Reel Television | Orphan Black

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Several weeks ago, I caught up on the entire series of the BBC drama, Orphan Black over a complete day of binge-watching the show. After 16 episodes, I have come to one glaring conclusion: no actress in television history has been asked to do what the brilliant Tatiana Maslany is required to do for every engrossing episode.

The series focuses on Sarah Manning, a woman who assumes the identity of one of her clones, Elizabeth Childs, after witnessing Childs’ suicide. The series raises issues about the moral and ethical implications of human cloning and its effect on issues of personal identity.

Maslany stars as Manning, who discovers that she is one of ELEVEN clones that exist and she every one of them. The genius is that Maslany, and the writers, have created distinctly different personalities for each of her clone characters. It is commonplace for Maslany to play several of her clone selves in one scene and none of it could be possible without the help of Kathryn Alexandre.

“I could cry thinking about her,” Maslany said of Alexandre, her Orphan Black clone double, during a Screen Actors Guild Foundation interview. “She’s so amazing. She memorizes all of the lines, all of my blocking, all of her blocking, my mannerisms, my impulses; she, somehow, memorizes all of that and gives it back to me with a performance I can play off of.”

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Logistically, Alexandre acts opposite Maslany any time two or more of the clones interact — which is quite frequently — and delivers a screen-worthy performance before being replaced during post-production. While many actors would balk at the seemingly thankless job, Alexandre considers it the role of a lifetime.

“I’d just graduated theater school and didn’t have much experience working on camera,” said Alexandre. “I didn’t really know how complicated the role would become, but I’m working on such a wonderful show with such skilled people and learning so much. It’s incredible.”

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Incredible is an understatement. It is not just a thought-proving concept and gimmick but a highly effective one as well. Orphan Black is a potboiler that is full of surprises and intrigue. Speaking of surprises, the show introduces another important clone variation – one that requires Maslany to draw from her endless supply of creativity for another astounding portrayal.

In the two years that they’ve been working with one another, Maslany and Alexandre have developed an important short-hand and an unexpected reliance on one another. “There were times on set where I was so tired and I didn’t know how I was going to get through the day, and she would show up and give me everything,” Maslany said. “[She] knew how tired I was, and woke me up. She’s so there for me and so giving of all her energy. It’s the ultimate generosity.”

And Alexandre feels the same way about Maslany. “I’m grateful she’s created these characters, who are so interesting and layered, so I can explore them too,” she said.

Later this season, Alexandre will have her first on-screen appearance. “Throughout the first season, there were little murmurings of how we could get my face in a scene,” she said. “The writers kept saying they were going to find me something — and they did. I make an appearance as a character of my own in Episode 9. It’s a dream.”

Orphan Black airs Saturday nights at 9pm on BBC America.