Raised By Wolves isn't just HBO Max's big foray into original sci-fi. It's also director Ridley Scott's first foray into television. The man behind such genre staples as Blade Runner and Alien is no stranger to tales of robot-human relations or distant planets hostile to human life (he also helmed The Martian). So of course, producing the series (created by Aaron Guzikowski) and taking charge of the first two episodes — where the two groups of survivors from the war that destroyed Earth arrive on the same distant planet — was right up Scott's alley.
That also meant that those playing Raised By Wolves' characters — be it Mother and Father androids (Amanda Collin and Abubakar Salim) raising human embryos or humans Sue and Marcus (Niamh Algar and Travis Fimmel) looking to raise a child of their own — got to work with a master as they established the groundwork for the sci-fi series.
SYFY WIRE sat down with Collin, Salim, and Algar to talk about the show and working with living legend Scott.
First, there's the matter of playing a robot for the man that helped put the word "replicant" into the vernacular and (with the Alien franchise) inspired a thousand "are they really human?" twists. Thankfully, Collin and Salim didn't have to figure out how their particular androids worked — and what set them apart from every other robotic humanoid in the sci-fi canon — alone.
"It’s something that I think, for one, is a blessing, because the person I’m working with is bloody brilliant," Salim says. "Amanda’s just an incredibly open and brilliant artist. That helps and aids in that. There was a lot of space on set to explore and play — to take those risks. With that in mind, it does feel like we’re in this playground playing make-believe. But at the same time, having the space to dive into these quite serious themes and issues, and explore them to their darkest depths."
"So many times we’ve come to each other’s trailer and tested out a way of speaking or moving," Collin says of figuring out their non-human characters. "It’s such a gift to have the person you’re spending the most time on set with catching you every time you try something stupid, and you look ridiculous, and Abu’s just [giving thumbs up]."
"I’m the hype man," Salim confirms.
Algar and Fimmel had a similar actorly relationship, needing to figure out how to play their couple. "It was developing the chemistry between the characters," Algar remembers. "There’s two relationships within the show: you’ve got Mother and Father, but you’ve also got Sue and Marcus. That’s the human element. It’s such a complex relationship. They fight. They’re like dogs — they’re so scrappy and I love that. It’s not glossy, it’s quite gritty and raw. These two people are soldiers and I think that in itself is such a great starting point for them."
Algar had a little bit easier of a job than Salim and Collin, getting to play an actual human. But her character, Sue, isn't all she seems. Naturally. It's a sci-fi story after all. But she was given enough warning to be able to incorporate some (if not all) of those twists and turns into her performance.
"Before we shot, we had the scripts to episodes one and two," Algar says. "But there’s so much already rooted — there’s so much that happens in literally the first scene where she’s introduced, that it gave me miles and miles to play with. You know, it’s kind of creating two characters and choosing which one comes to the forefront at any given time. I’m like ‘Give me more layers, because it gives me more to play with.’"
"Play" was a common word thrown around by the cast and seems to be tied into Ridley Scott's directing style. "To work with someone who’s that intelligent and that creative and has that amount of experience — it’s so crazy to be around and suck in his energy," Collin says of Scott. "The space he creates around you is very inspiring. You do your best to play along and be courageous and explore new territory, because it’s like now or never, you know? Just go home if you aren’t courageous. I enjoyed every day."
Salim agrees: "It’s phenomenal. He really does create an environment that allows you to feel safe and just go for it. That’s what makes the work that he does so unique and brilliant, because if he’s able to create this environment, there’s no limit to what you can give and portray." The ownership of the out-of-this-world setting, be it the actual planetary landscape or the heady sci-fi concepts, was essential to getting the most out of the cast.
"Ridley, he really gives room for the actors to literally just play and take ownership of the space," says Algar. "That’s why I think the sets in which we shot, they’re very practical sets — they’re huge. He allowed us to go in and figure out what was the character going to do within that space. It was his job to figure out where to put the cameras. We were privileged to work with incredible cinematographers that didn’t limit you, saying 'Stand on that mark and then hit that mark.' We had incredible free reign. It’s so rare these days and it’s an absolute privilege."
Raised By Wolves drops its first three episodes on HBO Max on Sept. 3.