SPOILER ALERT: You might want to read this after you've seen "Natural Selection," the season premiere of "Orphan Black." It will repeat at 8 p.m. CT April 4 on BBC America.
In BBC America's new series "Orphan Black," Tatiana Maslany stars with herself. And herself. And herself ...
The Canadian actress plays Sarah, a streetwise Toronto hustler who decides to steal the identity of a suicidal woman who looks like her. Little does she know that her doppelganger, Beth, is not her long-lost twin, but her exact clone--one of many.
"When I read the script I was like, 'Oh, my God,'" 27-year-old Maslany recently told me about playing multiple roles. "It was just kind of an active stream to face that challenge, and extremely daunting because it is a technical, emotional, physical, a creative stretch for me. On every level I have to challenge myself."
"Orphan Black" (3.5 stars out of 4), which debuted Saturday night after "Doctor Who," mixes elements of conspiracy thrillers, police procedurals, fringe-science fiction tales, sexy actioners and black comedy. Most importantly, though, it asks questions about self-identity and what makes each of us who we are.
Maslany, who got some attention at the Sundance Film Festival in recent years but hadn't worked for a year before landing "Orphan Black," injects a raw humanity into her main character, Sarah, who didn't actually plan on taking over Beth's life. But when opportunity knocks, she answers, thinking that maybe she can scam her way into escaping her life with cocaine-dealer boyfriend Vic (Michael Mando) and start a new one with her quip-wielding foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and her daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler)--if she can get Kira away from Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy), the foster mother who raised Sarah and Felix.
Sarah bluffs her way through several sticky situations in the series premiere. Having replaced her own English accent with Beth's Canadian one by watching home videos at the apartment Beth shares with her pectacular boyfriend, Paul (Dylan Bruce), she fools everyone at Beth's work. Oh yeah, Beth is a police officer under internal investigation for shooting an innocent woman she thought had a gun.
"That's one of Sarah's weapons against the world," said Maslany, who grew up in Regina in the far reaches of Saskatchewan. "It always has been that she's a good mimic. She's adaptable. She's gotten by on her smarts and that kind of thing and her ability to read people."
"Orphan Black" creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson are smart enough to have Sarah, as Beth, pretend the trauma of the event has messed with her memories. And Maslany, who has done improv for 15 years, certainly makes Sarah's winging it believable.
But Sarah also convinces Paul that she's Beth, even though he mentions her hair is longer and they have crazy kitchen island sex. And bedroom sex. Clone or not, I kind of think he'd notice a difference.
Those issues troubled me after seeing the episode, but quickly melted away when I kept watching the other three episodes sent for review. You may be thinking this is just another identity swap drama like the recent Sarah Michelle Gellar dud "Ringer" instead of the sci-fi conspiracy thriller advertised. It's not. As Sarah makes one shocking discovery after another, "Orphan Black" weaves an increasingly intricate, suspenseful tale.
Maslany and I talked more about Sarah, her relationships and Maslany's experience on the show. Read after the video below, but again, much of this is spoilery stuff, which is why I waited to post until after the premiere. (New episodes air at 8 p.m. Fridays.)
You've done a lot of improv. I was wondering if you've tapped into that training for Sarah when she has to improv her way out of a lot of sticky Beth situations.
That's a great question! I've not had that one yet. Yeah, I think it's all about being adaptable, right? ... So for me, I guess, as an improviser I know it's all about listening. The rules are saying "yes," and Sarah definitely does all those things. She says "yes" to a situation that most people would say "no" to. She sees it as an opportunity and yeah, there's kind of a fearlessness in that that which I think is ideal as an improviser that you need. You know what I mean?
Yes, I guess maybe I inadvertently drew from that. I never thought of that. That's a really cool question.
There's not much of a chance for you to do improv comedy in this show, but...
Yeah, I know. [Laughs.] Not really; it's pretty dark. There's--not a levity--but there's room for comedy. And the cool thing about the show is that it's got this kind of unique sense of humor that's not really like "Wacka-wacka." It's not a wacky sense of humor, you know what I mean? It's very character driven. It's sort of like more situational; I don't mean sitcomy, but it's more in the interactions between these women who are so polar opposite that there's comedy there. There's surrealism, all those kinds of things.