An Interview with the Producers of AMC’s Humans at NYCC 2016
At New York Comic-Con, we had the opportunity to chat with the writers and executive producers of AMC’s Humans, Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackey. The pair has known each other since they were 11 and it was evident from the way they bounced off each other’s answers that their writing partnership and friendship are one in a million. We spoke with them about what fans can expect in season two while they skillfully avoided revealing any spoilers.
What was your approach for crafting season two?
Well, we wanted to tell a more global story, with a wider reach. We wanted to spread the characters out a bit, and to start the story with a fractioned bit, give them each their own stories, find them in different places, and then over the course of the season, the massive global events that start happening kind of pull them all back together. We wanted to focus on the relationships really. I think you’ll find when you watch series two; almost every character has a new and unexpected relationship with a new character or an old character that you’ve never seen them with before, or they have a big change happening just in relationships, because of synths and the events that have happened. So those are the broad strokes of how we approached it.
Niska (Emily Berrington) saved something really important at the end of season one. Is she going to impact the show as maybe a villain? Although she might not see it that way.
That’s probably too spoiler-y to say exactly what she’s doing but, yes. (laughs). She is out there; she’s still at large. She still has the consciousness code in her possession. She is making some crucial decisions about what to do with her life and which ways to go forward, and that’s influenced very heavily by a new relationship in her life. It’s very important to her; it affects her thinking significantly.
We’ve never seen Niska as a villain, and we don’t see her as a bad guy in series two, but she is certainly an unpredictable, mercurial, volatile character who’s not afraid to ruffle feathers and certainly isn’t afraid to change the world.
(laughs) Is that vague enough for you?
I think it’s perfect for what our audience needs to hear. We’ve seen a couple of examples of how artificial intelligence can go terribly wrong, especially recently with movies like Ex Machina. How do you feel that Humans stands out, and also do you think that this could happen in the future sometime?
We always wanted to try to present this world in as realistic of a way as possible. I think that’s part of the show’s appeal, because we come in on that ground level and domestic level. It’s not sci-fi that takes place in the future; it’s a parallel present where these machines were invented ten years ago. We wanted to be as real as possible, and that involved not presenting the show as either a dystopia or a utopia, which is naturally where TV shows and films…tend to move toward one or the other, more often the dystopian. We wanted to show all the positive aspects of synths as well as the negative. We really want our audience to be sitting at home making their own decisions about whether these things would be a good or bad thing if they really did exist.
Personally, we both lean towards optimism when it comes to artificial intelligence. (laughs). In our research…we’ve spoken to some smart people who said that AI is going to be the thing that solves a lot of problems for humanity, whether that’s the economy, or health, or all sorts of things, and we tend to sort of…obviously there are equally smarter people like Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk saying that they are an existential threat to humanity, but we’ve always leaned towards optimism.
The design of the synths in the show is very smart with very subtle differences between them and the humans. I was wondering if you guys had anything to do with that? If you wrote that in or created that with the show, or if that was an entirely different design team?
We can’t take that much credit for it. (laughs) We’ll take as much as we can get. We just said in the episode one script and we kind of made it clear what we thought, just sort of guidelines. There would be an incredible economy of movement. They would take on powerful moves, so they would move with…they would conserve energy, no wasted movements ever. They have a slow, graceful, measured elegance to everything. The reference we used was a ritual; that’s kind of how they’d approach everything, that exact measured thing. They know every movement that they’re going to make, they can plot it before they do it, so there’s no time wasted wondering here, “I’m going to move my arms and waste the energy,” they wouldn’t do that. We also said no head cocking. And that they wouldn’t speak in any kind of robotic voice.
In terms of their look, in the original Swedish series on which it’s based Real Humans they look a bit more unreal. There’s some thick, caked makeup, more weepy hair. It’s great, but we thought it’d be more interesting to bring them subtly closer and closer to us, and just have the key difference being the eyes, and then move them. Because where you can you want your actors to be doing the hard work. You want your actors to be finding ways to differentiate these things from us.
A lot of it was down to directors and our movement director, choreographer, who created this kind of language of movement and uniformity in the way they approached this.
Is the fact that the synths, the realization that they’re never going to be able to grow hair if they cut it or put contacts in their eyes or get a fake tan or something like that, is that going to play into their emotional status in the show?
Very much so. That’s something we explore in the second season. Because there are things they’re never going to be able to do. Theoretically, they can live forever, and they’re never going to be able to have children. That is going to affect the ones that are sentient. It changes how they look at the world around them. They evolve sadness, bitterness, resentment towards humans who can do all that stuff.
You might have a human mind and human emotions, but are you somehow less human if you can’t experience the physical interaction with the world that we can? You don’t age, don’t get ill, and don’t die. I used that exactly in one scene. There’s one character that does have an existential trouble with this, and wants to try to explore how he or she (laughs) can change, and maybe can grow or change.
Will they begin to resent and maybe turn against Leo because he can grow old and have kids? Or is that getting too ahead of myself?
