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Tobey’s TV Goodness All-Stars 2013: Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany 

Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie/BBC America
Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie/BBC America

Unless you’re Canadian, you likely never heard of Tatiana Maslany before Orphan Black, the BBC America-Space Channel co-production that introduced her to the general public. And that’s really too bad. The Regina, Saskatchewan native has been acting professionally in Canada since around 2002 appearing in the critically acclaimed series, Being Erica, perennial fan favorite Heartland, and alongside my Canadian Actor Boyfriend Shawn Doyle (Big Love; Endgame; Lost Girl) in Grown Up Movie Star.

The girl was professionally established well before Orphan Black, and it’s gratifying to see her finally getting the fan response she deserves.

Orphan Black hinges on Tatiana Maslany. It lives and dies with her. If she were incapable of handling the challenges and stresses of portraying half a dozen different, complex and completely original characters, the show would fail. End of.

And it’s not just acting challenges Maslany faces, as she wades her way through the lives of each orphan, it’s technical challenges. Having to manage scenes with herself, sometimes several of her selves, with computer-operated cameras and performances that will be spliced together post-production is an astounding feat, and one that earned her a Golden Globe nomination this year for Best Actress in a TV Drama.

But which performance? Tobey asks, tongue in cheek. There’s Sarah, the main character, a street-rat sort of character who takes over the identity of Elizabeth, a police detective who commits suicide, most like because her brain exploded when she found out about this clone thing. Helena, a religious extremist and assassin, because why not? Alison, the perfect soccer mom; Cosima, a PhD candidate in evolutionary biology and Rachel, the ‘pro-clone’ who wants to control her sisters.

Each clone is a complete individual: Rachel is as posh as Sarah is rough; Alison is prim and the mother of two; Helena is bat-shit crazy and Cosima is brilliant and vulnerable. If this were a different show, they could all be played by different actresses, the characters are such individuals, yet Maslany manages to make it work all by herself, playing each clone as a singular person with her own autonomy, and not simply part of some collective.

And, oh, yeah, Sarah and Rachel are British and Helena, Ukrainian. The rest Canadian/American. Give Maslany all of the awards right now.

The most impressive part of Maslany’s performances are not just when the clones interact with each other, but when they act as each other. Alison pretends to be be Sarah in order to visit the latter’s daughter and Sarah imitates Alison at a house-party, and Maslany plays it as the characters pretending to be each other. Instead of just being Alison, or being Sarah, she is obviously playing her character as on character imitating the other. It’s beyond incredible.

Instead of watching her scenes and thinking, “Oh, that’s Alison at a party,” you know, just by observing, that it’s Sarah pretending to be Alison and having difficulty with her high-strung uptightness, and Alison wanting to act like Sarah, but not quite getting her edge right, and having to change her walk to more of a strong stride, instead of the rapid pace Alison usually keeps. Sarah’s daughter Kira sees it, and so can we.

Maslany also made a quick stop by Parks and Recreation this season, as a doctor and brief love interest for Tom Haverford (Asis Anzari). The fun role was a bit of a departure from the darkness of Orphan Black, and successfully showcased Maslany’s comic talents and mainstream appeal.

As someone who’s been following Maslany’s career for years now, it’s highly gratifying to watch her get the recognition her talent deserves for the TV work she’s doing. I really look forward to the day she’s a real-life Grown Up Movie Star.

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