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Tatiana Maslany of 'Orphan Black' on Show's Complex LGBTQ Storytelling

The star of BBC America's breakout hit series discusses the show's longtime commitment to LGBTQ storytelling and how it has changed her career trajectory.
Television Academy Celebrates The 67th Emmy Award Nominees For Outstanding Performances
Actress Tatiana Maslany attends the Television Academy's celebration for the 67th Emmy Award nominees for outstanding performances at Pacific Design Center on September 19, 2015 in West Hollywood, California.Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic

When Tatiana Maslany landed the lead role on BBC America’s "Orphan Black" she was “terrified to start” and could not have imagined what the series could become. Now heading into next year’s final season, "Orphan Black" -- and its two-time-Emmy-nominated star -- have a substantial LGBTQ following, thanks in part to the series’ commitment to complex LGBTQ representation.

Maslany plays a group of clones that discover they are part of a long-term experiment. It begins with her main character, grifter Sarah Manning, seeing a woman who looks just like her jump to her death. Sarah then goes on to find the "sisters" of the jumper and discovers instead the group of clones in the experiment. Sarah's family and new "sisters" find themselves in an increasingly dangerous world and must work together to survive.

The Canadian-born actress has played a variety of characters over the course of the series. Her ability to slip from one character to another seamlessly has been celebrated celebrated, but so was her portrayal of Cosima –- a complex LGBTQ character.

Actress Evelyne Brochu attends the "Orphan Black" premiere at Sunshine Cinema on April 17, 2014 in New York City.Mireya Acierto / FilmMagic

Cosima is a strong, brilliant scientist, and the character is a prime example of the show’s commitment to telling complex LGBTQ stories.

“Cosima has always known who she was and felt very comfortable in her skin,” Maslany told NBC OUT. In fact, the actress's favorite Cosima line was one where the character stated her sexuality was not the most interesting thing about her.

While Cosima is a scientist, she is not relegated to the lab –- her story includes a messy tale of love. Each clone has a “monitor,” a person who watches them and keeps records of their movements, and Cosima just happened to fall in love with her monitor. Delphine, played by Évelyne Brochu, is a fellow brilliant scientist who monitors, falls in love with and then works alongside Cosima.

“It’s a love story between two people who loved each other for who they were –- their connection was intellectual,” Maslany added.

The couple had very unique and immense hurdles to navigate throughout the series. It was not easy, and that was always the intention.

“We always wanted it to be real and complicated," Maslany added. "We never wanted it to be a fairy tale relationship. Two people who are from opposite experience who are trying to stay together.”

In its third season of “Orphan Black,” another clone named Tony, a transman, was added to the cast of characters. “Because our show is about identity and your gender identity is so intricate to who you are as a person and how you express yourself, it felt like a natural way to explore identity,” Maslany said.

Tony was never meant to represent the entire trans community but to tell one powerful, unique and meaningful trans story. “We were very interested in exploring him in an unconventional way. His own expression is very unique and nonconforming, and that is something we were excited to explore,” Maslany added.

Sarah Manning's foster brother, Felix, played by Jordan Gavaris, is another prominent LGBTQ character on the show. Over the course of the series, viewers have seen Felix have relationships with men, but also embrace Sarah's new sisters, fight for his family and find his own blood relatives. Like Cosima, his sexuality is not his only storyline.

Actors Tatiana Maslany and Jordan Gavaris speak onstage during the 'Orphan Black ' panel discussion at the BBC America portion of the 2014 Winter Television Critics Association tour at the Langham Hotel on January 11, 2014 in Pasadena, California.Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

“We look to television often, and movies, for how to be ourselves and see people you can relate to, so it’s rewarding that we’re telling stories that people can relate to,” she added.

While starring on "Orphan Black," many fans have spoken to the actress about their experience watching the series and what it has meant to them as LGBTQ people. Maslany said talking to fans has been "one of the most rewarding parts" of her experience on the show. The responsibility that has come with that experience is "not a burden but a joy and honor," according to the actress.

Looking to life after "Orphan Black," Maslany is excited about the future of storytelling in television and film. "'Orphan Black' changed the way I see how what we do can really affect people and change people -- start dialogue," she added.

"I have seen so much happen around me in the last few years in terms of 'Orange is the New Black,' 'Transparent,' and all these shows ... are changing the way we watch television and the kinds of stories we tell," Maslany told NBC OUT.

"I just want to be part of those things -- to tell stories like that."

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