Over the course of five seasons of Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany built a career (and won an Emmy) by playing many different selves. This summer, she’ll shift gears, appearing in Second Stage Theater’s Off Broadway production of Tracy Letts’s Mary Page Marlowe, sharing the title role with five other actresses. It’s the kind of career trajectory that makes you wonder if Maslany is getting typecast in jobs best described with the use of fractions — or perhaps, as she discussed with Vulture over the phone, she’s just interested in women who are never one thing. As Mary Page Marlowe starts performances, and Orphan Black contends for Emmy nominations for its final season, Vulture caught up with Maslany to talk about saying good-bye to her clones, why she was recast on Pose, and why it feels so good to return to theater.
You played so many different characters on Orphan Black. Was it especially hard say good-bye to any of them?
All of them were difficult. I had a very visceral reaction to saying good-bye to Alison, because she’s just such a fun character and so off the wall. The last scene I did as her was this Skype call with Cosima. It’s an emotional scene as it is, but I was already like, “Oh God, this is my last scene.” I couldn’t hold it in. Then my nose started bleeding on camera, gushing. Whatever tension that I carry as Alison just fell out of the front of my face. So we had to stop rolling. It was interesting how your body goes through that thing, because these characters became so part of me, and I became so much part of them.
What did you want to do when the show ended?
I did a movie that my boyfriend [Tom Cullen] directed. Myself and Jay Duplass are the leads in it. We shot it in nine days, it’s called Pink Wall, and it was half-improvised, half-written, and it’s a very simple story told in an unusual way. To me that was a massive challenge, working with my partner. He knows so much about me, and he’s opening up these other sides of me that I’ve never done onscreen before. It’s not necessarily like I was looking to play something new or something like that. It was more like, “What emotional territory haven’t I navigated through yet?”
It’s not externalizing a character like on Orphan Black.
More internal and more nebulous. Orphan Black was a great, amazing playground for me, but we were churning out so much product so quickly, so it’s nice to have ten days to shoot a feature film. It’s a luxury. Any time we can take a little more time with it, I’m very happy.
You were going to be in Pose, and then Ryan Murphy recast the role with Charlayne Woodard. What was it like to go through that?
I mean, I think that show is fucking amazing — sorry.
Don’t worry, you can swear.
Okay, great. It’s fucking … it’s amazing! The recasting makes so much more sense than me in that part. She’s an amazing and powerful woman who just brings a different thing than I would certainly bring. There’s a life experience there that makes so much more sense, and that’s so much more helpful. I was obviously sad to not be part of this incredible piece, but it’s so much more about getting the story told in a way that is true and the most effective that it can be.
Now you’re doing Mary Page Marlowe Off Broadway. You’ve done theater in Canada, but what made you want to come back to it?
You get a Tracy Letts play, you can’t say no to that. His writing is just so unbelievable, and this piece is really interestingly the opposite of Orphan Black in that it’s six of us who are playing the same role. Six actresses play Mary Page Marlowe at different ages, and we explore her life at big pivotal shifts. Even if it’s an innocuous shift, or if it’s something that she doesn’t even necessarily know she’s going through. Tracy has written the internal life of a woman that is so resonant for all of us, and that feels so private and bizarrely intuitive.
Lila Neugebauer, who’s directing it, is somebody who I met very briefly a long time ago, and was so moved by her work and her intelligence. There’s so many factors that were like, “Of course I’m going to do this.” Being onstage is something I haven’t done in seven years, and it’s my absolute happy place. There’s a real connection to the audience, it’s so different than TV or film. It’s my total dream come true. I’m in heaven right now.
To go from playing multiple people to playing a portion of a person, does that change the way you think about performing?
Lila really made such an effort to have us all collaborate on this part together, so bringing our own ideas to each others’ scenes, being in an open-door rehearsal. We could come in to watch the other Mary Pages rehearse. We look at each others’ gestures, we try to vocally warm up together. It’s by no means us doing impressions of each other, it’s all very different, but it opens up that complexity.
Now that you’re no longer on a TV show, are you looking for certain kinds of projects?
Theater, for me right now, I’m like, “This is all I’m going to do.” Then, when I’m on set, I’m like, “This is all I’ll ever do.”
It seems like there’s a common resonance in Mary Page Marlowe and Orphan Black. They’re both about how women live in ways society won’t recognize.
Absolutely. I feel like recently I’ve been drawn to stuff that is about the roles that women play in the world. How those roles betray who we really are, or why those roles are so ingrained in us. Gender and our roles and all that, that’s my shit. I could talk about it all day.
We’re in a really interesting time of storytelling right now, and there’s such a focus on lifting up voices that are new and have a story that we haven’t heard before. I do think it’s still, like, the puberty stage of this movement. It’s slowly making its way into the light a bit more. You do still get offered things that you’re like, “Really, we’re still here?”
“She only has this many lines?”
“She’s nude, always, for the first ten pages?” Of course! Because we’ve got to make sure that we’re sexually attracted to this character first and foremost.
Have you seen any evidence of the #MeToo movement propelling people away from that thinking?
No question. If you didn’t know this was a problem, if you didn’t know that this is what we’ve been dealing with, then at least now people are talking about it and it’s got a name. Being able to say “the #MeToo movement” defines it in a way that is really important. I’m so impressed with and in awe of the women who have come forward, and so grateful to them, because they’re changing this very antiquated system and it’s going to benefit everyone.
Did winning an Emmy for Orphan Black change anything for you?
It was a wild experience. I did not expect it whatsoever and I was very grateful for it. It does open doors for you, those accolades or whatever, they definitely give you a boost. I couldn’t name, like, that’s because of the Emmy win. But I think it was also a cool thing for Clone Club. It was a cool thing for our show to be acknowledged, a show that’s quite small and niche and odd and all of that. Our weird little show, that’s what we called it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.