Why Tatiana Maslany Is The Most Overlooked Actress Of 2013

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In a year filled with great TV performances, our critic says the work of one actress stood out above all others. Tatiana Maslany of the BBC show Orphan Black plays seven different characters, all clones raised in wildly different circumstances.


This has been a year with some great performances on television. But NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans says the work of one actress really stood out to him. If he were in the business of giving out awards, he says, he would get the title of best split personality on TV in 2013.

ERIC DEGGANS: No one on TV inhabits so many roles so seamlessly as Tatiana Maslany. She's a Canadian who can play a petty but streetwise British criminal...


TATIANA MASLANY: (as Sarah Manning) Sell the coke and keep half the money and give half the money to Kira, yeah?

DEGGANS: An uptight suburban soccer mom...


MASLANY: (as Alison Hendrix) We live in Scarborough. About a million years ago, I went to university.

DEGGANS: A warped assassin from the Ukraine...


MASLANY: (as Helena) I grew up poor in a convent in Ukraine.

DEGGANS: Plus a geeky scientist, a depressed cop, a corporate henchwoman and a German coughing blood. Maslany plays all these characters on BBC America's hit science fiction series "Orphan Black." And she's also the most overlooked TV actress of 2013.

"Orphan Black" starts with a train wreck. A small-time con woman standing on a train platform sees a woman who looks just like her...


DEGGANS: ...commit suicide by jumping on the track.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Stop the train. Stop the train. Stop the train.

DEGGANS: The con woman steals her dead lookalike's purse and climbs into her life. She hopes to rob her savings, but plunges into a complex conspiracy with a twisted revelation at its heart.


MASLANY: (as Allison Hendrix) We're clones. We're someone's experiment and they're killing us off.

DEGGANS: Maslany plays all the clones. Several of them eventually join forces to unravel the conspiracy, as they look over an unusual piece of equipment one of them just coughed up.


MASLANY: (as Sarah Manning) It's an electrode from an electroencephalogram, right?

(as Cosima) Well, an EEG helmet. It monitors electrical activity in the brain.

(as Sarah Manning) It wasn't no bloody dream then, was it?

(as Cosima) I knew it. Well, how long have I been saying it? We're like lab rats in an illegal experiment.

DEGGANS: Now, tell me again how Maslany didn't get an Emmy nomination or, like, seven of them?

MASLANY: That's part of the excitement of it for me, was the challenge of how do I switch between these characters.

DEGGANS: Maslany explained her acting process to Canadian celebrity journalist Murtz Jaffer.

MASLANY: Sometimes three times within a day. Sometimes three times within a scene.

How do I make sure I'm not crossing over habits from one character to another. So that for me was, I mean, an actor's dream.

DEGGANS: Years ago playing multiple roles on a TV show was little more than a gimmick. But Maslany has used technology and talent to make something new: a TV show that hooks you on great characters before you even know you're watching science fiction.


GREENE: That's NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans.


GREENE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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