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The androids in the upcoming film Zone 414 may or may not dream of electric sheep, but they’re definitely hard to distinguish from their human counterparts. Unless you’re Guy Pearce’s character, David Carmichael, who right off the bat shows a knack for robot profiling — but the man-vs-machine relationship doesn’t exactly improve much from there.
“It’s a fairly ruthless opening,” Pearce tells SYFY WIRE over the phone, describing the movie’s anti Save-the-Cat first scene (a screenwriting device intended to make the main character immediately likeable). But hey, this is a ruthless world, and there’s “enough intrigue there to allow him to get away with it.” Of course, with Pearce (Iron Man 3, The Time Machine) playing the part, you’re likely going to stick around and see what Carmichael’s going to do next anyways.
Indeed, intrigue is at a premium in the the futuristic noir, which centers around Carmichael, an ex-cop, current private investigator called into sleuthing service by eccentric (to say the least) android artist/tycoon Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), whose rebellious daughter has gone missing in Zone 414, a city of Veidt’s creation, and the only place where androids and humans are allowed to freely interact.
A walled-off fortress of robotic debauchery, Zone 414 is where the wealthy go to fulfill all their lurid android fantasies. With his daughter seemingly lurking somewhere within, Veidt hires David to track her down, and tells him to seek out clues from the latest, greatest, most-humanest android herself, Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), so much so, that upon entering the “City of Robots,” there’s a wide-shot with a billboard featuring Jane advertised as “the future of human.”
While the words “noir,” “future,” and “android” might give you a serious Blade Runner vibe, Pearce didn’t feel at all compelled to revisit Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, and hasn’t seen it in years. And, while he’s no stranger to gritty detective stories like his star-making roles in Memento and L.A. Confidential, he doesn’t really spend time revisiting his old hits. “I don’t think I’ve watched a film of mine in a while,” he says.
Honestly though, that sort of research would seem out of place for the Iron Man 3 actor anyways.
“I never do a huge amount of research in order to feel like I can play the character I’m going to play. I feel like if I have to do a whole lot of research in order to play the character then we’re in a bit of trouble,” Pearce says. “Because usually my spontaneous response to a script is all I need in order to play the character.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t have to put forth a proper effort, though.
“I certainly have to do work sometimes on finding the voice, or finding how a character might move, but that’s more finding the truth of the person that I’m delving into,” he says. “So that often doesn’t connect to what you might call general research about the world or the history… it depends obviously on the role you’re playing. And for David in this world, for example, he’s a total outsider. So in a way it was kind of good for me to just be the outsider and go, ‘What the f*** is this world I just entered into?’”
The world is a wild one, to be sure, and made so in no small part by Fimmel’s intensely creepy tech tycoon, Veidt (no relation to Adrian).
“I mean, he was just extraordinary, wasn’t he? It was an amazing performance. I love it,” Pearce says. “I love bold performances, and I love the use of makeup and prosthetics and stuff, when it really works well. It’s perfect, it’s exactly why it exists: it enables us to be extreme and bold. You know, there are plenty of sort of crazy looking people out there in the world, and to be able to pull that off, to be able to play someone like that, I find it really exciting.”
Fimmel’s flamboyance was also a nice foil to Pearce’s performance, which is far more subtle.
“It was also great to sort of play off him, because my character, as you can see, he’s fairly without much personality, really,” he says. “But for me to be able to sit back and sort of judge this kind of strange monster that Travis is playing was great fun.”
While playing a character low on personality might not sound like the best assignment, there’s a lot more to Carmichael simmering within, and there was plenty for Pearce to like about the script in general.
“The thing I found most interesting about it is this question of our emotions and our feelings, and how we deal with them, and whether we want to deal with them,” he says.
The relationship between Carmichael and Jane is at the heart of these questions. According to Pearce, she’s “purpose-built” not to feel anything, but through a “technological mishap” starts to experience something akin to feeling.
“My character... is human and wanting to repress feelings from the past, and function almost as a brittle, almost robotic kind of man I suppose,” Pearce says. “Which I think you could relate to a lot of us in this modern day and age, where it’s hard to be vulnerable, it’s hard to be vulnerable in front of other people, it’s hard to show our emotions, it’s hard to deal with our emotions, so we do everything we can sometimes to avoid that.”
Unfortunately, technology can often help with just that.
“Ironically, with the advent of modern technology, it’s easier and easier to avoid having to expose our true feelings and having to be vulnerable, etcetera,” Pearce says. “And so I think the film sort of speaks to that in a way. And as an actor, obviously, I’m fascinated in emotions and feelings, it’s a truth I have to deal with all the time. So I just thought the setting of this film, and the themes, were well realized, and it just sort of took my fancy.”
While admitting there are beneficial aspects of technology, particularly for those who really need it, Pearce says he’s always maintained a healthy distrust as well.
“I remember as a kid when I was 12 and we had our first TV that had a remote control, and thinking to myself as a 12-year-old… or 11-year-old: ‘This is bad news, because I can sit here on the chair, I don’t have to get up and walk over to it and actually send some blood pumping through my veins anymore, I can just sit here and press a button. So this technology is kind of just bad news.’ And I’ve felt the same about most technology ever since, to be honest,” Pearce says.
So much so that Pearce doesn’t see much difference between Jane and many actual humans nowadays.
“I feel that we just seem to have this desire to turn ourselves into robots to help us avoid the aging process and avoid dying. You know, that's what it’s about really, it’s about immortality, and turning ourselves into creatures that won’t actually die,” he says. “I think that’s behind a lot of technological advancement. And so I reckon it’s inevitable that we’re going to be going, ‘Look, here’s the robot version of me, look how amazing I am… I’m perfect.’”
Zone 414 is currently in theaters, on digital, and On Demand.