If anyone was truly deserving of an Emmy nomination, it is Tatiana Maslany. That's not to say that the rest of this year's nominees are undeserving, far from it — but they've got an easy job in comparison. Playing one character? Pffft. Piece of cake. Try portraying dozens of identical yet distinctly different characters.
That's exactly what Maslany achieves, to devastating effect, in Orphan Black. The underrated show tells the story of Sarah Manning, a troubled orphan who witnesses a woman commit suicide and, in an attempt to escape her life's troubles, assumes the identity her recently deceased doppelgänger. As if that isn't a strong enough opening to the show, Sarah then discovers a horrifying truth: she and the woman were clones.
Attack Of The Clones
One actor playing two characters in a movie isn't unheard of. For example, Tom Hardy played both of the Kray twins in Legend (2015), Christian Bale played two brothers in The Prestige (2006), and who could forget one of Leonardo DiCaprio's finest performances, playing both King Louis XIV and his exiled brother Phillipe in The Man In The Iron Mask (2008)?
However, these examples pale into comparison with Orphan Black. As the truth unravels, Sarah uncovers that the woman whose identity she stole wasn't the only clone; throughout the seasons, we've been introduced to dozens of duplicates, a number of them leading characters.
The show's creators could've taken the easy route and made all of them appear and act the same; they are clones, after all. But these are clones who epitomize nature vs nurture, each with their own distinct upbringing and social conditioning. Although genetically identical, each has their own idiosyncrasies and distinct personalities. Making this work so successfully is a remarkable feat, especially considering Maslany will often play multiple characters in one scene.
A Challenging Process To Individuality
Hair, make-up, dialect and body language all play a part in cementing that individuality. In an interview with Time, Maslany discussed her unique process for channelling the many different personalities required. She said:
"When I first started working on the characters, there was a lot of intellect that went into breaking them down. The physical work has stuck around for me: changing tension in my body, changing rhythms internally or with music or with animals — anything that will inspire me to move in a different way or carry my body differently."
Show creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett clearly felt this wasn't stretching Maslany's acting ability enough, though. The show also goes to Ievels of depth Inception director Christopher Nolan would be proud of, showing clones who are disguised as other clones. In a nutshell, Maslany portrays one version of an identical character pretending to be a different version of an identical character. Confused? Yeah, me too.
Stylist Sandy Sokolowski, who is one of those responsible for Maslany's many physical transformations, identified this as a particular challenge. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she said:
“Of everything we’re doing with the show, that is the single hardest and the single most successful thing we’ve done. We look at simple personality traits and certain signature pieces of the hair or makeup, from the clone we are going from to the clone we are going to.
"We have to layer the looks enough to give [viewers] an idea that one clone is impersonating another without making it a joke or too obvious. You want viewers to have that moment of discovery when they realize that that the clone is not who she says she is.”
That level of in-depth deception is enough to keep audiences on the edge of their seats throughout the Orphan Black's thrilling journey. Consequently, Maslany couldn't be more deserving of her nomination. The question is, should she win Lead Actress in a Drama at September's ceremony, which clone would take the podium to accept the award?
Orphan Black will return for Season 5 in 2017. If you haven't watched it, the first four seasons are also on Netflix. Go check it out!