Orphan Black

Look of the Week: The many styles of Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black

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Aug 5, 2018, 4:28 PM EDT (Updated)

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present, across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

Actors playing multiple roles within the same project are far from a new enterprise, but the number of parts played by Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black — 14 by my count — is a feat that deserves to be celebrated long after the show has ended. And Emmy voters are doing just that; Maslany’s inclusion in the Best Actress in a Drama category for the final season of Orphan Black was one of the big surprises when the nominations were recently announced — not because she doesn’t deserve it, but because this show finished almost a year ago and recency bias is a factor to consider.

Orphan Black
Even Maslany was taken back by this news, responding in a way that doesn’t read as faux “Who? Me?” shock, “It’s really such a surprise because I figured people would have been like, ‘OK, moving on,’ it’s been a long time and there’s just so much amazing television, I was just completely blown away that people recognize our show and it means a lot to all of us.” Maslany won at the Emmys in 2016 but didn’t receive a nomination the following year (because the show missed the cutoff date). Now that she is getting honored for this multi-role part for one last time, it also falls to SYFY FANGRRLS to honor the wide-ranging style of the many parts played by Tatiana Maslany.

Clothing is obviously a big part of establishing and identifying each clone and also aids the characters when they are pretending to be another. They share the same face and body type, but this is where the similarity ends. Hair can be covered by a wig, hat, or headband, a wardrobe can be raided and borrowed. The audience isn’t always clued in when an act of deception is taking place, but there are tells in Maslany’s performance. It is truly extraordinary the way Maslany inhabits each character in an entirely different way. Even her chemistry shifts with her co-stars depending on which clone is on screen.

Orphan Black
Describing the varying attire of each Project Leda clone sometimes feels like naming different members of a girl band. There is someone for everyone. Sarah’s signature is black leather; Helena will wear whatever hand-me-downs she acquires, ranging from schoolgirl-looking attire to patterned shirts to grunge-era slip dresses; Cosima is all about the boho look in Anthropologie prints; and Alison was a Lululemon clad soccer mom before chopping her hair off during Season 5 and getting a little looser. Late addition Krystal is a slave to beauty trends and push-up bras. Then there are the clones we didn’t even get to meet. The list is endless.

Costume designer Debra Hanson — Laurie Drew designed the looks for Season 1 — created a number of standout moments in the final season. One involved a clothing swap filmed as if it was a single take because it is impossible to shoot a single take when one actor is playing both parts (Maslany’s stand-in Kathryn Alexandre is vital to this process). Sarah dressed as Rachel gives her wig and cape to Mika, taking Mika’s hoodie so she has time to escape before Ferdinand (James Frain) arrives.

Orphan Black constantly pushed the boundaries of what it could do with the clones on screen, including a sister (or "seestra") dance party in the Season 2 finale and a Thanksgiving dinner with four clones at the table the following year. It helps that Tatiana Maslany makes you forget she is playing characters that take up the same space. She is just that good.

Over the course of Orphan Black, these women are fighting for both survival and bodily autonomy. Created in a lab, they are much more than just a science experiment by those playing God. They have agency despite the forces attempting to control and study them. Smoke and mirrors hide what is really going on; P.T. Westmoreland (Stephen McHattie) claims to be 170 years old, a mythic figure to be revered by his followers. Instead, he is mere flesh and blood, the man behind the curtain. He isn’t that special despite his grandstanding.

Cosima and Rachel are in a unique position with regard to their genetic makeup; Cosima because she is a scientist, while Rachel has been aware of her clone status since she was a child, fighting for power to ensure she has a seat at the table while power-dressing in impeccable designer clothes. There is little about Rachel’s appearance that suggests anything is less than perfect. A fake eye looks like the real thing, at least until Rachel cuts it out with a broken wine glass when she realizes it is a tool being wielded against her.

Orphan Black

Credit: BBC America

In a time of peril during Season 5, Cosima refuses to play the game. She ends up trapped in Westmoreland’s life-size dollhouse with a very specific dress code; Cosima can’t come to dinner unless she is dressed like a character from Downton Abbey. Her response to the dresses on offer is “Frock that,” choosing instead to wear a tuxedo. It's a moment of sartorial-infused defiance that runs throughout the series.

If Tatiana Maslany needs any inspiration for what to wear to the Emmys in September, then this tuxedo look is definitely one way to go. Suits are on trend, something discussed in last week’s Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas)-focused column.

Tatiana Maslany
The last two years, Maslany has appeared on many Emmy Best Dressed columns. When she won in 2016 she lit up the event in a stunning plunging crimson Alexander Wang gown. The following year she showed the difference between a dress for a nominee and one for a presenter. The black custom Reem Acra dress is still stunning, but less flashy. Maslany also used this moment to give visibility to GLAAD by wearing an ampersand pin (which is still available). Even after playing all those many parts on Orphan Black, she manages to look completely different once again.

The 2018 Emmy Lead Drama Actress category is one of the most competitive featuring new and returning nominees. It has been nearly a year since Orphan Black ended, but it is clear that Tatiana Maslany’s performance in this series has left its mark on fans — affectionately referred to as the Clone Club — and Emmy voters.

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