Finding a properly themed spot to interview actress Tatiana Maslany—whose black and white three-eyed face has been plastered all over New York subway stations—proved challenging. But since her new show, Orphan Black, drips with sci-fi elements, we meet at Forbidden Planet, New York’s mini sci-fi/fantasy mecca. Orphan Black, BBC America’s new original series, is a thriller with clones, in the first episode alone Maslany plays three including the bedgraggled, troubled lead Sarah who discovers a fellow copy and takes up living her life, enduring the fast-moving repercussions. With clones come sci-fi, and so we met at the comic book store where, one rainy New York afternoon, clad in a fur topper, Maslany spoke earnestly and hilariously about being a female leading a show, cartoons, Toronto (“like New York, but without all the stuff”), her upcoming film starring opposite Richard Dreyfuss, and Orphan Black, which had just wrapped its first season two weeks prior.
Are you a sci-fi fan?
Yeah. Some stuff I really loved. I was obsessed with zombies for a while. Shaun of the Dead was once my favorite movie, because it’s funny and also I was terrified and sobbing at some points. I just think it’s so brilliantly done.
How sci-fi does the show get?
It goes pretty sci-fi. It is sci-fi but it’s mostly like a backdrop to the thriller. To me, it’s always been more a character piece, but maybe that’s just because I’m playing so many characters, that I’m never thinking, I’m doing a sci-fi show. I’m doing a character-driven drama.
There are a lot of entertaining points in the pilot—a sex scene, suicide scene, a vomiting scene. What was your initial reaction to the script?
I loved it. I was obsessed with it because I’ve never read a script like that. I had never read a character that made me so hungry. I just wanted to play her so badly. She isn’t just a damsel in distress, which you usually see. There’s more to her that isn’t defined by her sexuality or her gender. It’s just human behavior, and I was just really drawn to that.
How did you approach the project – what was your jump off point?
It was about finding out what the worldview of each of the characters was and nailing that down. Then I could work within that, as far as my physicality goes and my aesthetic goes, because you know, so much of how we walk through the world is based on how we grew up. The way we see the world: if it’s a frightening place for us or if it’s filled with opportunity or possibility, or if we see it in a really scientific analytical way, and I don’t think each character saw it in a singular way, but there’s a central drive to the characters.
Did you have an input on the looks?
Yeah. I definitely did. Have you ever seen This is England? I watched that, and that’s not necessarily even the social group Sarah would have been a part of, but it’s just that flavor that’s a bit different from here. So I talked a lot to the creators about that style.
Obviously you’re not British, but you’re hired by BBC to play a British character. Was that intimidating?
Sure. A lot of my friends are from the UK. So I’ve heard the sounds, and I’m a big fan of The Streets and Dizzee Rascal. His accent is not even close to what Sarah is, but there’s just something about him telling stories from that world that was like my in, and same with The Streets. I don’t know if you know him at all, but his names Mike Skinner he’s from the UK. He’s a rapper, basically a storyteller. He barely raps, he just kind of talks over beats. But he talks about a long of the situations that Sarah would have gone through or lived in in working class UK.
How does it feel to be leading your own show?
It’s daunting. It’s only now that I’m feeling the pressure, in a weird way. While we were shooting, I just focused on what we had to do next. That’s what it was about and I was just excited to be doing it. I wasn’t like, oh, then I’ll be doing interviews and all of that. It didn’t even get caught in my mind. It’s so weird to be in New York, because I’m from Toronto. It’s an insane responsibility, because I am carrying a few of the leads,.
I saw you did improv for a while, were you considering a career in comedy or was that just good practice?
Well it was less comedy. I think inherently improv becomes funny because it’s spontaneous, but it wasn’t dramatic either. Our focus was more so making a one act play. It was less game-y. It was more character development over an hour and a half.
And you had to improv all that?
Yeah. It’s so fun though. All of us were actors so it was another fun way of making work for ourselves and playing characters we don’t get to play.
How long did you do that for?
I did that for 10 years, professionally. We performed all over Canada and a few places in North America. I went to improv camp. That was my childhood. Not even childhood though, I’m saying that as if I was a kid. I was an adult, 17, 18, 19.
What was that like?
It’s like dork heaven. It’s just a bunch of kids doing really stupid shit on stage and they all get to be together and they’re all making out. They’re all hooking up.
Living the dream.
Exactly. [Laughs] Exactly.
You won a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Breakout Performance in 2010, what effect did that have on your career?
It was really unexpected. It was this tiny thing we shot in Newfoundland, and probably before this show, the most exciting thing I’d gotten to work on. So I never expected it to be seen, but to have Sundance see it and completely reinforce what I had done, it was completely amazing. And things just started to precipitate. Doors were open for me, and then they shut. That’s how it is. It’s there for 20 minutes and then you’re nobody again, and that’s fine. That’s just the nature of the industry. You’re the next blah, blah, blah, but then that dies away and then you’re just back to the work and working hard and auditioning like everybody else.
Do you have plans to come out to LA?
I went out there for a week to just feel it out. I guess it’s a necessary evil in a way. It’s not necessarily my favorite place, but there is a lot of cool work that’s goes on there.
How does Toronto compare, then?
Toronto’s like New York in a way. Was it Tina Fey who said, “It’s like New York but without all the stuff?” [Laughs] That’s very, very much it.
What do you have coming up next?
I just shot a movie with Richard Dreyfuss called Cas & Dylan. I don’t know when that’s coming out, but it’s this buddy comedy road movie.
And you’re the buddy?
I’m his buddy. We’re the unlikely buddies. It was such a bizarre surreal moment. And it’s so funny because the thing I knew him from was James and the Giant Peach. I know him from everything, but he’s the centipede. So me and my brother were like, “Oh my god, you’re working with the centipede!” [Laughs]. He’s brilliant. It was a dream to be driving in a car with him, doing scenes together.
Orphan Black premieres Saturday March 30 at 9/8 c on BBC America. See the trailer below.