Tatiana Maslany takes the highway to her Hollywood
This time last year, Steven Gaydos of Variety magazine caught Tatiana Maslany’s award-winning performance in a minor Canadian film called Picture Day at the Whistler Film Festival. Maslany ended up on the industry bible’s annual list of 10 actors to watch, thanks to that, sitting comfortably beside the likes of Léa Seydoux, Brie Larson, and Oscar Isaac.
In the interim, she added a slew of nominations and trophies to her résumé for both Picture Day and the sci-fi TV series Orphan Black. In short, the Regina native went from Canadian indie stalwart to star on the verge of supernova within a brisk 12 months—something that team Whistler got dead right when they put Picture Day in competition. As programming director Paul Gratton recently exclaimed to the Straight: “We love her!”
“It’s exciting, but at the same time, it’s terrifying. I can’t hide anymore,” Maslany says, calling the Straight during a break in her punishing Orphan Black schedule. She plays seven (and counting) parts in the wildly popular Space / BBC America show, which is shot under the guiding hand of series creator John (Ginger Snaps) Fawcett in Toronto. As is the custom for Canuck actors who suddenly find themselves in Hollywood’s high beam, Maslany scoffs at the idea that she was ever holding out for any kind of career in the industry.
“I honestly didn’t think too far ahead. Every single time I finished a job, that was it: I was screwed; I was never gonna act again,” she says with a laugh. Even at this point, “longevity” is the no-nonsense goal she’s setting for herself. But Maslany overlooks the simple fact of her own star quality. Fans of NBC’s Parks and Recreation were hit upside the head by her natural-born charisma after a recent two-episode guest shot. When the Whistler Film Festival kicks off for the 13th time this week (it runs December 4 to 8), opening-night attendees will see Maslany in the Canadian-set road movie Cas & Dylan, holding her own against a Hollywood legend.
“Richard Dreyfuss,” she says. “Yeah, what the heck? Weirdly, when I found out he was doing the part, my brother and I were like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s the centipede from James and the Giant Peach!’ And that’s so stupid, because that’s so not the reference anyone else would pick! But it was a movie that we watched as kids, over and over and over, and that voice is so iconic. He’s just this household name. My parents know him, and I know him, and my brothers know him, and to be sitting opposite him in a car for hours and hours and just playing and…” She pauses, mulling over the experience. “He made me feel like I was a peer,” Maslany continues, softly. “I just soaked it in and tried to learn as much as I could. Crazy.”
It’s Dreyfuss who gets the showboat part in Cas & Dylan as a retirement-age doctor whose cancer diagnosis prompts a cross-Canada drive to a family cabin on Vancouver Island. But it’s Maslany as his unwanted passenger—she’s a street-smart whirlwind of fast talk and charm—who gets deepest inside her role. As she did for her performance as the promiscuous motormouth Claire in Picture Day, Maslany brings an acute understanding of her character’s surface bravado to Cas & Dylan.
“Yeah, it’s funny, I feel like I’ve played a few girls running,” she says. “And Claire’s running is different from Dylan’s running, but there’s this kind of similar fear of stillness, and fear of being vulnerable, and being seen, and being quiet.” Appropriately enough, director Jason Priestley (yes, that Jason Priestley) has crafted a funny, antic film “full of motion”, as Maslany puts it. Yet a climactic scene relies entirely on the two actors standing in a room in the midst of an awkward and protracted silence. It’s precisely the kind of thing that would be sandblasted right out of a mainstream movie, but it sets up a killer emotional payoff in Cas & Dylan.
“It was really important that that ending didn’t get Hollywooded. That’s a testament to Jason,” Maslany says. “I think at that point we’d done a lot of the journey already. If I remember correctly, we were nearing the end of the shoot, so there was this sense that we’d lived through quite a bit together, and I think he just let us be in that scene. It’s such a cool place to play, dramatically, and to not play, and to not do anything, and just let that tension be there.”
In their modest way, those few brief minutes in Cas & Dylan give us an insight into Maslany’s real ambitions. Asked who she admires as an actor, the 28-year-old froths over Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence and expresses a sense of wonder over the death-defying challenges that filmmaker John Cassavetes handed to his actors. Of Peter Falk, she says: “Cassavetes didn’t want any of his tricks, and didn’t want any of his knowledge—he didn’t want him to know anything, you know? So, I mean, what a scary place to work from as an actor, especially as an adult actor, as an accomplished actor. But then the work that comes out of it is this whole other thing that nobody can put a name on, you know? And that’s the kind of work I would die to do.”
It’s not an unreasonable proposition. In a perfect future, perhaps Maslany could hook up with Quebec’s enfant terrible Xavier Dolan, about whom she raves. In the meantime, there’s the second season of her globally successful TV show to wrap up and Maslany’s inevitable graduation onto the A list. If there’s a cute way to end this story of Prairie Canada made good, it’s to mention that she played another orphaned character in her first-ever acting job, at the age of nine, in an amateur production of Oliver!. “Orphan number four or something,” she says. Easily the best orphan, right?
“It was. It was the iconic background orphan. The most important one, for sure,” she says, tittering.