How The One Performance You Didn't See Shaped 'Orphan Black'
As Orphan Black comes to an end after a five-season run, it's only natural to reflect on the amazing characters fans got to know over the past five years. Whether your allegiance lies with Sarah, Cosima, Allison, Helena, or Rachel — or, like most members of the Clone Club, you love all the sestras equally — one thing's for sure: Tatiana Maslany's incredible performances as these complex and all-around badass women won't soon be forgotten. Neither should the performances given by unseen and unsung Orphan Black star Kathryn Alexandre — Maslany’s body double, scene partner, and so much more. Without her, the series as fans know it probably wouldn’t exist.
Alexandre has taken the typical stand-in role up roughly a hundred notches, functioning as a full-fledged cast member, albeit one that audiences never actually get to see on screen. She was on set daily, in full costume and makeup and with lines memorized, giving it her all as she and Maslany collaborated to bring the clones we love so much to life. In an interview with Bustle, Alexandre opens up about working with Maslany, the importance of representation, and how the show has changed her life.
“It's such a unique role and I really just tried to focus and ensure that I was giving [Tatiana] as much as I could possibly give her to help her be the best she could possibly be,” Alexandre recalls. “Everything I did was in service of that. If I wasn't interested in mimicking her performances — I wanted to latch onto the heart of the characters she was playing and give her that energy and that kind of heart in my performances, so I'd watch what she was doing and try to pick up on physicalities and vocal patterns but also have the energy and the spirit of the character and just that kind of emotional core.”
Alexandre and Maslany’s connection was solidified early in the filming process and only deepened the longer they worked together, exploring the intricacies of the characters they were creating and acting as a sounding board for one another’s creative questions and frustrations and ultimately pushing one another to be her personal best.
“It was a good thing for me to realize I was never going to play the characters exactly like Tatiana plays them, so there was no point in trying to be perfect,” Alexandre admits. “I'd watch her on set to see how she was preparing her body and voice and watch the dailies back so I could see what she was kind of doing. The more we worked together, she was so open and supportive of what I was doing and generous with me. She always treated me like a scene partner so I never felt uncomfortable or like I was stepping on her toes. I was always comfortable enough to ask questions. Her being so open allowed our relationship to get so strong creatively.”
Given the complexities of the clones themselves, working in such a collaborative and supportive environment became imperative to allowing both Alexandre and Maslany to develop their understandings of those women and asking the necessary questions to be able to portray such depth and emotion on-screen. And while it was Maslany’s face that appeared when Orphan Black aired, the star has never been shy about lavishing praise upon her colleague — praise that Alexandre returns in spades.
“Tat has an ability to make everything truthful. There were times when she was feeling she couldn't quite connect but she always figured it out and made it work for herself,” Alexandre says. “That's what was so brilliant about her work and skill and craft. She never said, 'I don't agree with this so I'll just say the words' — she was always dedicated to making it as truthful as it could be. If she was uncomfortable, maybe she made the character feel uncomfortable with a decision. It was a constant work in progress."
This effort wasn't lost on viewers, who were regularly treated to raw and often refreshingly vulnerable portrayals of unapologetically flawed but inspiring women — no doubt a direct result of Maslany and Alexandre's behind-the-scenes creative collaboration.
“The women on the show are all so supportive of each other and just, it never, there’s never a moment that felt like anything was a competition. Whatever messages we were trying to send with the show were really infused by how everyone acted on set," Alexandre says. "It was a top down example that Tatiana displayed — she really set the tone for how everyone treated each other and it was such an inclusive and collaborative energy. I think a lot of the reason for how all of the cast and crew acted towards each other was really because of the example and standards Tatiana set for just being supportive of everyone. Everyone's voice was heard and important, it didn't matter who you were whether it was a PA or first AD or a cast member or creator or writer — everyone's input was heard, especially when it came to character.”
Playing such diverse women — a lesbian scientist, a hard-faced CEO, a hustler punk, a feral assassin — and getting to dig into what really made them tick had a profound effect on Alexandre not only as an actor but as a woman, driving home just how important representation of varying versions of the female experience truly are in media.
“It's really changed how I interact with the world and made me more aware that I have a voice and that what I think and have to say has a place in the world,” Alexandre reveals. “I think I'm a quieter person in general, so I was very comfortable not agitating any waters before. But with my experience on the show and meeting the fans, I've realized how important it is to have your voice heard and speak out.”
No doubt Orphan Black has had a similar effect on its dedicated fans, who have been endlessly vocal about the ways in which the show has inspired them to be braver and more authentic in their own lives. Seeing such brave, powerful women on TV screens weekly for the past five years has been a welcome occurrence, and having a hand in portraying them will certainly inform Alexandre's future creative endeavors.
“I've started writing my own projects and I've become so much more aware of what stories I want to tell and how I want to represent people and what’s important to show on screen," she explains. "In my daily life, I've been in acting classes where instead of just sitting back and agreeing with things, I've challenged things which I wouldn't have done before. I stand up for people I see being belittled. All those things I never thought I should have an opinion about — politics or things that didn't directly affect me — are things I’m now more educated and vocal about. It's made me a much more aware citizen and artist and just very proud to be a woman with a story to tell. I really embrace the fact that no one's perfect and I don't have to be in order to be valuable.”
Alexandre was certainly an invaluable part of bringing Orphan Black to life over the past five years. Without her, it seems safe to say that the series may have turned out differently; her wonderful creative rapport with Maslany enabled the women to bring Sarah, Helena, Allison, Cosima, Rachel, MK, Krystal and more to glorious life, and that's something worth celebrating.