No, I think that the thing with Leo is that he sees himself as more of a synth, so he’s in an identity crisis of his own, because he’s so deeply distrustful of humanity, and because he hasn’t surpassed his synth brain being revived when he was a young boy. He wishes he was a synth. So this series is full of identity crises. Synths wanting to be humans, humans wanting to be synths. That’s a theme that emerges in series two. We’re trying to blur where we can and meld and find these machines reaching toward human and human reaching back; it’s very interesting. That’s where we feel it’s going.
Can we look forward to any interactions between the Elster’s and the Hawkins this season?
Oh yes. (laughs) They are very separate when we first meet them. Anita, Max, and Leo are out in the real world, trying to find their place in it. The Hawkins family is trying to move on from the events of series one, and they’re trying to rebuild their lives, which is obviously a struggle, knowing what they know about synths. But the events of the series will see their worlds collide again.
And you won’t have to wait too long either before a family member of the Elster family reconnects with the Hawkins family.
Is Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) going to face any repercussions or effects after what happened to him at the end of season one? Or is he kind of a reboot almost?
He’s pretty much good to go. He’s rebooted, and he’s okay. His journey is really about…he’s always been sort of the little brother figure, he’s always been very loyal to Leo, his journey is, partially because of what happens in Leo’s story, is Max growing up and learning to stand alone on his own two feet, and possibly even becoming a leader himself when the story put the onus on him to do that. So he’s coming on a maturation story, and it’s really lovely. I think that it’s great to see Max growing up.
He’s good to go. We couldn’t bear, couldn’t dream of suffering of that kind.
Fred (Sope Dirisu) is now a slave. We’re left to believe he’s going to be one forever, there’s nothing that they can do about it, and he’s trapped in this loop. What spoilers can you give us about how that will impact the series?
(laughs) At the start of the series, it is a total mystery where Fred is, and it may remain that way or it may not, and that is the extent of this spoiler.
What about Karen (Ruth Bradley)?
Well, Hobb (Danny Webb) is kind of out of the picture at the moment, he’s kind of been closed down, shut down. So Karen’s struggle is a new one. Her storyline repeats, it’s actually one of the ones we can say the least about, because it is probably the most sensational development in the series. They do their work as police officers. They stumble across something in work, a synth-related crime, which uncovers something pretty disastrous, and it changes their lives. But yeah, they’re a big part.
You guys said you were pretty optimistic about AI. If synths were real, would you guys want one?
Yeah. I’m a very lazy man. (laughs). No, I think aside from the obvious fact of it being sort of useful around the house, it would just be too fascinating not to have one, I think. I’d be too curious to see what it was like talking to one. So I think I’d definitely get one.
You’ve changed your mind over the years, haven’t you?
(laughs). Yeah, we got asked this question in series one, and I said no, and at the time my son was very young, and it was just because I couldn’t…the thought of a synth taking care of him and changing his nappy and him looking for that human connection and just these cold green eyes looking back down, and all the subtle moments of human interaction behavior that build empathy and connection wouldn’t be there, it must warp a young mind. And the warping of young minds is actually a theme in series two as well, partly deriving from that pull.
But now I think, hey he’s a bit older, he’ll be fine.
I think I’d probably get one now. I was looking at the Amazon Alexa, you know the speaker? The intelligent speaker. And I was thinking, “I want to get one of those.” And if I would get one of these, how could I honestly say that I wouldn’t get a synth if they were available.
Would you view it just like a toaster, like Joe does, as a thing? Or would you somehow feel like in this case, they’re getting human emotions, consciousness? Would that ever be in the back of your mind?
Absolutely. Even if it were an entirely non-sentient, unconscious thing, you would still want to treat it right. It’s important for you as a person, it’s important for humanity, it means so much about whom we are as people, depending on how we would treat this machine that looks like us. I think it would be too personally emotionally damaging for you to not treat it well, treat it like a person, even though you know it’s not really a person.
I think in the show, and in the real world, a very important disconnect would be happening if we mistreated androids that look exactly like we do to the extent that we see them being mistreated in our show. Even if we absolutely know with every fiber of our being that they’re not feeling pain and they’re not conscious, it’s doing something wrong. To be able to go and mistreat something that looks just like you, why do you want to? It’s very troubling, and hopefully, we continue to explore that.
I know you said that Leo identifies more with his synth side, but is there any hope for him forgetting that side and living sort of a normal life?
I think that’s one of the tensions of the beginning of the second season. Could Leo ever have a normal life? He’s been brought up in such odd circumstances, and he’s always had a quest of sorts to protect his cross-existence. And when we see him at the beginning of the second season trying to live a normal life…he needs something to focus on, and pretty early on in the second season, he finds that sort of quest. He feels that completes him, gives him purpose. So that’s kind of crucial to who he is as a person, as a character.
Certainly, there are a few other characters; you know there’s a human character wanting to be able to live a normal life. But this question of is it too late for him to do that, or can he find happiness? It’s a tough question.