Come on, Tatiana Maslany plays the entire female cast

Can Orphan Black beat the sci-fi curse to win an Emmy?
Come on, she plays the entire female cast
Photo illustration by Sarah MacKinnon

Can Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany get an Emmy award nomination for Orphan Black? When the first season of the show aired earlier this year, the answer would have seemed to be no: Major awards don’t go to series about women cloned from the same genetic material. “Our show is a little weird and a little bit niche, and that’s what I love about it, but it’s definitely not for everybody,” says Maslany, who has played seven different clones so far and may have more to come. But recently, there’s been what Ivan Schneeberg, co-president of the show’s production company, Toronto-based Temple Street Productions, describes as “a groundswell of support for her.” Maslany won best actress at the recently established Critics’ Choice Awards, beating out better-known actresses such as Claire Danes—and various critics and celebrities, such as comedian Patton Oswalt, are calling for Emmy nominators to recognize her work. “The showrunner of Lost is writing about it,” Maslany says happily. “People with industry cred are backing it. It’s awesome.”

BBC America, which airs Orphan Black in the U.S., and Space, which airs the Canadian-made show domestically, have jumped in with a campaign to call attention to Maslany before the Emmy nominations are announced on July 18. Schneeberg says BBC America is “putting everything behind supporting Tatiana and fighting for a nomination for her. It goes beyond promoting the show—I think they really believe she’s worthy of it.”

What stands in Maslany’s way is that science fiction shows are ignored by the Emmys. Only two actors have ever won for playing leads in a science-fiction series—Lindsay Wagner for The Bionic Woman and Gillian Anderson in The X-Files—and few sci-fi shows have been nominated for major awards.“Sci-fi has become much more mainstream,” says Bell Media’s director of specialty programming, Rachel Goldstein-Couto, but not at the Emmys: “If you look at the makeup of who’s voting for these things, it’s the old-school Hollywood.” The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences prefers realistic dramas, or even costume fantasies such as Game of Thrones.

The sense that science fiction has been neglected by conservative Academy voters has led many fans of Orphan Black to campaign for Maslany as a sort of test case. “If anyone can do it,” Goldstein-Couto says, “it’ll be Tatiana.” That’s because the show is based on her ability to play much of the cast herself. “I had maybe one day off the entire shooting schedule,” Maslany says of the 10-episode first season, “because I’m in every scene.” This has not only won acclaim, but is the type of acting challenge that can impress voters, even if they don’t love sci-fi.

Fans are also hoping young voters will override the traditional antipathy to sci-fi; Goldsten-Couto thinks Maslany might benefit from “newer people coming into the Academy.” And Maslany thinks more people are aware that these shows are just as serious as any other: “Sci-fi sheds light on what’s going on in society, albeit in a kind of fantastical world. It is resonant with what’s actually happening, but I think people overlook it because it’s not very on-the-nose.” Voters may be more aware of the realism of sci-fi due to an unlikely source: The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against patenting genetic material—a major issue in Orphan Black’s plot.

If Maslany can get a nomination, it could help the second season of the show, planned for next year. It could also call attention to Canada’s success with science fiction shows such as Orphan Black and Showcase’s Continuum; David Fortier, Schneeberg’s producing partner, says Canadians “tend to equate success with success that’s achieved across the border,” and an Emmy nomination is a measure of cross-border success. But what excites Maslany most about the campaign is the fan support: “Fans are getting it out there and people are writing blogs about it.” She’s not so sure what to think about being a test for the future of sci-fi at the Emmys, though. Told of a Postmedia headline that proclaimed “A vote for Tatiana Maslany is a vote for change,” she says: “That’s so political! I don’t know . . . what am I running for?”