If you’re not already watching Orphan Black, you should be. Airing for ten episodes on Space and BBC America to rave reviews, the hour-long sci-fi drama/thriller follows British bad-girl Sarah Manning. She gets caught up in a world of danger and intrigue after discovering that there are a bunch of women running around the world who happen to look just like her.
By the end of the season we had met six of Sarah’s clones. Six.
And they’re all played by Tatiana Maslany.
Let me repeat: Tatiana Maslany played not one, not two, but seven vastly different women on one TV show. Let that sink in, will you?
Born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, Maslany moved to Toronto at age twenty to pursue an acting career. After receiving accolades at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 (where she won the World Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Breakout Performance for her role in Grown Up Movie Star) and being named one of the Rising Stars of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Maslany landed the lead role on Orphan Black – and the praise hasn’t stopped rolling in.
As the highest-rated original series debut ever on Space, Orphan Black earned, on average, approximately a half-million viewers each on Space and BBC America per week. Recently, with support from her #CloneClub Twitter following, Maslany was featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, the star of one of only four variant covers for the magazine’s Comic-Con special issue. She was nominated for a Television Critics’ Association award for Individual Achievement in Drama. In the video below, you can watch her win the Critics’ Choice TV Award for Best Actress in a Drama over Claire Danes (Homeland), Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), and Keri Russell (The Americans):
Though, as Antenna’s Myles McNutt points out, the CCTAs aren’t always a great indicator of the years’ coming Emmy nominations (the CCTAs are voted on by a small committee with negligible sway over the Academy), they served the function of getting Maslany’s name into mainstream press. Emmys buzz wasn’t far behind; BBC America started flying banners with her face on them over Los Angeles; LOST and Star Trek producer Damon Lindelof began a “mission to expose the world to the brilliance of Tatiana Maslany,” saying that it would be “easier to believe [her characters are played by] super-talented triplets than it is that it’s just one person”; screenwriter Kevin Williamson touted her as “outstanding”; The Shield creator Shawn Ryan said that “[i]t’s really impressive how she’s able to embody each one of them.” Maslany was featured in the Los Angeles Times, on TV Line, and named The Hollywood Reporter’s Next Big Thing. Patton Oswalt has straight-up called her the “best actress alive right now.”
And rightfully so; without Maslany’s ridiculously ambitious performance, Orphan Black would crumble. With lines in every single scene of the entire series (Maslany herself says she “maybe” had one day off during the entire shooting schedule), if she couldn’t carry the show, there would be no show; and we know that isn’t the case, since Orphan Black has already been renewed for a second season. There’s no doubt that the entire weight of the show rests on Maslany’s shoulders; it is up to the audience to suspend their disbelief that we are really watching seven different women on-screen – and we do, with minimal effort required. Each clone has her own distinct mannerisms, facial expressions, vocal tics, and posture; you’re instantly able to recognize the suburban soccer-mom Alison as separate from Sapphic science-whiz Cosima, from psychotic serial killer Helena, not because of their hairstyles or outfits, but because of their personalities. At times, Maslany even has to play one clone impersonating another clone; when watching the show, I found myself thinking, “Wow, Alison is doing a really great job impersonating Sarah,” before I remembered that it was Maslany playing Alison playing Sarah who is another character Maslany also plays. Just listen to Maslany talk about how she wraps her head around those scenes:
“I don’t try to play the other character until I’ve settled into the character that I actually am. I really try to make them as strong as possible and then let them play that other person. So when I’m Alison playing Sarah, I’m Alison first and I go vocally from where Alison speaks. I go physically from where Alison walks, but then try to drop in little hints of her idea of Sarah. That’s the other thing – it’s not that she’s really good at Sarah. She’s playing the version of Sarah that she imagines. She’s stereotyping Sarah and then playing her. It’s not intricate, and it’s not detailed, necessarily, or a full, complex version of who that person is. If I were to impersonate you, I wouldn’t know all of the intricacies of your life, but I could take the outside that I see and then play with it. That’s the most fun. I love doing that.”
If you don’t think that’s worthy of an Emmy nomination, I’m not entirely sure what’s wrong with you. True, Maslany had an uphill battle when it came to the voting members of the Academy; though BBC America has recently gained nods for Idris Elba on Luther, the channel isn’t often represented at awards shows. Additionally, the Academy is eternally biased against genre shows, with only two sci-fi leads ever winning for their roles: Lindsay Wagner, for The Bionic Woman, and Gillian Anderson, for The X-Files. Though Game of Thrones has made its presence known at the Emmys over the past few years, that is more high-fantasy than sci-fi, and airs on awards-giant HBO. It’s hard for me to understand this bias against science fiction, which can offer wonderful and thought-provoking allegories for contemporary life; as Maslany herself said to Entertainment Weekly, “I think sci-fi definitely belongs there because it tells sort of subversive stories about society without hitting you over the head. It puts very real stories into the context of a fantastical world, so there’s a sense of escapism but there’s also a sense of, ‘This isn’t far from our reality.’”
Sadly, the Academy succumbed to their traditional biases, and Maslany was snubbed for her role(s) in Orphan Black. Instead, nominations went to Robin Wright (House of Cards), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Claire Danes (Homeland), and – perhaps most surprisingly – Connie Britton for Nashville. No offense meant to Britton, but I’d like to see her play seven different characters in one show. It’s worth mentioning that Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley was also snubbed in this category for her fantastic performance in the heart-wrenching episode “The Rains of Castamere.” The snub does give some hope for Maslany; fans were equally outraged at the 2012 Emmys when Kerry Washington was left off the ballot, only to emerge as a nominee this year; so, perhaps Maslany will have to wait until next fall for her chance at the Emmys red carpet.
That doesn’t excuse Maslany’s snub at the hands of the Academy this year, though, and I’m not the only one upset about it. “Tatiana Maslany” was trending on Twitter during the nominations, and feeds were filled with outraged tweets about the missed opportunity; TVLine’s Michael Ausiello called Maslany’s snub “horrible”; BuzzFeed released an “8 Ways to Cope With Tatiana Maslany’s Emmy Snub” list; and the Huffington Post said she was “robbed.” And that she was.
In the wake of this tragic snub, the #CloneClub will just have to hold out for the Golden Globes, where I have to believe that Maslany will receive her inevitable and well-deserved nomination for Best Ensemble Cast.