TORONTO — When Tatiana Maslany first stepped onto the Toronto set of ”Orphan Black” in 2012, doubt crept into her mind.
“I was like, ‘How do we get through a season of this show?’” recalled the Regina native, who’s blown away audiences by playing multiple clones with vastly different personalities.
“‘How do we do this, how do we pull this off, how do I embody these characters?’ It was just a moment-to-moment challenge.”
Kevin Hanchard, who plays clone conspiracy investigator Det. Arthur Bell, felt the same.
“It was Tat and I on Day 1, scene one of shooting, and I think back to that moment where we were two people sort of quivering like branches on a tree, just scared out of our minds about the tasks that we had to undertake,” Hanchard said.
Even series co-creator John Fawcett fretted.
“I wasn’t even sure whether this whole clone thing, if anyone was actually going to buy it,” said Fawcett. ”I had a lot of fear about it.”
Then Fawcett watched Maslany in action. One scene in particular allayed his worries: when clones Sarah (the leather jacket-loving rebel) and Cosima (a dreadlock-wearing scientist), both played by Maslany, met at a bar for the first time.
“I remember seeing the cut of that scene and going, ‘Oh my God, this works and it works way better than I thought it was going to,’” said Fawcett. “By episode nine … I was so swept up in her performance and so engaged in her performance that I’d completely forgotten that it was all Tat.
“I remember talking to Tat at the wrap party after season 1, and I’d just watched this cut of episode nine and I remember saying to her, ‘I really think that you’re going to win an Emmy for this.’”
And she did, as well as scores of other honours, including a Golden Globe nomination. Meanwhile, the Space/BBC America sci-fi hit is now seen in more than 170 countries, has a worldwide following that calls itself the Clone Club, and won awards including a Peabody.
Now, as the show enters its fifth and final season on Saturday with the clones finally learning the story of their origin, the cast members are naturally emotional.
“We’re crying at read-throughs now, lots of crying on set,” said Kristian Bruun, who plays Donnie, husband of wound-up soccer-mom clone Alison, during an interview on the studio lot as filming wrapped.
But they’re also emboldened.
For one thing, Fawcett and co-creator Graeme Manson have long known how and when they wanted to end the show. So when it was announced that would happen in season 5, the cast members weren’t upset.
“I think we’ve all said that it’s nice to go out on our own terms, that it’s nice that we don’t get the plug pulled before we’re ready to, and that we have the chance to actually tie up the series in the way that we want it to be tied up,” said Maslany.
“It’s a luxury. Most shows don’t get that.”
The show has also been a shot in the arm for the Canadian television industry and helped put it on the map.
“It just, I think, really shows that stuff that’s made here is as good if not better than anything made anywhere,” said Irish actress Maria Doyle Kennedy, who plays Mrs. S, the adoptive mother to Sarah and her flamboyant foster brother and confidant, Felix.
“I guess it just shows that if Canadians are given a bit of time and a little bit of money, we can do the same thing as everybody else,” added Jordan Gavaris, who plays Felix.
With its themes including gender fluidity, feminism and ownership over one’s body, “Orphan Black” has also made the cast proud.
“I learned I’m an activist,” said Gavaris. “I learned that if I wasn’t an actor, I probably would have gone to law school, I’d probably be working for the (American Civil Liberties Union) or in politics, who knows.
“I think what I learned more than anything is actually about the intersection between genders.”
Maslany, who vows she’ll stay in Canada post-“Orphan Black,” has also been deeply affected by the show’s vast representation onscreen.
“I feel like I’ve really had my eyes open to just the deep need (for) feminist stories on television,” she said, ”and that’s become my mandate and something that I want to take into all my future work in whatever way I can.
“Or just tell stories about the true nature of where we’re at in terms of what needs to change.”