I want to talk just a brief moment about my genuine feelings on what it means to be human as I experienced during my interview Wednesday. If you’d prefer instead to simply read the interview with the cast members of AMC’s “Humans,” feel free to scroll on down to the Q&A itself.
I received the transcripts from my interview sessions with the cast earlier and I spent quite some time reading and re-reading the questions from other journalists and my own as well as the responses from the actors and actresses themselves. As I read through my portion of the transcript and pondered how I could best edit it to read more concise, one thing came to forefront of my mind that I found fits perfect with the theme of the show. Reading through the transcript, I realized that we’re all just human.
Wednesday was the first time I’ve conducted an interview via the phone and, like William Hurt himself, I found the format challenging. Just getting patched through seemed like a catastrophe to my already shot nerves as the operator patched me through directly to Gemma Chan, mistaking me for a presenter. It was an honest mistake and one that I sat in stunned silence for as I listened to the voice of a celebrity I’ve watched perform several roles now. The operator quickly ushered me to the proper lounge – I suppose you could call it that; albeit one of the telecom variety – and I waited patiently for the conference to begin.
I started to feel a bit more comfortable as I listened to my fellow journalists ask their questions. We were allowed to ask questions in a set order after we followed a series of instructions given to us by the conference lead. “Press these buttons and record your name,” and that was how it went. We’d get called on to ask our questions and then we were live. I stumbled and fidgeted my way through the questions. I was completely unsure of myself and, at times, I forgot that it was an interview and began to treat it as a conversation, responding with things like, “Yeah. Mhm. Right. Oh my!” Professional tip: Not always a great idea. But you’ll understand my nervousness in the following (mostly) unedited questions.
My point is that, as I said before, we’re all human. We make mistakes. We learn from them. In a show as deep and philosophical as “Humans,” I felt it’d be a good idea to share that with the each of you. Now, without further ado, I present my interview with Gemma Chan, Katherine Parkinson, Tom Goodman-Hill, and William Hurt.
I kind of want to jump back and discuss the Synth School real quick. I read an interview with Dan O’Neil recently where he talked about how each actor and actress had particular habits or personality quirks all their own and having talked about the individual training, I was wondering if you’d be willing to share any of those quirks that you might have found particularly challenging to break?
Gemma Chan: Yes. I mean, there are a couple of – well he was – luckily we had him (Dan O’Neill) on set everyday watching the monitors and kind of correcting posture and correcting our movement from what he could see on the monitor. I am quite fidgety and demonstrative in person, and also a little bit clumsy too, so I would often be bumping into the set and tripping over things and having to go again, so the blooper reel for Humans is probably going to be quite funny.
Yes, so I was walking down the stairs at one point in the Hawkins’ home and I was carrying a basket of laundry and not looking down at the steps because there’s no reason to. I mean, you’re supposed to be a synth and why’d a synth need to ever? And I completely fell out of shot and luckily I wasn’t too badly hurt, and the crew were just laughing at me.
But Dan would often tell me, he’d come up and whisper in my ear, you’re doing it again. You have an active left arm when you walk, which I didn’t realize I had. Apparently I swing my left arm slightly more than my right arm. So, that was a continuous thing that I had to try and –
Oh I probably shouldn’t tell you these things actually because when you watch the show you’re going to be looking out for these little ticks that I have. What else? Yes, just posture wise, he was often having to correct my posture and I’m also – I’m very right handed, so – and as Anita, I have to learn how to be ambidextrous and do tasks equally with both hands, so I have to often practice doing all kinds of things like ironing and folding and opening doors with the opposite hand, with my left hand so that I use each hand equally and that was a big challenge.
As an actress, kind of following up on that, there’s a lot of powerful scenes with Anita where the audience can kind of feel the reality of the situation. How do you as an actress prepare yourself to bring the right amount, I guess of, realism and emotion to a scene like that or to a character like Anita who’s a Synth, who doesn’t or who might not be aware of her situation or have that wide range of expressions?
Gemma Chan: Again, it was such a unique challenge to me because, you know, there are – and certainly as the show goes on, there are some very emotional, powerful scenes that I had to play as Anita, but yes, I wasn’t allowed to physically cry and you know, there, you know, if I – I know – I’ve often been playing a scene and you just, you know, as an actor usually you’re able to react. That’s where you welcome opening yourself up and releasing your emotions. But I would often during takes, I would end up, you know, shedding a tear or crying and we’d have to call cut and you know, wipe them away and so finding a different way of doing things and being able to play really very emotional things while finding another way to convey them. And again, another thing that you do as an actor usually you use your breath to convey emotions, whatever emotion it is and obviously, being a Synth I couldn’t really show that I was breathing too much. It was really hot. Really, really hot. I hope that answers your question.
To Katherine and Tom, just wanted to ask a couple of questions. In regards to talking about, you know, your experiences at home with your kids, you portray parents on the series as well. Have there been any experiences at home? Or how does that translate to, does it help you on screen?
