Tatiana Maslany is a singular sensation.
She played more than a dozen clones over the course of five seasons on BBC America’s sci-fi thriller Orphan Black, which meant more of her for loyal Clone Clubbers to love. Now the 33-year-old Emmy winner is thrilling Broadway audiences with one character they love to hate.
Maslany stars as ruthless television executive Diana Christensen in Network, Lee Hall and Ivo van Howe’s Tony-nominated stage adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient Oscar-winning 1976 satire of American news media. Bryan Cranston plays veteran anchorman Howard Beale, who becomes a prophet for disenfranchised viewers after an on-air meltdown.
Next set to star in HBO’s Perry Mason reboot, Maslany chats with NewNowNext about Orphan Black’s LGBTQ legacy almost two years after its series finale—including that trans clone she still regrets.
You’re wrapping up a seven-month run in Network. Congrats on your Broadway debut.
Thank you. I started in theater, so Broadway was always a dream. Just being in this city, doing theater, feels so special.
Looking at the world, Network’s Howard Beale famously says he’s “tired of the bullshit” and “mad as hell.” Do you relate?
Oh, my god, yeah. I absolutely connected to that concept. Part of why I was so excited to do this piece is because it hits all those things people are feeling right now. Howard Beale is saying things that are very true, very real, very felt, and I certainly can feel a visceral response from the audience. But he’s saying other things that are inflammatory, and the play tackles how that rage can be embodied in a positive way or a destructive way.
As a Canadian working in America during this period of national turmoil, are you comforted by having Justin Trudeau back home?
I don’t feel comfort, honestly, because everything that happens here is a reflection of the whole world. As much as Canada might seem devoid of conflict, we certainly have similar issues rippling through our communities as well. The world is shifting in a really scary way, so I, as a Canadian, definitely can’t be like, “Well, I’m not part of this.” What’s happening in America does have ramifications on my life, and it feels extremely personal.
In Network you play Diana, a cold-hearted network programming exec who capitalizes on Howard’s rage. Was it a challenge to understand her motives and find her humanity?
Yes and no. I fully connect to her hunger, her desire, and her drive for what she does and wants to do in her life. She’s more single-minded and goes about things in a different way, but we have a similar dissatisfaction with how things are run. She was seen as villainous in the ’70s, but it’s interesting to be playing a female character who’s so complicated and controversial right now. If she were a guy, I think we’d look at her differently.
Faye Dunaway won an Oscar for playing Diana in the film. Those are some big heels to fill. Was that intimidating?
Absolutely. Of course. And Michelle Dockery played her in London. It’s an iconic role, so I definitely felt nervous about that, but any comparisons are so beyond my control. All I could do is sink my teeth into a challenging part and enjoy it.
At one point Diana pitches the idea of a lesbian soap opera called The Dykes. It’s maybe intended to reflect her lack of scruples, but I’d watch that show.
[Laughs] I know! Me too. After I say that line, [my co-star] Tony Goldwyn and I have totally joked that we would watch that.
She basically came up with The L Word in ’76.
Right? As much as she’s focused on ratings and shock value, there’s a creativity to her concepts that’s so out of the box for that time.
Growing up in Canada, what was your introduction to the LGBTQ community?
I was in musical theater from the age of 9, and community theater was very much an LGBTQ-inclusive space. These were the people playing the lead roles, people I grew up with, my friends, so I was always part of that community in that way. A lot of my mentors were gay, whether or not that was something that was talked about. It was just a given. So that community was my friendship circle, my safe space, and the people I connected with the most.
Did you go to gay bars in Saskatchewan?
I think there was one I went to in my 20s when I went back to Regina, but I definitely had a great time at gay bars in Montreal, Toronto, and New York. I still remember seeing my first drag show in Montreal with a friend after we saw Britney Spears in concert. Now, of course, RuPaul’s Drag Race is very much part of my life.
You were a 2018 recipient of HRC’s Ally for Equality Award and gave a tearful acceptance speech about the LGBTQ community. Why was that so emotional for you?
I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just a community that means so much to me, that I feel so passionately about. I felt so privileged to be asked to speak at that event, it couldn’t not be emotional. My best friend Ben Lewis, who’s gay, flew out from L.A. to be there with me. We grew up together, doing theater, so having him in the audience meant a lot to me.
It meant a lot to LGBTQ viewers that one of your Orphan Black clones, Cosima, was a proud lesbian.
Yeah, so much of my interaction with Orphan Black fans has been young people telling me how the show helped them come out or be themselves because they felt seen, they felt represented, and it gave them the courage to talk to their parents about who they were. To be a part of something that has had that kind of effect, and to be able to have those conversations with people, is really moving and humbling.
Did Cosima come with an added responsibility to represent the LGBTQ community truthfully and respectfully?
At first, I just was thrilled to play her. I found her fascinating and exciting. Cosima’s sexuality was a part of her, but I didn’t necessarily understand the full impact of that representation until I got feedback from the audience. It really hit me when I was able to talk to people about it. That voracious protectiveness fans felt about Cosima and her relationship to Delphine was eye-opening to me, even as someone who is quite sensitive to the importance of that kind of representation.
Why do you think they connected with Cosima so deeply?
She was gay but also a scientist, also this, also that. I loved that she had so many facets to her, which felt quite unique to see on television. Early on, she even says, “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me.”
You also played an alcoholic lesbian in Ben Lewis’ short film Apart From Everything. With the increasing pressure on Hollywood to cast LGBTQ actors in LGBTQ roles, would you have any hesitations before playing another queer character?
I feel like I would definitely consider things differently now. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want to play queer characters again, but I do feel very protective of queer actors getting the opportunities to play those roles, so I wouldn’t take that decision lightly.
It’s complicated, because there have been so many beloved queer characters played by straight actors. Your boyfriend, Tom Cullen, was great in Weekend.
Yeah. I also feel like there are multitudes to the way any person identifies or feels. As an artist, my work has been a beautiful opening to that space of questioning and exploring, and it’s an exploration of my own questions, thoughts, and passions, and love and sex are part of that. So it’s hard for me to say, really, but I do see acting as an open space for exploration.
Another one of your clones was a trans man, which was met with significant criticism.
We did that with every good intention. We were careful to be sensitive, but we definitely made mistakes, and that’s something I regret deeply. For us, it felt like a new way to explore identity the way we had with all of the clones, but it certainly wasn’t without issue. That being said, I’ve had wonderful interactions with trans people, mostly trans men, who’ve said they were grateful to see a part of their experience on the show. But yeah, I definitely have regrets about that.
Should trans roles be off-limits to cisgender actors at this point?
Yeah, trans characters should be played by trans people—I just think that’s the way it should be, no question. It doesn’t make sense otherwise.
Speaking of trans representation, you were cast as a series regular in Pose, but your character, Dean of the New School for Dance, was rewritten as an older black woman and recast. Were you bummed?
Of course, yeah. I was so excited for that. But I ultimately think it was the right decision. Charlayne Woodard, who stepped in, is much more correct for that part. She makes much more of an impact than I would have.
Have you seen Pose?
I’ve binged the whole show and I love it. It’s so fucking great. I’m so blown away by all of those actors. I’m definitely sad not to be a part of it.
I hope Ryan Murphy finds another part for you soon.
Yeah, I’d love to work with him. He creates roles that are so beautiful, dynamic, and kinetic. I’m still a big fan.
Network runs through June 8 at the Belasco Theatre in New York.