“It was so boring,” Tatiana Maslany laughs to FilmInk at The Cannes Film Festival about working on her latest film, Two Lovers And A Bear. Before you think that this is a rare case of an actor actually throwing shade at the film that they’re promoting, back up a minute. Maslany is just responding to the question of what it was like to play one character in a film as opposed to the seven that she essays on her hit TV series, Orphan Black. “It was nice to live with one character for two months, as opposed to shifting around. I came right off the series, and went straight into Two Lovers And A Bear, so it was a relief to play one character for a bit! Orphan Black is taxing for my brain! It’s a lot of shifting around, so when I got to go to the Arctic and shoot this one character, and sit with her for two months, it was such a calming experience.”
Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Maslany spent five years in relative obscurity toiling ceaselessly in Canadian movies. But then out of the blue, the young actress shot forth like a thunderbolt, delivering a performance – or rather, seven performances – in Orphan Black (which made its debut in 2013) that knocked everyone’s socks off. In the acclaimed TV series, she plays seven different characters, or more accurately, one character and her six clones. “I would never have gotten to do Two Lovers And A Bear if it hadn’t been for Orphan Black,” Maslany admits of her star-making TV show. “It’s given me such a foot in the door. I can audition now, and show my work. There’s something about having that kind of visibility. Being able to come here to Cannes is amazing, and Orphan Black has really opened doors for me.”
Directed by Kim Nguyen (the acclaimed War Witch), the singular and highly unusual Two Lovers And A Bear follows Roman (Dane DeHaan) and Lucy (Maslany), a troubled, fearful couple who flee the boredom of their tiny hometown near The North Pole, and head dangerously into the wilderness. “It’s such a unique story,” says Maslany. “It’s so surreal, and darkly funny, and the prospect of shooting in the Arctic was terrifying and exciting. The character was so layered, and there was such an emotional weight to her. That was something that I really wanted to explore, and it was so nice to see a story that was so simply told, about two people, running from their past, and what that is, and everything that it entails, against this poetic backdrop. It was really intriguing to me.”
With its harsh environment and surprising plot detours (Roman and Lucy do eventually encounter, yes, a polar bear, voiced, no less, by legendary Canadian thesp, Gordon Pinsent), Two Lovers And A Bear seems to prove that Maslany is pulled towards unusual projects. Where does this need for artistic extremity come from? “I don’t know,” she laughs. “It’s very true! I had a pretty easy childhood. I think that I’m interested in characters that are going through something that I can learn something from, and that I can understand better. I’m fascinated by what makes people who they are, and the psychology behind our behaviour, and why we do what we do. But I don’t know why I’m interested in these extreme experiences. Maybe it’s just because my life is so chilled out,” she laughs.
Maslany has actually been dancing with this kind of artistic extremity for many years, and is well known for her participation in the Canadian Improv Games, where urgent and immediate thinking is part of the game. “Improv is invaluable,” she says of the impact that this has had on her career. “The whole thing about improv is saying, ‘Yes’, and being present in a moment, and working with your scene partner to create something together. You don’t know where it’s going to go, and that sense of the unknown is a fun thing to play with as an actor. It’s all about being open to whatever the moment dictates, and whatever the moment needs. Improv is the best training drill for an actor.”
When did Maslany know that she wanted to be an actor? “Well, I started when I was like nine-years-old,” she replies. “So I was always performing. It was always part of my life. I worked in film, and I worked in TV and theatre, but when I moved to Toronto, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do with my life!’ I shifted gears, and it was less about playing around, and it was more like, ‘I’m going to start training.’ I didn’t go to drama school, but I trained with a lot of different teachers, in Toronto and LA, and I keep doing that, because I love training.”
That training is paying off, with Tatiana Maslany now getting big time recognition for her work on Orphan Black, and for her daring decisions to take on difficult projects like Two Lovers And A Bear. “Sometimes people will stop me in the street and say that they like Orphan Black, or that this character is their favourite, or whatever,” the actress smiles. “It’s so nice to have that…it’s awesome. It doesn’t feel invasive or anything, it’s just like, ‘Oh, whoa, you’ve seen the show?’” Maslany laughs. “When we first started the series, we didn’t have any clue that people were going to watch it! We had no idea that it was going to have this groundswell of appreciation. Then you go to ComicCon, and you experience that, and you go, ‘Oh, Jesus, people have seen it, and they love the characters!’ They’re dressed as the characters, which is pretty cool! I’m a huge fan of things too, so it’s nice to experience the other side of it.”
Two Lovers And A Bear will be released later this year. Orphan Black: Season 4 will be released on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital on July 27.