Two of the most interesting characters core to the second season of AMC's Humans are synth Mia (Gemma Chan) and human researcher Dr. Athena Morrow (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Originally built as a service synth known as Anita, Mia is now conscious with her new name and exploring an independent life that involves a possible romance with a human. Meanwhile, Morrow is a woman grieving an acute loss who in turn has thrown herself into developing synthetic consciousness via her secret, sentient computer, "V." Both women are trying to find an emotional foothold and purpose in this world, regardless of their disparate origins. It's compelling storytelling in the hands of two talented actresses.
We recently sat down with Moss and Chan to talk about their work on Humans.
Carrie, you are playing a new character this season. Is your character human or synth?
Carrie-Anne Moss: Yeah, I play a scientist. Her name is Athena. I’m a human being who is interested in A.I., and she's pretty smart.
Gemma, let's talk about Mia and her path this season. Obviously, there's a new relationship with the Ed character, which allows for this idea that you're starting to develop and what that means for another human in a romantic sense. What were the most interesting things that were framed for you in terms of the exploration of that relationship?
Gemma Chan: For me, what was really interesting is that at the beginning of Season 2, it's really the first time that Mia has had a chance to figure out who she might be and where she might fit in the world. She was created for a particular purpose, to look after Leo and the Elster family, and then she ended up with the Hawkins family against her will. So really, it's the first time she's really getting a say in what she wants to do. She, for better or worse, wants to put herself out there. She craves human interaction. And I see her as something of an innocent still at the beginning of Season 2. She definitely goes on an interesting journey because her relationship, or her interaction with human beings, have been quite limited so far. There's a naiveté to some of the way she behaves. I think her natural instinct to look for the best in other human beings, or other synths, is both a great asset to her, but also it could be her downfall as well.
How did you approach building a synth performance?
Chan: When I first went in to audition, they gave a brief and they said you're obviously playing a character that's not human, but we don't want anything overtly robotic or anything you think that's being robotic in a cliché way. They didn’t want any kind of quizzical head cocking or anything like that. They said, definitely don't come in and do that. You won't get the job. But they said we want you to give an indication of what you might do, just to make the movement something that isn't human. I just thought, just from first principles, these things are machines and every movement uses up battery power. So there's obviously going to be more of a stillness. That’s what I tried initially. All of us have a lot of physical ticks that we don't realize that we're doing subconsciously. So one of the first things I did was to try to kind of neutralize that, which sounds quite easy, but actually sometimes you don't realize you're doing things I didn't realize. Apparently I have an overactive left arm. So yes, that was my first instinct.
Then when I got the job, I started working, me and the other actors who play synths in the show, we went to synth school and we worked with a really brilliant choreographer called Dan O'Neill to hone that movement. So there's a universal language of movement for all the synths in the show, which is also tailored to each character depending on how old the synth is or what condition they're in.
In a science fiction, a lot of these innovators and scientist characters have complex morality. They do things that might seem wrong are harsh; maybe in the pursuit of a good cause, maybe not. Have you found that fertile ground to play in?
Moss: I love storytelling, I love characters that are complicated and layered and real people where you see why they do what they do. I was lucky when I got this part that they wrote this really amazing bio for me of her and so I really got to see all the reasons that she was doing the things that she was doing. There were all these nuggets of gold that the writers gave me to have in my arsenal of information about her. Because most of the time you have to make that up, which I like to do too. But I felt like they really gave me a lot. Probably the best bio I've ever gotten from anybody, actually, which I appreciated. You never know, especially on episodic television, you just don't know week to week what's going to happen. And some of the things they wrote in the bio didn't actually execute and then other things did, but that information all informed me as to who she was.
What appeals to you about those kinds of stories?
Moss: Well, I like stories about the world, where we're at. I like to explore humanity. I like to explore my own humanity. I've never been attracted to sci-fi, per se. People tell me that I'm in a genre kind of movie, but it never crossed my mind that The Matrix was genre. To me it was about, for me anyway, my character, I had this rock outside my door that said "Faith" or "Believe" or something, and I remember felt like that was my key into her, into Trinity. It was like she was the heart of it. I intellectually did not understand what I was doing when I did that role, but I definitely felt it in my body, in myself. But I couldn't have explained it to anybody. So that's not ever necessarily my gift, to explain, so much as I just feel things pretty deeply. I just love to play characters that are layered and that I can relate to in some way, even if they're completely different than me; that I can see a glimpse of humanity and something I'm interested in exploring.
What would you say is at the heart of Mia and Athena?
Chan: The heart of Mia is love, I think. It's the first thing she knew in her bond with Leo. She's a sister, but she's also mother figure as well. She's always searching for love and acceptance.
Moss: And Athena, I think she's so protective of herself because of the pain she's experienced in her life. And so she has created this world of control so that she doesn't have to feel how she feels and at the core of it, I think it's love again. Very deep love for parts of her life that didn't turn out the way she hoped they would and that disappointment.
Carrie, you've been working more in television lately, between this and Marvel's Jessica Jones. Have you been finding better roles in TV than in film?
Moss: I think it's an exciting time to be a woman in television and it's an exciting time in television, period. I said this last year when I was here with Jessica Jones, it's like what the independent film world felt like when I did Memento. I didn't read a script like that anywhere except in the independent film world, and now it feels like that in television. Every time I hear about a new show and I see a show that is being created that is completely nothing like I've ever thought about, I just get so excited about that expansion. I started working when LA Law was on. It was lawyers and cops. To imagine that it could be this diverse and creative, and that television could be this creative, I couldn't have imagined that, I don't think.
Humans airs Mondays on AMC at 10PM.