Tonight BBC America’s “Orphan Black” returns with a new season, and after last year’s horrifying cliffhanger and murderous rampage we had plenty of questions for the woman who plays (almost) every character in the clone club, Tatiana Maslany.
Warning, clone spoilers ahead.
By the fourth season of “Orphan Black” the very talented Ms. Tatiana Maslany has played more than ten different characters, all clones from the mysterious Leda Project. These are not just shadows of the main character Sarah Manning but fully fleshed-out and vastly different personalities. In truth the show should be considered more of a company than a one-woman act. And that includes the delightful non-clone cast that helps build the complicated science fiction world.
But this year instead of jumping into the bright, horrifying future, “Orphan Black" will take a look back. All the way back to the fated day when the first clone Sarah looked into a mirror image of herself on a train platform and witnessed that woman jump in front of a train. That clone was Beth, and her suicide launched the entire series.
This year Sarah will have to struggle with untangling the world of the mysterious Beth, and that means the return of the Neolutionists, a scientific organization obsessed with body modification and genetic alterations. The many-layered group boasts brilliant scientists and a rabid group of followers all hell-bent on advancing their own vision of evolution, forcefully if need be.
“The whole idea of invasion and the body having something in it is something I think will resonate to women, specifically, and just that idea of bodily invasion and something that you didn’t ask to be there and you didn’t approve and you didn’t give your consent to,” Tatiana Maslany said over the phone. “That idea of consent is a big one this season that we delve into."
We spoke with Maslany at length about the ideas of body horror and revisiting her clone past:
I feel like it’s hard for any actor who’s going into a fourth season trying to find new layers to the main character that you’ve been playing for years. Is it even more difficult when you’re playing all of the characters?
Yeah, I guess I just kind of always want to make sure that they’re still changing and still growing and that they’re not just falling into tropes of who they are as a character. And the writers are really amazing. They’re always changing [the clones], growing them. They contradict themselves, which is what I’m always looking for and trying to find.
Who are we going to explore this year? Who are we going to delve into this year? How are we going to push that clone?
I think Rachel becomes somebody really interesting this season in terms of overcoming her ailments and trying to regain some of that power and control that she so completely desires and that’s the thing that made her her. Now that’s been taken from her, so her arc this season is really quite interesting.
What happens to someone like Rachel when you strip her of all her power and her ability to see, what happens to a person like that?
She’s completely diminished in terms of how she normally moves through the world and she has to reevaluate everything and she’s now ... she needs people now and she needs taking care of and needs help and all of that and she needs answers and she’s always been the one who’s had that. It really shakes her and rocks her. In a funny way it’s kind of bolstered her desire for those things, for that power. I don’t know that she necessarily has learned a lot from this.
She was the first villain character that you played. Are we going to start rooting for Rachel?
I think I’ve always rooted for Rachel just because I think even in Season 3 we showed her heart a bit more and her loss of her parents and what that meant to her and the fact that she was there and it was a shock to her system and everything that made her very vulnerable, and I think I always feel like the most villainous characters, or the characters that you can deem as villains, are always the most vulnerable and she’s always felt that way to me. Her fear and her pain is why she covers it up with such a clean exterior.
Sarah says like quite plainly, “We’re going to go back to where this all started.” This is what the first episodes really feel like. What are the benefits of going back to the beginning?
I guess that we get to do some things and the stakes become higher and we understand why things are the way they are. There’s a lot of unanswered questions in this show. To have any kind of answers or any kind of filling out of blank spaces is a really nice thing, a really good thing for the audience and a really great thing for us too.
Beth is a huge character in this new season as well. She was the second clone you played in the pilot. What have you discovered about Beth that you didn’t know about her in the first season?
To be honest, the only time I ever played her really was when she jumped in front of the train, and then in some little video footage. But I hadn’t really played her yet so Sarah had played her version of Beth. It was really like discovering a whole new character, and I felt like there’s such a mythology around Beth and I really wanted to bust that mythology and really break apart who she was and actually discover the true person beneath that myth. She was so much fun. That first episode was just an absolute joy for me, to get to go to those places. The writing was so mature it just felt like this awesome flashback episode that really deepened things and sort of filled out her story.
Tell me about trying to find the voice of characters. Is that something that you’ve really developed as a skill over time?
It was really not something I had ever really done before this show, and the show gave me the opportunity to really dive into that kind of work. Voice, for me, is everything from the dialect to the rhythm of the speech or the way that somebody will speak, the speed of thought, and the amount that they’ll talk and the way they see the world. On the show it’s so overt. Because I’m the only one playing all these different characters it’s really fun to go to that extreme place of creating different voices. It gives me a lot to play with.
Even a character like Krystal who is introduced later on in the season, is that a character you get to have a conversation about long ahead of time?
Krystal was like a mistake, kind of. She came out of me improvising on set and like playing in this voice of these two characters on the “Kroll Show.” Nick Kroll and Jenny Slate play these two publicists.... I was just like joking around in the voice and Graeme [Manson] and John [Fawcett] were like, “Oh, that has to be a character.” That’s kind of.... They didn’t know where it was coming from or anything. I was like, “Guys, this already exists.” They’re like, “No, no, we have to show this.” That’s how Krystal came about. She was kind of like a little mistake. A bonus baby.
Final question is did you expect the reaction to Delphine’s cliffhanger? Did you expect the fan reaction to be so overwhelmingly upset? They were really attached to her character.
Yeah, that’s the way I took it as like it’s awesome that they care that much about that character. That’s a testament to Graeme’s writing and everyone’s portrayal and that relationship that that meant so much to them. I think it’s bold storytelling when they can affect the audience so much. That makes me excited.
Can you give us any hope [for Delphine’s survival]? Is there a never say never aspect of Delphine’s death?
I can’t really.... I don’t want to say. We did see her shot at the end of the season. I don’t know. We’ll see.
Maybe we could get into a whole like who shot Delphine? Like who shot JR for “Dallas.”
Yeah, exactly, like “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”
“Orphan Black” Season 4 premiers tonight.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.