Meryl Streep needs to step up her game.
Those three Oscars and two Emmys are little more than impressive paperweights. She can slip into numerous accents, but so could Rich Little.
If the so-called Hollywood queen really wants to earn her tiara, she’ll have to take an acting class from Tatiana Maslany, the hardest working woman in show business.
In “Orphan Black,” which starts its third season Saturday on BBC America, Maslany plays more than a dozen roles, each with a fully developed, distinct personality.
Think “Orange Is the New Black” with a cast of one.
The plot line: A streetwise single mom, Sarah, discovers that she’s part of a secret clone experiment and has “sisters” scattered across North America and Europe. The group, which is being hunted by mysterious sources, includes trained assassin Helena, tightly wound soccer mom Alison, transgender Tony and conniving Rachel.
In the season finale of Season 2, the series performed its most elaborate trick: a clone dance party in which four Maslanys joyfully bumped and grinded against one another.
“There was this idea on a card posted up in the writers’ room that said, ‘clone dance party,’ and I was like, ‘Dude, that’s ridiculous,’ ” said executive producer John Fawcett. “ ‘How does that fit? That has nothing to do with anything.’ ”
But in the producers’ never-ending quest to torture, er, challenge, its star, they squeezed in the sequence, which ended up being one of the series’ most memorable — and rare joyous — moments.
No one enjoyed the living-room rave more than Maslany, who gave each of her characters distinctive moves.
“Even though I’m sort of within a rigid structure of technical marks and eye lines, it’s still just play,” she said. “I still try to do my work as if there is an actor opposite me.”
What makes the performances even more remarkable is that Maslany never takes the easy way out, which would be to paint in broad strokes.
Sure, she’s aided by a costume department that houses more wigs than Cher’s closet, but it’s Maslany’s subtle touches in gesture, stride, speech patterns and posture that really sell the stunt.
“I don’t think I had a single blooper during the first season because I felt very stressed and very intense and I couldn’t let my guard down at a moment to sort of have a laugh or whatever,” she said. “Now it’s a little looser.”
Still, there are times in this juggling act when Maslany misses a ball.
“I had been playing Tony for a couple of days and we were really excited to be exploring some new dynamics,” she said. “It felt very rich and all-encompassing. Then I had to switch to Sarah halfway through a day and I didn’t know who she was anymore. I felt like a deer in the headlights with all my impulses still resonating with Tony.”
A second cast member
It most likely helped this year that the actress has lots of company — from a single actor. Near the end of last season, we learned that menacing Mark Rollins is part of a militant male clone project, which meant that actor Ari Millen would be following in Maslany’s footsteps.
The original plan was to kill off Rollins before the end of Season 2, but producers had always wanted to introduce male clones, and Millen fit the bill.
“It was a little bit of an organic process deciding who was going to be the face of this other project, and partway through Season 2, we realized we had our answer,” said Fawcett, who serves as the drama’s go-to director.
Fortunately, Millen had a great mentor.
“I think the greatest tip that Tat gave me was just basically to watch,” said Millen, who met his co-star when they competed against each other in an improv competition for Canadian high school students. “When I found out about the new direction, it was around the time of the shooting of the clone dance party, which was no small feat. I just saw her ease and her taking time to breathe and just going at it one at a time.”
Exactly how this potential attack of the clones will affect the series is top secret.
The only hint producers will offer is that viewers, 1.6 million of whom watched the second-season premiere, should expect the unexpected.
“The cool thing about the show is that it’s kind of a mash-up,” Fawcett said. “It seems we can go in a horror direction, we can go in a comedic direction, we can go in a very dramatic direction. Because we’re putting all these different genres together, we can make something really unique and, more often than not, make decisions that people aren’t expecting.”
The only aspect of the series that we do know is that Maslany deserves more love, even one of those coveted awards. She has inexplicably been snubbed twice by Emmy voters. Perhaps an A-lister with a crowded mantel can spare one.
Hey, Meryl. Did I ever tell you how great you are?