated machine that you guys use to shoot those clone scenes. Did that take a while to get used to as an actor?
Yeah, it’s a beast. It’s an amazing technology, and it’s made the show make so much sense, but it takes a lot of time, and it’s always an interesting process. Highly technical, but you also want to keep everything real so it doesn’t turn us all into robots.
I loved that trippy dance sequence with all the clones from the finale of last season, but I imagined it took a very long time to shoot.
It took two full days. It was ridiculous. But so much fun to get to do it.
The scene ended up feeling almost Lynchian in its weirdness.
I love that that was the vibe.
You listen to music to inform a lot of your performances, right? So you probably already knew how each clone would dance.
Yeah, it was definitely a fun public exploration of stuff I usually do in a more private space.
At the end of shooting days, do you have methods to unwind or do you just want to go pass the fuck out?
I wish I knew how to pass the fuck out. [Laughs.] I don’t know how. I usually just go home and bounce off the walls for an hour or two. It’s such a kinetic job that it sort of doesn’t really let me go until I’m far away.
Do you get to watch other TV at all?
Not too much, honestly. I’m just starting Silicon Valley, which is awesome. I’ve always been a big Portlandia fan. And I watched a really cool British series called Southcliffe recently. It’s really dark and cinematic. But mostly I’m kind of … not watching TV.
You come from an improv comedy background. I think a lot of performers who come from improv can struggle with the “acting craft” side of performance and taking the dramatic side of it seriously. Did you ever wrestle with that?
To me they’re not mutually exclusive in any way. I think you sort of approach improv with a sense of openness and a sense of play that’s kind of only reserved for children. It’s such a playful place, and as an actor I approach everything that way. Just because it has a different tone doesn’t mean that it has to feel “serious.”
Do you still get to do improv shows?
I haven’t done one in like … ever. It’s been so long. And it scares me to have to go back because I haven’t done it in a while.
You can get rusty.
Oh yeah, it’s definitely a muscle you have to work. But I would love to go back and do a show soon.
I have a very basic logistical question. Why do all the clones keep going back to Sarah and Felix’s apartment? All the bad guys know the location, it seems like it’s the worst home base.
Well, have you seen that loft? That is like the coolest loft. They’re not going to give up that real estate.
So it’s more of a real estate decision, not a safety decision.
It’s an incredible space. Exposed brick. I mean, it’s amazing.
I know you can’t say anything about the new season. But can you tell us anything you’re excited about in the new season?
I’m excited for people to see Ari [Millen]’s clones. The “Castor” clones. Because unlike Sarah’s [clones] they were all raised together, instead of separately, so they’ll have a different kind of nature, nurture situation. I think it’ll be cool for the audience to see. I’m excited for it.