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Betty Gabriel on the cast of Unfriended: Dark Web playing Settlers of Catan for acting prep

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Jul 23, 2018

In Unfriended: Dark Web, six friends get together on Skype for “game night” that quickly turns into a night of hell. The unlucky crew of long-distance gamers includes a newly engaged couple (played by Betty Gabriel and Rebecca Rittenhouse), a DJ (Savira Windyani), a computer tech (Andrew Lees), a conspiracy theorist podcaster (Connor Del Rio), and a bike messenger (Colin Woodell) with a newish laptop.

That laptop, however, allows an uninvited hacker to crash the party, with deadly consequences for each of the game-players. For Gabriel, however, sci-fi thrillers have been a boon — movies about tech, hacking, surveillance, and data mining have given a boost to her career in the last year. Following a stellar turn in Get Out, she’s played a paramilitary trooper rescuing the Delos brass in Westworld, a cop with analog methods in a hyper-digital world in Upgrade, and now Nari, the friend with the most common sense in Unfriended: Dark Web.

Gabriel chatted with SYFY WIRE about the inevitable rise of artificial intelligence, her conspiracy theories, and her secret wish to break out in song.

I was told that the cast bonded by playing a game together during rehearsals, which helped you build your character backstories?

Betty Gabriel: Yeah, yeah. It was great. We had a full week, actually, meeting up. We didn’t play Settlers of Catan the whole week, but there was some Catan action, which was great, because I had never heard of the game before. I think only one of us even knew this game existed. I think only one person knew how to play it. It was tricky, and confusing, and weird. But now I know how! We also did a lot of script work — getting to know each other, asking questions, fleshing out the characters and relationships. I believe there was an aspect to the game in which we asked each other, “In what ways are you similar to your character?”

And how are you similar to Nari?

I decided our common connection was that we’re both involved in charitable works and organizations — her more so than me! I don’t do it regularly, but it’s definitely something I’m highly conscious of, and try to be participatory in, and Nari is a bit of a hero. She’s really adamant and smart, and uses all that energy and gears it towards organizations which help those who are vulnerable to being assaulted, those who are being eaten up by the machine that is our system.

We also went to an escape room, and that was my first time ever doing that! I was freaked out by it. We were all in the same room, all at the same time, and you try to work as a team, but it’s a free-for-all, and everybody tries to find as many clues as you can. I think we all collected them on the table and tried to solve it all together. And we almost – almost! – won. Or escaped, or whatever the term is. But alas, we were defeated. It was not a happy ending, not unlike the film itself. [Laughs]

There seems to be a tech-phobic, or tech-paranoid, theme running through some of your work as of late — this film, Upgrade, Westworld… In some of these, companies or criminals are monitoring our personal data, in order to control or manipulate us. And since you joined Season 2 of Counterpart, one of the ways the two parallel worlds are different from each other is their level of technology. 

Mmm hmm. Right. It’s pretty crazy how exponentially fast this relationship is developing. I mean, I don’t think artificial intelligence was quite as big twenty years ago. Smartphones weren’t a thing. I can remember a time when we didn’t have cell phones, smart phones, or the internet, you know? So it’s pretty crazy. I think technology can be used to really benefit our society and our civilization, but at the root of all these stories, what’s being portrayed is human nature, the human component.

If you look through our history, there is always some kind of genocide, some kind of takeover, and so of course we worry that technology is going to take over us. That’s what we do, so why wouldn’t they mirror what we do? Especially given how much of a negative impact we have on the planet! That’s so depressing. [Laughs] I don’t know. I truly hope that we can evolve with technology, and use it for the benefit of all mankind, but history might suggest otherwise.

Have any of these projects affected how you interact with technology? Did you block the camera on your computer? Are you more careful on social media?

Um, no. [Laughs] But I think after this film, I’ve gotten into the habit of hiding my phone if I’m doing private matters. Stick my phone somewhere where it won’t see me. [Laughs] And I’m definitely aware of the fact that certain apps are listening all the time. I’m assuming it’s for marketing purposes, so they can listen in and know what you want, and therefore gear their advertisements towards that. But I already have too many paranoias! I can’t add the technological reality to that! [Laughs] It’s just too much. It would leave me paralyzed and non-functional. We use it so much, so how am I going to not use it? So yes and no, that’s my answer.

Well, it doesn’t have to be a choice between using it, or not using it. You could still use it, but take precautions. You don’t have to go analog and avoid digital technology, as your character did in Upgrade

Right. You’re right. Yeah. There’s just always going to be both positives and negatives to any evolution that we’re a part of. And there’s really no stopping the evolution of technology. There has been more and more integration in our daily lives, so we become more and more dependent on it. It does make our lives easier, but it does have the potential to perhaps solve global warming, and maybe cancer. Although there’s already a cure for cancer, right? [Laughs] They just haven’t figured out a way to profit off of it. These are all my, what do you call that?

Conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories, exactly! That are true. [Laughs] No, I’m kidding. And so yeah, I really think life is better with just taking everything with a grain of salt, going about your life and doing the best you can, and really stay grounded in the realities of human interaction and personal, individual growth, if that makes sense. Now we’re getting very spiritual, but I have that quality, too!

I think there is a lot of technology that is finding its way into our storytelling — it’s pretty unavoidable. But I would hesitate to say that I pick roles because of those themes, because at this point, it’s been about auditioning and getting hired. That’s the truth of the matter. And when I do get to the point where I can be a little choosier, and have more options presented, I look forward to telling stories that maybe have nothing to do with technology, and have everything to do with singing and dancing! [Laughs]

If you had a chance to do a musical, do you have a dream role you’d like to play?

I do like musicals, but I’m not so well-versed in them. I would rather tell stories that just so happen to have a song in them, like someone has a cabaret number. I don’t know. I did a lot of Shakespeare plays at school, at Juilliard – maybe you’ve heard of it? [Laughs] And I remember singing as Feste in Twelfth Night, and that’s definitely not a musical. A lot of Shakespeare plays have musical numbers in them. It just happened to be part of the fabric of their world. So yeah, that more so than, “I definitely want to play Sandy in Grease.”

You’d be a better Rizzo anyway.

Oh, definitely! [Laughs] I know I would make a really good Rizzo! Oh, yes. I like the way you’re thinking. Now that you mention it, okay!