Many people will recognize Tatiana Maslany as the actress who played a multitude of characters on the award-winning Orphan Black. Needless to say, that’s the sort of gig that will bring recognition to you as an actress, but her turn in Stronger may also prove to be just as important in terms of her professional development.
Cinematic Essential: How is it playing someone who can actually analyze your work?
Tatiana Maslany: It’s a huge responsibility for sure in doing that, but John Pollono, who had written the script, had done such extensive work with the family and hearing their stories and gaining their trust. I felt like what he was putting down on the script was definitely something that was full of good intentions and love and I could go off of that in terms of trusting my take on the character. And I got to sit with Erin (Hurley) a couple of times and get a sense of her energy and a sense of who she is. But by no means was I hoping to do an impersonation.
How much did you work with Erin?
I asked her questions and more so just talked about life and kind of related to her as two young women talking about our own experiences and also found a lot I admired in her. It brought up a lot of questions for me about what I would do in this situation, how would I be able to deal with it and what would it take to go through this? For me, sitting opposite Jake when we are Jeff and Erin, that’s when I get a lot of information about this dynamic and how we’re relating to each other in any moment.
How did you emotionally prepare for some of the more dramatic scenes?
It’s hard to say. I feel like so much of it is just ingesting the script and over time letting it live inside of me. It’s a weird process. For Jake and I, David (Director) really just let us have this free rein to play. And Jake will not let a moment go if it’s not real and authentic. So it was just being open and mining all of these different moments, being malleable. So letting them play out differently all the time whether they were more playful and loving or if they were icy and restrained or uncertain. There’s a lot of doubt with Erin, and a lot of guilt, which makes things cloudy and murky.
How does playing a character like this compare to your previous work?
I think playing Erin was one of the hardest parts I’ve ever played. And not because of any pyrotechnics in terms of acting, but more so there’s a quietness about her. She’s not showing everything. She’s dealing with things quite deep down and she isn’t even sure what’s going on, I think. For me as an actor, that’s more challenging than getting to play a loud, big character because the work is smaller, the work is more specific.
Did you take up running after playing this role?
No, I realized I can’t do it (laughing). I started running as soon as I got the part and was like “I can run.” I can’t run. I still do it. I ran this morning. I ran up and down the Charles River because that’s what I used to do when I was working on the film. To prep for her (Erin), running was a big thing for me, but what I discovered was the strength it takes to do that and the work that it takes was just not something I was capable of in that moment. It made me realize how strong she is and how her physical stamina also had to have a mental stamina involved in it. That’s what they say about marathons. Any of the research I had done, the books I read about it, it’s such a psychological thing. That was a big part of Erin for me, that psychological, mental strength that it takes to be able to see something through like that.
Now you have a history in improv, correct?
I was part of this thing in Canada which is like the coolest thing in Canada called the Canadian Improv Games. It’s for like super nerds to do improv in high school who don’t like playing football or whatever. So, I was like in a training program where once I graduated I was able to train other young improvisers and teach them the ropes a little bit. Improv for me is like a huge part of why I liked working with Miranda (Richardson) or Jake (Gyllenhaal) or David (Gordon Green) because he likes lives in that place. He’ll just throw weird lines at you from off camera and you just do it and you don’t know where it’s going. It makes you feel insane, but he really lives in that place of play and that’s usually helpful in having a background in improv.
So, you’d be willing to get into comedy more in the future?
Yeah, I would love to. It’s like the thing I’m most reverent about. I’d love to do it, but in terms of scary things, that’s probably the scariest thing I could imagine as an actor.
Speaking of comedy, you worked with Lenny Clarke on this film.
Yes, he also stole my heart. I would just sit there and listen to him because he can talk forever. He can make any situation funny which was very helpful sometimes because we were doing some heavy things. that’s why I thought David was such a great director too because he’ll add these little pops of comedy. Lenny is nonstop. He’s so funny. I’d be sitting in another room and his voice is so loud and I’d hear everything he’s saying so clearly. I’d be trying to nap in between scenes and I’d be killing myself laughing because he’s so good. I love him.
You interact more with Miranda Richardson than any other actor aside from Jake.
I watched Miranda Richardson work. Which is like watching a genius play. She’s like so British and she played so Boston.
She’s a Masshole.
It’s basically a Massachusetts a*shole.
How have I never heard that?
Just look at the cars, they’re on bumper stickers sometimes.
Are there like people claiming it (laughs)?
There are too many here not to claim it.
Yeah, she’s a massive Masshole. She’s great (laughs). That’s all I ever take from these things: What have I learned from it? How did I grow as an actor? Then you kind of leave it. The same way you can’t think about how is a family going to watch this and take it in while I’m doing it. You don’t think about any of the other noise outside.
Now with the end of Orphan Black, what type of projects are you looking to get into?
I don’t know. It’s cool to have this open space. It’s been like five years of knowing that I was going back every fall, and it took up a lot of my mental and creative space. I’m kind of up for playing around and seeing what happens and I don’t really have like a thing that I have to do. I just want to follow my creative curiosity and see where it leads me. Find the next thing that’s scary.
What was the most significant thing you learned through this entire experience?
I think I’m still processing it in a way. It’s interesting to be back in Boston, because I haven’t been here since we were filming. The city meant a lot to me while we were filming. It was a touchstone in terms of being in these characters and living in this experience. I have a lot of respect for people who are going through things like this and a lot of empathy for anybody who’s dealing with someone who’s sick or hurt or changed in some way. It makes me appreciate my own life and my own circle of people who make me strong and hold me up regardless of the situation or what happens.
What about anything that you may have learned about yourself?
I thought I was a very strong person going into it, but when you’re dealing with this kind of material and this sort of emotional rawness and what this story means to people, I realized what it really takes. I watched Jake go through the process. It was very eye-opening. And then I watched Erin and Jeff move through their life from a very far away point of view, but I do see like how they grow and change. It all just made me realize how little I had to deal with, but at any moment that can change.