Tatiana Maslany was sure the key to multiplicity rested in a yoga mat.
As the many faces of BBC America’s clone conspiracy thriller “Orphan Black,” the 28-year-old actress is chameleon-like, parading around the show’s every-city metropolis as seven different characters — and counting. In one form or another, she has committed suicide by train; locked tongues with a female classmate/spy; threatened a man at hot glue gun-point; rocked out to a’'90s one-hit wonder in the sanctity of a minivan.
She has even stabbed her other self. It’s the sort of gig, on paper, that is characteristic of the multi-tasking abilities of her generation.
Then there’s reality as creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett saw it when they cast her for the part(s) in late 2012.
“They said, ‘This is going to be insane,’” said Maslany in a recent interview at her Los Angeles hotel room. “I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, sure.’ They were like, ‘No, listen to us. It’s going to be a lot.’ I just remember saying, ‘It’s fine. It’s fine. As long as I have a yoga mat and a room that I can go to and chill for a bit, all will be OK.’”
Her naivete was checked at the floor. The yoga mat is rolled up and sitting dusted in a corner somewhere, she admitted with a puckish smile that offset her structured head-to-toe black ensemble. “It’s never been touched.”
Such is the hitch of being more than one of a kind. Premiering to little fanfare last year, “Orphan Black” steadily built buzz over its 10-episode first season, with critics — and celebrity fans such as Sarah Silverman and Damon Lindelof — particularly stirred by its breakout star, even crying foul when Maslany didn’t receive an Emmy nomination last year. (She would later receive a Golden Globe nomination.)
Even NBC’s sitcom “Parks and Recreation” wanted to have some fun with her, enlisting Maslany for a small arc this season. The sleeper hit returns for a second season Saturday.
“Last season, nobody knew about [“Orphan Black”] when we were shooting, so we kind of had this little private moment,” the Canadian actress said of the sci-fi series whose enthusiasts have dubbed themselves the Clone Club. “Now it’s public and you have to sort of quiet up the noise — of peoples’ opinions, peoples’ criticisms, peoples’ love. The pressure is people knowing about you and saying, ‘OK, let’s see what you can do.’”
The drama centers on a punk grifter, Sarah, who on a whim discovers she is part of a faction of clones manufactured as part of a top-secret, illegal science experiment. In her pursuit to uncover the motive, she encounters her fellow clones — police detective Beth, uptight soccer mom Alison, dreadlocked science nerd Cosima, pro-clone Rachel, deranged Ukrainian Helena and panicked German Katja.
“Imagine the pressure of trying to find one actress to play multiple people — I mean, we were asking a lot,” Manson said. “When she auditioned, we had her in a room with 15 executives all yelping, ‘OK, do your Sarah!’ ‘Do your Alison!’ ‘Do your Cosima!’ ‘Do Sarah being Beth!’ The way she would just do a 360 in a snap and inhabit a whole new person was just crazy weird.”
And eerie, too, said Maslany, who goes by “Tat” on the set.
“We had a science consultant who talked us through the current politics and science of cloning,” she said. “But, for me, that stuff isn’t as interesting as the concept of what cloning means to people. Or as a human being what it would mean to not be an individual, to be owned by people, or to have been created in a test tube — so, for me, it resonates as far as being a woman and how our body and our image is not always ours. It gets my head spinning. It’s not anything I’m used to.”
Maslany used certain triggers to help her slip seamlessly into another persona for “Orphan Black” in the first season. Sometimes, it was music and at others it was just walking around in the character’s actual shoes.
“I would dance a lot in between scenes to keep up their movement,” she said. “That was key.”
Co-star Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s colorful foster brother Felix, found it to be a real-life conspiracy.
“It is like watching some sort of magician work,” Gavaris said. “She’s teeny, tiny. I’m hard-pressed to pull the curtain back. I don’t know where the magic happens or comes from. Her process is so internal, and so finite and so flawless.”
But there’s no “I” in “clone.” With Season 2 less about learning to ride the clone bike, and more about learning new tricks, appearance is everything for the doppelganger savant.
“In a totally un-girly way, hair and makeup is my salvation,” she said. “Because I know who the characters are already, and have lived in them a while — hair and makeup is the thing where I’ll look in the mirror and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, totally, there she is. There’s my girl.’”
Stephen Lynch, the key makeup artist, and Sandy Sokolowski, the head of the hair department, are meticulous about fleshing out the various clone personas — particularly when a new clone has been introduced — and include Maslany in the process. Each clone’s personal grooming habits are considered.
It could take anywhere from a half hour (Helena) to almost two hours (Rachel) to complete a look. One shooting day could have Maslany switching looks up to three times. In some cases, Lynch admitted, one character’s look is painted over another due to time constraints.
“People ask me a lot if I wish I had my own clone to get through the days,” said Maslany. “It would be nice. It would be super nice. But I wouldn’t want to share the fun.”
Where: BBC America
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)