PASADENA — Any television drama requires the star to put in long hours. Multiply those long hours by at least five and you have the crushing schedule Tatiana Maslany faces with the much-heralded BBC America series "Orphan Black."
Maslany plays a minimum of five characters — ranging from a psychotic killer to an uptight soccer mom — in the series about cloning. The second season resumes Saturday with her main persona, Sarah Manning, trying to unravel the mystery of her clones while dealing with the kidnapping of her daughter.
The Canadian actress started work on the second season knowing how demanding the process can be.
"I knew how much work it was going to be and just kind of the physical and the emotional sort of challenge of it. But at the same time there was a sense of, OK, so we've done this, so there's not that pressure of will this work or whatever, will people buy the kind of gimmick of it," Maslany says.
Viewers and critics have bought it big time. Along with picking up a Golden Globe nomination, Maslany won the Individual Achievement in Drama award from the Television Critics Association. Fans of the show — who call themselves the Clone Club — have made it the top-watched series through video on demand ahead of such monster BBC America hits as "Top Gear" and "Doctor Who."
Part of the popularity comes from how the show crosses so many genres. While the cloning gives it a slight sci-fi element, it's more of a complicated mystery thriller with the secrets of the genetic duplicates. But there are also moments of fun and macabre humor.
"I love all these characters so much," Maslany says. "All the writers have continued to deepen it and flesh out the worlds of each of the clones and that, to me, was what was so exciting. I know these women now, so it's just about going deeper with it and challenging them and stretching them.
"We left them all at very tense places, kind of high-stakes places, so there was so much to work with and the challenge of it continues every day. It's what keeps me absolutely obsessed with the show and with the job and so grateful for it, too."
The dark-haired actress has chameleon-like skills. Between the writing of series co-creator Graeme Manson and Maslany's acting, all of her characters are as different as snowflakes.
Sarah uses her street smarts to stay alive and protect her family and friends, while Cosima is a grad student who often listens to her heart more than her head. Helena is an emotional and mental wreck. Then there's Alison, a mom, wife and community theater star. It's the one role that has been the toughest for Maslany.
"When I was doing the auditions and sort of approaching the characters for the first time, for some reason I wasn't willing to admit that she is so much a part of me. She was kind of a scary thing to admit to, being that she was a hard one to kind of dig into or find the sympathy or the empathy for initially and, now I love her," Maslany says. "That's what's so awesome about this show. I get to try these things out that probably nobody would cast me in normally. You know, I don't think a lot of people would come to me for power CEO characters. So it's really great to get to try it out."
Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah's foster brother Felix, finds himself in many of the scenes that include multiple characters played by Maslany. It's all about being patient and focused.
"It's by far the ultimate in concentration, imagination," Gavaris says. "It's complicated, but you get better the more you are doing it."
Gavaris will film a scene with Maslany as one character. A tennis ball on a stick serves as the stand-in for the other characters Maslany plays. Once the scene is shot, Maslany changes and then shoots the scene again as the new character. The process continues until all of the characters have been filmed.
When he auditioned for the show, Gavaris wouldn't have been courageous enough to have wanted to take on a role with as many characters to play. Now into a second season, Gavaris has learned that the best thing to do is say yes and keep doing the scene until getting it right.
"Orphan Black": 9 p.m. Saturday on BBC America.