Orphan Black – Wow!

Orphan Black
Orphan Black
Above: Cosima, played by Tatiana Maslany, ponders on who to trust in BBC’s Orphan Black.

I’m a Johnny-come-lately to this sensational TV thriller by BBC America on the Space channel. Created by screenwriter Graeme Mansion and director John Fawcett, Orphan Black stars the crazy-talented young woman from Saskatchewan – Tatiana Maslany.

Orphan Black is stunning, mind-bending, cool, and, in a word, WOW.  Tatiana Maslany executes the most amazing acting performance(s) I’ve ever seen.

I say thriller instead of “sci-fi thriller” because the drama doesn’t have a sci-fi feel or look. The only thing sci-fi-ish about Orphan Black is that the issue of human cloning comes up. And even that doesn’t seem a stretch too far into the future. We clone sheep now – how much longer before we clone people?

The series focus is on the everyday and the realistic: a mom who wants her child back, a girl on the run from the law and someone trying to kill her, a sister bonding with a brother—and that’s only one of the characters (Sarah) that Maslany plays. It’s easy to identify with a parent loving her child,  a sister enjoying the company of her gay brother (played brilliantly by Jordan Gavaris) and a fugitive just trying to survive.

Season Two began in April and people like me are playing catch-up. I visited my neighbourhood video store for Season One on three DVDs.  I can’t get enough of Tatiana Maslany.

The Regina-born actress plays seven roles (seven different clones with their own distinctive look and accent.) Maslany herself has Ukrainian, Polish, German, Austrian and Romanian ancestry. Maybe all those blood streams help her conjure distinctively different personalities.  She plays a soccer mom, a science brain, a crazed assassin, a con artist and a police detective among other roles, with accents varying from English to Ukrainian to German and American.

Tong Wong a staff reporter for the Toronto Star asked Maslany (Jan 12, 2014) to describe some of the many faces of Orphan Black:

There’s Sarah Manning the Con Artist from London, usually dressed in black, who thinks she’s an orphan with no siblings and one day discovers she has a “twin”—

“She’s a working-class girl from London basically trying to start her life again. She’s a fighter and a survivor. She’s the main arc. I try to tap into her heart. She’s all about the drive to get her family back together.”

Music: U.K. grime, hip hop, U.K. punk music, the Clash. Something with an aggressive rhythm, a counterculture mentality. Maslany says she gets into the mind-space of each character by playing the kind of music each one would listen to.

There’s Alison Hendrix (the Canadian Soccer Mom)–

“She’s a woman from the suburbs trying to hold her perfect little life together. With her I use ballet movements. I use the idea of rigidity and breathing being tight. A sense of panic, or a step away from panic.”

Music: Showtunes.

There’s Cosima Niehaus (the American Research Scientist) –

“She’s a brilliant, heady, quirky, evolutionary biologist who is fascinated by the world. I got to talk to her because she’s actually based on one of (creator Graeme Manson’s) friends.”

Music: Electronic-style ambient music.

There’s Rachel Duncan (the millionaire, nationality unknown)—

“Rachel is a hard nut to crack. She’s very guarded. She’s a very wealthy and entitled woman of privilege. I tap into her with stillness and a sense of looking at everything like I own it.”

Music: Something that makes me feel something powerful and sexy. Like R&B slow jams.

Helena (the Ukrainian Assassin)—

“She’s a wild thing, an animal. There is this duality in her. To prepare I visualize a sort of mix between childlike innocence and trained killer.”

Music: Anything that is beautiful and haunting.

Series creator Graeme Manson from Toronto set out to create a television story about clones. But he didn’t think Orphan Black would become a world-wide cult phenomenon, with viewers having their own personal favourite clone. Mine is Sarah herself – gritty, real, caring and resilient—although I have a soft spot for the lesbian scientist (or is she just bi-sexual?) Cosima, nerdy and fun.

.At the Canadian Screen Awards in March, Maslany won the best actress award in a TV Drama and thanked Mason “for creating this weird show and giving me this incredible opportunity.”

Saturday at 9pm I know where I’m going to be—spacing out on the Space channel.

– By J.S. Porter

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