Tom Goodman-Hill: I was reminded of a thing that happened about ten years ago when we got a manny at home. He was like a 23-year-old guy, he wanted to be a filmmaker. I was at work and, I received an email at work which contained a video file. Our manny had been at home and made a film with my son. They’d actually made a proper short film and then posted it online and sent it to me. I burst into tears when I saw it. I was so, kind of, thrilled by it but at the same time, I thought, oh my God they’ve actually done something, you know, using technology, sent it to me on email. I’ve viewed it at work and have not have any kind of personal emotional engagement in that process at all. That was ten years ago. Now, I feel like, you know, that was pre-Twitter. Remarkably. So as a parent, that really brought me up short and it makes you feel very guilty. If we’re going to be approaching a world where you can buy a robot in Japan that is purely designed to emote with you and not actually do anything practical at all, then I think we’re on the road to hell.
Katherine Parkinson: I felt it keenly because I had my newborn baby and my toddler at home. Obviously in my absence filming, needed to get some child care which I was, at once, extremely grateful for and also, slightly threatened by, how Laura is in the show by Anita when she reads to her daughter. I sort of thought, how great to have a synthetic nanny because she can’t love the child. But of course, the child can love the synthetic and that you would be threatened by. So yes, I felt like I was sort of being tortured at work.
It’s understandable. I’m a parent as well, so watching the series, I kind of have some of those feelings as well. Onwards, some of the others, like Gemma have talked about how they went through training at Synth School and stuff of that nature. I read recently where (Dan O’Neill), the choreographer talked about, you know, having to kind of be on set and adjust their quirks and their personality, like little habits and stuff. Moving on, I also read about how some of the actors playing humans, like yourselves, you kind of, you know, I guess Dan said you would see these Synths and then straighten up a little bit. How did that work? Kind of working alongside those that were playing the synths?
Katherine Parkinson: Well Tom and I did our own human school, you know and the things with conscious.You have to embrace ideas and crises rather than try and iron them out. Fortunately, we both have plenty of, kind of, speech impediments and quirks in our nature to humanize us. Then I could sort of start thinking, must be human, must be human. And then I thought no, that’s like when you get elderly actors playing old because they sort of don’t realize that they are, in fact, old. So I quickly stopped doing that and realized that I just had to be. The synthetics are the ones that have to create language. Our language is, thankfully, is already there.
Tom Goodman-Hill: It makes you hyper aware of your own foibles and physical tics and speech patterns.
Katherine Parkinson: Sorry, I didn’t mean to say you had a speech impediment Tom.
Tom Goodman-Hill:I do. I have countless speech impediments that I work very hard to control. I don’t always thuth-seed.
Mr. Hurt, I would like to just ask real quick, initially I was going to ask what drew you to play Dr. Millican, but I did find an interview with you from a couple years ago, where you talked about you don’t play people, you chose to go for the character.
William Hurt:Right. I’m a character actor.
If you wouldn’t mind, could you elaborate on that statement now on how it pertains to your portrayal of Dr. Millican?
William Hurt:Well, I, we were just talking about Asimov protocols and how they breakdown into three elegant, simple, vast ideas. I would add one more note to the comment that I made about character. I do go for character but I go, the character as a function of the entire play, the entire screen play. So really what I want when I’m reading a screenplay, is to have the feeling when I’m finished with it that I would basically like to go and play any character they offer me or even go for coffee on the film set. That I want, my feeling is that I want to be part of that project. So that’s the first criteria for me, is do I want to be part of the whole, the whole thing.
And then one last question real quick, kind of off topic, I understand that you’re a private pilot sir? I was just wondering if any of that training and your personal hobbies have ever helped you with developing a character on screen?
William Hurt: Yes, I was. I mean I haven’t flown for a while but I flew for about 30 years, yes. Yes, it’s, I mean what helps you with your characters is inspirations in life. And the hobbies that I’ve chosen are the ones that connected me to life and that certain is one of those things that flying thrilled me for most of my life. I started out very young flying unusual aircraft, flying in unusual aircraft.
The first time I flew long distance was in 1951 when I flew from San Francisco to Hawaii in a plane called the MARS, which is larger than a 747, was an amphibious airplane, prop driven and it would double decker with birds. It had been a military aircraft and then was converted to commercial. I flew PBYs, Catalina’s, EC3s, 2s, 4s, you know, C47s, all those things in the Pacific in the early 50s. I flew, I was in, I think I was in the second Pans Atlantic 707 flight, I think it was in the sixth or seventh Pans Atlantic comet flight.
I’ve had myself, I’ve owned airplanes from Cessna 180s. I had a part interest in a de Havilland Beaver. I had a Cessna 5, Seneca 5, I had a 206, a Bonanza, you know. So I flew quite a bunch of stuff and it inspired me no end to see the world from that point of view, from high up but also in the peace time, civilian job, which is the job with the highest level of personal responsibility legally permitted.