RUN THIS TOWN
HAVING WRAPPED HER EMMYWINNING RUN PLAYING A SISTERHOOD OF CLONES ON ORPHAN BLACK, TATIANA MASLANY PUT HER BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS INTO THE REAL-LIFE DRAMA STRONGER. THE ONLY PART SHE WON’T PLAY? CELEBRITY.
Emmy-winning actor Tatiana Maslany talks about her emotional role in Stronger and the final days of Orphan Black
“ACTING GROWS AS YOU GROW AS A PERSON. AND I NEVER WANT TO STOP WORKING AT IT.”
Tatiana Maslany is chatting while cycling, balancing both her groceries and her phone as she steers through the streets of Los Angeles. The 31-year-old Canadian actor moved south from Toronto in May, and the city of stars has proved a fitting physical manifestation of Maslany’s mixed feelings about show business.
“I feel very creatively stimulated,” the star of this fall’s Boston bombing biopic Stronger says as she pulls up to the new home she shares with her partner, Welsh actor Tom Cullen. “At the same time, there is the other side of the industry that I never signed up for that can get quite schmoozey and name dropy. It can feel quite gross. It’s this weird counter to what the thing is actually about, which is empathy and humanity and fun and imagination and make believe. How can you do that when you are looking over every person’s shoulder to see who is more famous in the room?”
An absence of star-struck wonder is one hint that Maslany is no ingénue. Her first gig came when she was “around nine” on the Canadian kids series On My Mind, which was shot in her native Regina. “In one way, it is completely innate in children, make believe and play and believing in different circumstances,” she says. “But also it’s like, be quiet at this time, you have to work from 8 AM till 8 PM. It’s an odd juxtaposition.”
That early training positioned Maslany to become the kind of actor known for her extraordinary discipline. For her Emmy-winning role on Orphan Black, Maslany famously used rotating playlists to get into character as a prissy housewife, hipster scientist, zany Eastern European, streetwise single mom, and many of the other seven clones she played on the Canadian sci-fi series, which aired its final episode last August after five seasons.
But silence was her only sound cue for channeling Erin Hurley for Stronger— a film based on the true story of Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. She found the character of the real-life marathon racer, whose on-off relationship with Jeff develops a complex new dimension after the tragedy, in part by running through the streets of Boston herself, using the sounds of the city as her soundtrack.
Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as Jeff early in the project’s development. Maslany laughs when this interviewer refers to her co-star as “Mr. Gyllenhaal,” skeptically repeating, “Mr. Gyllenhaal?” She calls him “Jake.” Their easy comradery was apparent from the start. Director David Gordon Green says he auditioned many actors for the role of Erin. “I just wanted to see who had what to say,” Green, a fan of Maslany’s from Orphan Black, says. “I saw a lot of actresses about it and very quickly narrowed it down to just [Maslany]. I got her in the room with Jake. There was instant chemistry and energy and creativity.” Despite the skill she demonstrated on
Orphan Black, playing Erin forced Maslany to stretch in unfamiliar ways. “I couldn’t run down the street without tasting blood in my mouth, so I really had to work at that,” Maslany says. The day they filmed the Boston Marathon, Maslany ran for six hours, purposely keeping herself panting between takes.
And yet those moments of physical exhaustion pale compared to the emotional exertion Maslany endures onscreen. Gyllenhaal’s Bauman goes through moments of explosive frustration during his rehabilitation. “For me it was really just believing Jake’s performance and allowing him to put me into that place,” she says. “Everybody believed that the circumstances were happening, so it was just easy to be there.”
Maslany would spend her days as his sparring partner, then attend live stand-up comedy by David Cross, Steve Martin, and Martin Short in the evenings. “It was a nice relief after a day of very heavy lifting,” she admits, adding, “I have no complaints about having to go into those places. The pleasure in the job is getting to experience something with people and feel it with them.”
Less inspiring for Maslany is the red-carpet Olympics that actresses are all but forced to participate in, particularly during awards season. Yet by working with stylist Micaela Erlanger, a favourite of Lupita Nyong’o and Jared Leto, she’s found an unshowy style that projects the same low-key confidence that is consistent across her performances.
One favourite look was the red Alexander Wang cut-out gown she wore to the Emmys last year. “That dress was just so comfortable and felt so sexy and powerful without feeling like something that I had seen before,” she says. “I just felt so confident in it. I was myself in that dress.” Also normalizing that surreal evening was having Cullen walk the red carpet with her. Despite winning Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for
Orphan Black, in photos from that evening, Maslany looks the most joyful with her arm wrapped around Cullen’s back, looking up into his eyes.
The couple met on the set of the historical miniseries World Without End and have now been together for six years. Earlier this year, he made a cameo on Orphan Black, playing a lascivious cosmetics CEO busted by Maslany’s beauty vlogger clone Krystal. Maslany got to make out with Cullen, then kick him in the balls. “It’s so funny, hey?” she says. “We did a film two years ago ( The Other Half) where we played these tortured souls that are trying to forge a normal relationship. This was like slapstick and beating each other up.”
By contrast, Maslany never cried harder than she did while filming Orphan Black’s final episodes. One scene saw suburban housewife Alison on Skype with two of the clones, Sarah and Cosima. “I was already sad enough saying goodbye to Alison and my nose just started pouring blood,” she says. “It totally ruined the take. It was so gross. It was so frustrating that that was my last moment with her, just Kleenex stuffed up my nose, trying not to get it on the carpet.”
What’s next for Maslany? Surprisingly for an actor who spun a role on a cult hit into an Emmy win through sheer force of talent, she continues to study her craft. For a life-long performer such as Maslany, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Acting grows as you grow as a person,” she explains. “It’s frustratingly not a concrete thing where you can say, ‘now I’ve got it.’ It’s a constant process. And I never want to stop working at it.”