With the return of “Orphan Black” on BBC America here in the states, it seems to have finally caught in with more fans and realizing the depth of Tatiana Maslany’s acting talent. It isn’t often when you have an actress taking on well over seven roles at once, and possibly many more to be revealed as the show goes along. It’s an acting challenge few take on for long term, even if we’ve seen our share of clones and multiple characters on TV played by one actor or actress. In most of those cases, it wasn’t going beyond half-a-dozen characters, plus being only occasional.
But is playing multiple roles on a regular basis really all that challenging? Because the Sarah Manning character has multiple clones that look just like her, perhaps it gives Tatiana Maslany a broader canvas to work off of in creating distinct personalities for each clone. Nevertheless, you have to wonder if there’s any actor or actress capable of playing multiple characters without any blood relation.
Which Actor or Actress Portrayed the Most Characters on TV?
We forget how many multiple characters have been portrayed on TV before, and most of them from one actress. Before “Orphan Black”, you had Lucy Lawless portraying three other characters on “Xena: Warrior Princess.” If you ever watched that show, you’d remember her portraying prostitute Meg, a princess Diana, and a priestess named Leah. They all happened to look like Xena and rued the day because of it.
Not long after, you had Eliza Dushku portraying multiple “dolls” on the short-lived show “Dollhouse.” Similar to “Orphan Black”, these were clones that were given superpowers. One of the most popular was named Echo was happened to be quite the counterpart to the original specimen of Caroline Farrell.
Those two actresses above aren’t known for being the greatest actresses in the world, and yet they managed to bring distinct characteristics to multiple roles in an impressive way. In comparison, male actors haven’t really done as many multiple characters on TV. We’ve seen some male doubles going back to “Friends” on up through “How I Met Your Mother.” Actresses, though, seem to have an easier time with portraying more than just one or two characters.
Yet, in the movies it seems to be the other way around, or at least in the past.
Male Comedians Who Play Multiple Roles in Movies
Anyone who’s seen Sir Alec Guinness playing nine different characters in 1949’s “Kind Hearts and Coronets” will know that he nearly bests Peter Sellers who did multiple characters several times. The great British actors took on some wild challenges that we haven’t seen repeated until “Cloud Atlas” tried to wring multiple characters out of one actor. Because it wasn’t entirely successful on that front, it might have killed the idea of ever attempting multiple characters on film again soon. It’s a shame, because actresses have yet to take on what Tatiana Maslany is doing now on TV.
Nevertheless, with TV being the new movie theater, are we going to see an influx of actors and actresses playing multiple roles on a TV series? It may have to have a twist in order to not make it so obvious.
Keeping the Multiple Roles a Secret
The classic “Mary Poppins” might be a good template to go on in an actor playing more than one role. Nobody knew Dick Van Dyke was also the old banker, Mr. Dawes Senior, until seeing his name in the end credits. When you saw that movie for the first time, it was a fun gimmick you didn’t see again, namely because actors wanted it known they were playing more than one role to avoid confusion.
“Orphan Black” has set a new precedence for this type of acting, and anything else like it is only going to be accused of being derivative. Keeping the multiple character acting under wraps only adds some mystery to a show that would eventually get out in the open anyway. At the same time, it gives actors a challenge most of them crave while attempting the art of not being ostentatious about their skills.