Now that Tatiana Maslany has finally won some overdue Critics Choice Awards for her role(s) in “Orphan Black”, it seems only fair that she’ll finally receive the Emmy nods she should have received last year. There isn’t a doubt Maslany is the most intriguing actress on television today. And she’s one the media hasn’t interviewed enough about the challenges of playing up to eight different characters, some of which involve interacting with her own self. Recently, she finally was quoted about those challenges and how it’s still not easy, even with the obvious improvements in CGI to give us the illusion that two clones are standing right next to one another.
In fact, the above CGI is so incredible on “Orphan Black”, it almost has to get an Emmy on its own for making it look like two of the clones are literally touching one another in the same shot. It’s likely led to some viewers thinking there’s a body double resembling Maslany standing in on some shots. Clearly, though, it’s all her if you watch carefully, and it’s probably the most believable interaction with one’s self ever captured in any media format.
The concept of acting with one’s own self in a film or TV show is one that’s probably confounded acting schools for the last 50 years. Ever since the idea was first done on film, it’s been complicated and only could be managed with the best and most natural acting talent. It says a lot, though, that despite the improving technology in acting opposite one’s self (or selves), it still has to involve carving out distinct characterizations in order to create the suspension of disbelief.
The Evolution of Actresses and Actors Acting With Their Self
While there were a few movies in the 1930s and ’40s that dealt with twins and actors interacting with their own self (“The Prisoner of Zenda” and “The Prince and the Pauper” most notably), camera work in those days was such where the twins couldn’t be in the same shot. When they were, it was always the standard body double seen from behind that then cut to a separate take/close-up of the actor or actress during interaction. Nevertheless, the interactions still had to be done with someone in order to make the synchronization believable. Most people know that a stand-in actor would frequently read the lines of the opposite character for each take so the conversations could sound natural.
We don’t know for sure if that was the case for all actors who took on the challenge of acting with their own self. Despite the technological improvements by the time Disney made “The Parent Trap” in 1961, Hayley Mills reportedly interacted with a body double in each scene in order to get the synch right. By that point, however, an actress portraying a double could convincingly be seen in the same shot together and make it look like reality.
It’s easy to forget how innovative “The Parent Trap” really was in the special effects department, plus in a young actress being able to convince the audience she was interacting with her own doppelganger. The movie was really a direct progenitor to “Orphan Black” in many ways, including finding unique methods to create distinct characters while still being related to one another. If Hayley Mills’ American accent wasn’t as convincing as Tatiana Maslany’s is now, it was still one of the greatest ever performances in self-interaction by a tween actress.
We’ve seen only scant portrayals of actresses interacting with their own self in a movie since then. Some have been forgotten here in America, like the excellent portrayal of two women by Irene Jacob in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique.” You also had Isabelle Adjani playing two women in 1981’s “Possession”, plus Patricia Arquette playing opposite herself in “Lost Highway.” Also, let’s not forget Natalie Portman playing her doppelganger in “Black Swan.” As part of the gender imbalance problem in Hollywood, mostly male actors have received all the attention in taking on more prodigious roles of interacting with their own self.
More than “The Parent Trap”, 1949’s “Kind Hearts and Coronets” with Sir Alec Guinness showed the capability of one actor portraying many characters in one movie. The only difference is they didn’t interact with each other, despite Guinness managing to carve out distinct and hilarious personalities for each character. It’s direct source material and an influence on the musical “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Marriage” playing now on Broadway, and likely made into a movie eventually.
With Tatiana Maslany, the bar has been set so high for believable self-interaction and multiple characterizations that it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing something similar for a long time. Most A-list actors are arguably too lazy to put the kind of hard work Maslany has in a TV (or movie) performance. Once she wins even more multiple awards for “Orphan Black”, she’ll set a precedent in reminding future actors to put everything they’ve got into a performance so it can elevate the art of acting.
She’ll also bring a new study guide to interacting with one’s self when playing a doppelganger on TV or in a movie. It shows the best actors have a well of childhood imagination inside them that can be tapped to create multiple personalities on cue.