orphan black

This week in New York City, Orphan Black fans (aka The Clone Club) lined up outside Sunshine Cinema. They waited hours—some overnight—to ensure a seat to the season two premier and Q&A with cast and creators of the BBC America original drama. The line mirrored the Doctor Who premier in New York, and the program shares many of the same fans. But Orphan Black has been around one year, whereas Doctor Who has a 50-year legacy. So what’s the big deal about Orphan Black?

Ricky Gervais recently told the Radio Times that there aren’t enough well-developed female characters on television. “Usually they’re props,” he said. Orphan Black is a solid step toward rectifying this. At the premier, actress Evelyne Brochu (Delphine) said that what drew her to Orphan Black was that it centered around strong female characters who were not validated by their male counterparts. Indeed, the male characters are cardboard cutouts compared to the complexity of the female clones (all played by Tatiana Maslany) and their sometimes companions, Mrs. S and Delphine. The three principle clones inhabit separate worlds—street, science, and suburb—but all have a depth that is far removed from the archetypes we are used to.

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During the Q&A, Brochu stated that “Tatiana [Maslany] is the best living actor in the world,” and no one in the room disagreed. She’s in every scene, often as two or three characters simultaneously. Her characters all have different accents, facial expressions, and body language. Half the time, she plays one character pretending to be another, but we never lose sight of who’s who. You could give some credit to wardrobe, makeup, writing, and directing, but it’s not all in her appearance.

The ubiquitous Orphan Black promo posters show the same woman twice, but Maslany’s characters are all as different as Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, multiplied ten-fold. Co-creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett are quick to pin the genius of the illusion on Maslany. Unlike the usual practice of having the writers and directors giving us the meat of the characterizations, they revealed that it was the actress who developed many of the individual attributes that make the various clones so unique and convincing. Watch her as Cosima and notice how the “talking hands” and glasses she brought to the audition really flesh out one of so many fascinating characters. If there is a role Maslany can’t conquer, we haven’t seen it yet.

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Season two premiers in the U.K. on April 30 on BBC. (UK readers can watch BBC on FilmOn.)

Jaime Nelson is the editor of anglonerd.com, a British TV and comedy site for Americans.

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