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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tatiana Maslany as British grifter Sarah Manning on BBC AMERICA’s ‘Orphan Black.’ (Photo: BBC AMERICA)

When Orphan Black begins, a British grifter (Tatiana Maslany) stumbles upon an international conspiracy: she’s one of many clones. And as the story has progressed into what is now the show’s third season, Maslany’s repertoire of characters has expanded to include a suicidal cop (now deceased), a fire-haired German (ditto), a Ukrainian assassin, a high-strung suburban housewife, a meticulous microbiologist, an ice-cold corporate operator, and a transgender male thief.
In playing these diverse characters, the Canadian-born actress has the Herculean task of defining each individual through speech and behavior without tripping over into Saturday Night Live-level caricature. And that’s not even accounting for the performances in which a clone pretends to be another clone. Nuances are layered on nuances.
Through these challenges, Maslany performs a high-wire act so harrowing it would make Nik Wallenda flinch. There are few safety nets here for Maslany; it’s brave, daredevil acting.
Thankfully, Maslany has a tremendous support system on the series, from creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett to the team of directors and technical coordinators. But no one may be as pivotal to Maslany’s success as her dialect coach John Nelles. The Alberta-born, Iowa-raised teacher had previously worked with the actress twice, including on the David Cronenberg film Eastern Promises, in which Maslany played the young Russian narrator. On Orphan Black, Nelles collaborated closely with Maslany, using the way each clone speaks as a foundation on which to build her living, breathing characterizations.
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