BBC America’s addictive clone drama “Orphan Black” doesn’t return for its much-anticipated third season until Saturday, April 18, but fans eager to consume all things Clone Club in the interim should absolutely give Lili Loofbourow’s New York Times article a devoted read.
Entitled “The Many Faces of Tatiana Maslany,” Loofbourouw’s excellent piece celebrates the show’s sophisticated meditation on femininity while revealing behind-the-scenes secrets from the writer’s visit to the set. While fans should certainly read the cultural critic’s insight into the show’s themes (her analysis of how the show uses female televisual archetypes is truly inspired), they can also check out some of the surprising things we learned about the show and its acclaimed star below:
The show wouldn’t exist without the Technodolly.
Some of “Orphan Black’s” most riveting moments occur when clones face off against each other (who can forget the Season 2 bathroom confrontation between Sarah and Helena?). These scenes, in which Maslany stars opposite herself, are so seamlessly constructed that we often take for granted how much of a technical marvel each of these moments really are. It’s for this reason the show owes everything to the Technodolly, “a telescoping camera crane that memorizes and repeats complex movements exactly, enabling a multiple-clone scene to be constructed in layers.”
As Loofbourow explains, “Maslany does the scene as each clone twice — once using a double (or doubles) to get the blocking, timing and shadows right, and then once without. Because the camera movements are identical from take to take, they can be layered together in postproduction. When shooting the scene the second time, Maslany uses suspended tennis balls or marks on the wall that signal where her eye line should be. While ‘Orphan Black’ also employs stationary-camera shots, the Technodolly allows for a more dynamic feel.”
Body double Kathryn Alexandre is the show’s unsung hero.
Her face may never appear on television, but body double Kathryn Alexandre is just as vital to the making of “Orphan Black” as Maslany is herself. “An actor in her own right, Alexandre has learned the physicality and the accent for each clone, so that Maslany has someone to play off in a multiple-clone scene,” writes Loofbourow. “Maslany sings Alexandre’s praises often, because there’s a reciprocity to their craft. Alexandre is often the first to play a clone in a scene — she stood in as Helena my first day on set, Sarah the second — so her dramatic choices often influence Maslany’s performance. The final result is a mishmash of at least five different takes (and occasionally, body parts).”
Maslany is a huge fan of John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence.”
Maslany thinks highly of Cassavetes’ 1974 marital drama, going so far as calling Gena Rowlands’ distressed housewife Mabel “a truly innovative model for a Strong Female Character.” “Her performance is so strong to me, because it’s full of vulnerability, full of fragility, full of nuttiness,” Maslany said to Loofbourow. “Like, she’s big in this movie. She does things I’ve never seen a woman — or a man or anybody — do on camera, like these little tics and things like that that are so funny and so bizarre. That’s what I want to see. Like, I don’t want to see a robotic woman in a cat suit who can kick ass. I don’t give a [expletive] about that. It’s just not real.”
After Loofbourow read an excerpt from Pauline Kael’s review of the film in which the critic referred to Mabel as a “crazy person,” Maslany excitingly rebutted, “But it’s not about insanity! Her emotional life is so enormous that it can’t be contained, and I think there’s something really beautiful about that.”
As for her favorite scene: “It’s not the most feminist scene on the planet. It’s just the two of them silhouetted, and he’s slapping her and going, ‘Bah-bah! Bah-bah!’ And he’s telling her to do the thing that she does, which is just be herself. He can’t handle the fact that she’s been sent away to be changed and to be made homogeneous and made easy to palate.”
Maslany’s On Set Habits Include Brisket and Staying in Character.
Loofbourow’s casual on set observations about Maslany are some of the best tidbits for fans obsessed with the leading lady. One such fact is the actress’ love for brisket sandwiches in between takes. “These are so good, they’re toasted,” Maslany exclaimed. Another is her habit of staying in character while they shoot segments devoted to each clone. “Wavy-haired and theatrically dirty, Maslany spoke in Sarah’s lower-class British accent between takes and kept it up until they broke for lunch,” the writer observed. If half the day is spent shooting Sarah scenes and the other half shooting Helena scenes, than Maslany spends her entire day split between two polar opposite characters at a time.
As for how spending time in so many different clones’ shoes affects her: “I didn’t sleep, really, the first two seasons. I just was shifting. I’d have to do shifts during the day where I’d be Cosima for the first half and then Helena — or whatever, Cosima and then Sarah. So my body was physically shifting in my sleep, and I could feel it…Eventually it just becomes, not second nature. . .I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to speak to. But it is a mix of technical dut-dut-dut and just kind of breathing and trusting.”
Maslany is an Unapologetic Feminist With a Catch.
“An unapologetic feminist, Maslany is frequently hailed as a purveyor of Strong Female Characters,” writes Loofborouw. “Though appreciative, Maslany finds this a reductive formulation. ‘That’s so boring!’ she said, and went on to condemn the way female strength gets shoehorned into the confines of male-dominated narratives.
Maslany sees her characters’ fight for control of their own lives and bodies resonating in her own life. “This is about volition and autonomy,” she said of the show, “and that was resonating with me, being an actor who was suddenly being interviewed or being dressed.” Loofbourow drew from Maslany’s appearance on the SAG Red Carpet for an example: “When Maria Menounos invited her to use the ‘mani-cam’ to display her nails and jewelry (an invitation some actors walking the red carpet refused, finding it sexist), she bashfully confessed that she hadn’t gotten her nails done and then pulled off what I’ve come to think of as the ultimate Maslany maneuver: She stuck her unmanicured hand in and gave the camera a thumbs-up, concealing her nails. A glancing blow, warmly delivered.”
“Orphan Black” Season 3 premieres Saturday, April 18 at 9:00pm on BBC America.