Tatiana Maslany has played nine different characters on her BBC America hit Orphan Black. She had it slightly easier in her new film Woman in Gold—she only had to play one. Plus, she split the role with another actress. And not just any actress: Dame Helen Mirren.
The film tells the true story of Maria Altmann, who fought to reclaim a painting which was confiscated by the Nazis. While Helen Mirren is the older version of Maria, Maslany is the younger Maria seen in flashbacks. We talked to Maslany about working with Mirren, speaking in German, and what it was like not having to change into a different clone halfway through the day.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Helen Mirren plays the older version of Maria, and you play the younger Maria. Since you were playing the same woman but in different eras, did you even meet Helen before or during filming?
TATIANA MASLANY: Yeah, I met her a few times, and we got to chat. I’m such a fan of hers and always have been, so it was such an honor to meet her. She’s totally hilarious and dry and funny. She’s not what I expected. She’s just very cool, and was super awesome about giving me total ownership over this character, and never making me feel like I had to emulate her or mimic what she was doing. She just really wanted me to make her my own.
I was going to ask whether you all tried to match your performances. So, how did you come up with your portrayal of the young Maria?
It was a mix of research I had done about the young Maria, and also Simon Curtis, who directed, had a very visceral understanding of the story and a real commitment to it. So he really helped shape who she was and guided me through it. And just getting to speak German throughout the film and getting to be in the costumes of that era and being immersed in the culture of Vienna was really transporting, and really helped to make it an all-consuming kind of thing.
Tell me about filming in Vienna. What was that like?
I didn’t know a lot about this history of Vienna specifically at that time, and Simon was really great about educating all of us. Just being there in the city, I felt a resonance with the subject matter. I just felt like it’s not long ago that it all happened, and my generation still has grandparents who were in the war or parents who were born at that time, so it’s very near history. It feels really present.
You mentioned you speak German in this film. I know you know some German, but how much work did that take to get comfortable speaking that on camera?
It’s something that’s in my history and my parents and grandparents all speak it so it’s definitely been around me, but to get to act in it was a very different thing. To speak as a native speaker would and not somebody who can have an accent and slip up—it was a definite challenge, but we did a lot of work. I had an amazing dialect coach and she was super patient with me and there every day.
I’ve been on set for Orphan Black, and seen how busy you are playing different characters that also require lots of costume and hair and makeup changes. You really don’t even have a spare second. What’s it like going on a movie set, where I assume you maybe had a little more time to breathe?
It was a treat for me. I don’t usually get that much time to sit with a character, so it was really amazing to get to sit with Maria for two or three months and live with her for that time instead of switching midway through the day to somebody else with a totally different vibe and personality. It’s just a different way of working form Orphan Black, and both of them offer challenges and positives.