For the actor pulling off the superhuman feat of portraying up to a dozen different characters on an acclaimed TV show, what's the follow-up act? In the case of Emmy winner Tatiana Maslany, who was everything from a high-strung soccer mom to an unhinged Ukrainian on BBC America’s “Orphan Black,” it meant going from fantastical to quietly real-life.
In “Stronger,” which is inspired by a true story, Maslany plays Erin Hurley, the sometimes-girlfriend of emotionally floundering Costco clerk Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), who lost both of his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing while waiting for Hurley to finish the race. If it’s Gyllenhaal’s job to show the pain of Bauman’s recovery, set against the backdrop of Bauman’s noisy, beer-soaked relatives, Maslany’s buzz-worthy performance is all about what it’s like to be a reluctant caregiver fueled by equal parts remorse and sheer determination.
Recently, the petite Canadian rode her bike to The Envelope’s offices (no, not from Canada, from a Los Feliz rental) for a conversation about audition nerves, on-set ad-libbing and working with non-actors.
One of the first things that you did when you got the part was start running. Why?
I just thought, “This is something that’s going to tie me to this character in a real way,” so I just got my little Nike app and I’d run for a half-hour, an hour, every morning and try to work up to longer distances. At the time, I was filming “Orphan Black,” so I was just exhausted by the time I got to set. I never got to the point where I could have actually run [the Boston Marathon]. But I could run a half-marathon. That’s as far as I got.
After playing a gaggle of sci-fi clones, did a regular love interest role pale in comparison?
For me, it felt very interesting to navigate, and not the conventional girlfriend part that you read in scripts. She’s there out of guilt and love and trying to leave but wanting to stay. Everybody is pushing her away — Jeff’s family, Jeff. It was a super-complicated relationship that felt very relatable. It’s also a story I hadn’t seen before, which is about dismantling the headlines, seeing what it is to go through trauma, healing and recovery in the public eye.
It’s part of the Maslany legend that you roller-bladed to your “Orphan Black” audition. Did you do anything special before trying out for “Stronger”?
[laughs] I didn’t have the luxury. I was filming that Friday, and flying in that Saturday to L.A. Wait! I just remembered something: I did a big acupuncture. I had somebody come to my hotel room the night before who threw so many needles into my back at such a rapid rate, and I was like, “Aiiiiii,” and then I passed out so hard. That was my prep.
You’ve had a lot of improv training. Was there room in a somber biographical drama like “Stronger” for winging it?
Totally. [“Stronger” director David Gordon Green] is such a nut. He’s so much fun. He’d throw lines out at day players, people who were new to set and, just to kind of put a spin on the scene, he’d make them say things to just kind of open up and say something different. Sometimes I wouldn’t know that I was working that day and I’d be brought in [to improvise a scene]. I felt so off-kilter the whole film. In a good way.
Erin Hurley didn’t get to complete the 2013 Boston marathon. What was it like to watch her take it on again during filming?
She decided to do it on a Friday and ran it on a Monday. No training. She crossed the finish line under the cutoff time, which is outrageous for somebody who hadn’t trained. I was there when she crossed the finish line. Jeff was standing there waiting for her and they had this unbelievable [moment]. But that’s her strength. That’s the emotional stamina that she’s got.
Did you enjoy trading dialogue with the many non-actors who play themselves in the recovery scenes?
It was amazing. It was a testament to David’s creativity how he brought in those people from Jeff’s life — like his nurses, the doctor who actually amputated his legs, all those people are real, saying things that they’d have said on that day. The woman pulling Jeff’s [breathing] tube was his nurse at the time. She had this incredible personality and sense of humor that popped out in the scene. I love working with non-actors. There was a complete authenticity to their performances that an actor coming in and playing Doctor No. 4 wouldn’t have because they weren’t there when it actually happened.