You may know Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning, the main character of BBC America's Orphan Black. You also may know her as Cosima, another main character in Orphan Black. Or Alison. Or Helena. Or Rachel. Or countless other people, because they're all played by Maslany on the sci-fi drama.
As the actress portraying a number of mysterious clones who join forces to get to the bottom of their increasingly dangerous origin story, Maslany has spent four seasons playing opposite, well, herself. With the fifth and final season of the cult hit premiering on Saturday, now the Canadian has to say goodbye, not only to her co-stars (Kristian Bruun, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, and Kevin Hanchard), but also to five different characters who feel just as much a part of her as her arms and legs.
Refinery29 had a chance to speak with Maslany in advance of the new season about what it feels like to close the book on all of those characters, and the significance of culminating a show about female bodily autonomy during a time in history when that very concept is more fragile than ever.
You’ve had to say goodbye to so many different versions of yourself. Was the goodbye different for each character?
"It was really hard the last two weeks to have to say goodbye to a good chunk of not only the clones, but the other characters as well. We’d clap people out every day when they were done, and it was just two weeks of a lot of crying. There was one moment when I think it was my last scene with Alison, somewhere near the end of filming, and I was doing a scene where I was talking on Skype to Cosima, and it was supposed to be an emotional scene anyway so it sort of worked. I was on the verge of just breaking down entirely, because I knew it was my last time as her. And my nose started bleeding because I was so emotional from it!"
What aspects of playing each of the clones do you think will stick with you?
"I think what the whole thing has taught me is that it’s kind of endless, our capacity as actors to make believe. There is no limit to it. There’s so much imagination in our show. We just had so much opportunity to play and stretch ourselves. Nobody can tell you that you can’t play the CEO of a major company when all you’ve ever played are 15-year-olds in high school."
Is there a character of yours who was the hardest goodbye?
"Alison made me bleed, so that was a hard one. But they were all kind of hard for different reasons."
In terms of your co-stars, what were those goodbyes like? Will you stay in touch? Do you have one of those group texts?
"We don’t have a group text, but we’re doing press right now in New York and just getting the chance to be together for two days. We’re all kind of giddy and visibly happy to see each other again, and I know we’re going to stay close, because we’ve experienced so much together and it was such a formative show for all of us. It changed our lives in different ways. Maria [Doyle Kennedy] moved her whole family to Toronto for six months of the year, her kids and her husband, everybody, so it’s just really become a large part of all of our lives."
There’s a promo for this season where the clones talk about the importance of bodily autonomy and their ability to love whomever they want, and that felt purposeful. What is the effect of ending a show about the importance of bodily autonomy in the midst of such a politically charged time in history, and did current events influence the way you played the characters at all?
"Entirely. We shot that promo the day of the Women’s March. We really wanted to be there and were watching the livestream from Washington in Toronto where we were shooting this promo. Being able to say those words through these characters was very cathartic if I couldn’t be there in person to support.
"The election happened three episodes into our season. Graeme [Manson] and John [Fawcett] always wanted to talk about patriarchy as the final season came around, but it just became this really vital, desperate fight for us to continue to really dig into what that meant for each of the characters differently. We have people stuck in the system who are oppressed, like Sarah, who just wants freedom from it, and who doesn’t play into it, and bucks it at every corner. Then you have Rachel who pretends she’s outside of it, who seeks to control it, who seeks to have power within it. But she’s just as controlled; she only has power if she’s close to the patriarch. It was really interesting to play with different experiences in that system and to get to work through all of our shock and anger in the season."
Orphan Black is a super intense drama, but I know you’re a comedy person because of your appearances on Comedy Bang Bang and your role on Parks & Rec, is that a move you’re looking to make?
"I’ve always wanted to do it, and it’s the world that I revere above every other world. I’m such an absolute nerd for it. Those chances have always been dreams come true. I guess it would have to be the right thing and if somebody can see that in me. I love improv. Improv’s a huge basis for all the work that I do and the way that I like to go into acting."
Would you improv as your characters?
"All the time. [With] certain people we would do it more often, like Kristian [Bruun, who plays Donnie] and I, we would improvise differently and roll into the take and then roll out of the take and try things out and mess with each other. Kevin [Hanchard] was really great for that and so was Jordan [Gavaris, who plays Felix], especially if Sarah and Felix had to get to a difficult emotional place, we’d work together before the take to get there. It’s my favorite way to get into something."
Your next film, Stronger, is also quite intense. Is there anything you can tell us about your character in that movie and why that was your next move?
"Stronger is about Jeff Bauman, who was at the marathon in Boston when the bombs went off. He lost his legs and he wrote a book, and it’s based on his life coming out of that and how do you survive it. I play his girlfriend, who was there and they got separated. It’s sort of a love story, it’s a story about survival, and how human beings can survive and how love can survive in these horrific circumstances. What I love about it is that it’s about the personal experience of it, and a very human complicated experience that isn’t like, 'Go America.' [It's] the spirit of one person and one family and how do you survive it as an individual. It’s unfortunately extremely relevant right now."