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Remember the unquestioned belief and magic of playing pretend as a kid? You were a dinosaur, no, a spy – no, wait, Queen of the Mermaids. You lost yourself for hours, aided and abetted, if you were lucky, by a few props and indulgent adults who agreed you were the Maharaja and became your willing subjects. Then you grow up, abandon make believe and yourself become the indulgent adult, which is a little sad, when you think about it. At the very least, it makes you ponder the “natural” progression of things. As someone who never wanted to let those fantasies go, Tatiana Maslany has won the lottery with Orphan Black, and the prize looks like the biggest costume box of make believe ever.
Though Maslany – like so many “overnight ‘successes – came to wide attention for her role (make that roles) as about a dozen different clones in the cult favorite Canadian series, she’s been acting since the age of nine; earlier if you count the living room theatricals she staged for her parents as a youngster. That didn’t give her much opportunity to have the typical high school student experience and social structure that comes with it, but for a kid with acting ambitions and a hyperactive imagination, a school improv team proved the only peer group she needed. To this day, it inspires and fuels some fairly uncontrollable urges to go off script, usually to the benefit of her work.
After a year or so of college, she focused fully on work. Acting jobs, acting coaches and Emmy nominations followed, as did the certainty she’d eventually set off a Fraud Alert; inevitably, someone would discover her for the acting fake that she was and hire someone more qualified for the job. It’s comforting to know that feeling can plague even the most successful and talented among us, but it’s also a cautionary tale about judgment. The danger of regulating creative impulses based on what you think is right or wrong, or worse, what you think someone else will judge as right or wrong, is that you stop risking. That said, Maslany knows that as a society, we’re hard-wired to judge; heck, even awards shows that recognize artistic achievement are complicit by nature, designating “best” and by default, not-so-worthy. So what to do? Allow yourself to “put it out there” before you judge. “Good” or “bad”, at least the idea, the impulse, had a chance to be born. Maslany still works at this, and looks to a favorite quote from Martha Graham as a reminder: “There is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours…” Or in Maslany’s slightly more earthy paraphrase, “vomit first, and try to make something pretty with it.” In this issue, she talks about what she learned in the transition from improv to scripted roles, what it’s like to play the multitudes of Orphan Black, why monsters scare her more than robbers and why she once faked sleeping for 17 hours. So go ahead and judge Tatiana Maslany; we did, and found her as fascinating, funny and relatable as they come.