This Saturday at 9PM, BBC America debuts its second original series, Orphan Black. A science fiction thriller, Orphan Black follows a young woman named Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), who is returning home after ten months away to try to reclaim custody of her daughter, who is being raised by Sarah’s own foster mother, when she witnesses another young woman, Beth, commit suicide at a train station. If that wasn’t unsettling enough, the other woman shares Sarah’s face. And as Sarah, desperate for cash, appropriates the dead woman’s identity, apartment—and as it turns out, the police department review she’s under for an unjustified shooting of a civilian—she learns that she doesn’t just have a twin: there are a disturbing number of other women wearing Sarah’s face.
I spoke to Maslany about the challenge of playing multiple characters in a single show, how viewers relate to unsympathetic female characters, and how science fiction depicts the near future and handles class. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
In Orphan Black, you’ve got a core role playing Sarah, but you have to portray a number of other women as well. Was that one of the things that drew you to the series?
Absolutely…They’re all compelling, they’re all complex, they’re all very different. Sarah was definitely my entry point into the series. What fascianted me about her so much was her extreme flaws that were right out there, her behavior that was completely immoral and self-absorbed, always defending herself. What’s fascinating to me is she’s got that beautiful heart as well. She completely wants to be a mother to her daughter, and every part of her upbringing is saying she can’t do that, and she’s not worthy of that. It’s a really nice tension to play. And to get into all the other characters, each has a different worldview, and that’s how I approached them. How do they see the world? Is it a fearful place? is it fascinating? Do they love people?
Was part of the appeal the opportunity to build audience sympathy for an unlikeable female character? Men get to be anti-heroes far more often.
Yeah, that’s what I love about it. I think, for me, it was unlike any character I’d seen on screeen, any female character especially. She’s not immediately likable. She’s not good or bad. She’s very much an animal of impulse and instinct, of self-preservation and survival. People can relate to that. There’s something glamorous abou people on Breaking Bad or whatever, because I think it tapes into the darker parts of ourselves that we don’t get to experience on a day to day basis, or that society tells us is bad. And I think that’s what’s so compelling about Sarah. We’re all so flawed. we’re all like that. We’re all bad people sometime. It’s a matter of circumstance, it’s a matter of our rsesponse to the world and what it’s told us about who we can be and who we are. She’s really grown up in a world of hostility and violence. I’m happy that she gets to be the protagonist, that her action saren’t condemned.