Interview with Gemma Chan from Humans: \"People come up and they try and switch me off\"

Interview with Gemma Chan from Humans: "People come up and they try and switch me off"

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Text: Buro. Singapore

Image: AMC Studios

Get to know Brit actress Gemma Chan, who plays Anita/Mia on the sci-fi series Humans

As an actress, how do you relate and go back to such a naïve place in order to pursue that journey of discovery?
Well, in some ways I approached her (Anita) in the same way that I would approach any character, which is just to use your imagination and just put yourself in their shoes, and imagine what it would be like to feel like that for the first time. In that sense it wasn't very different, but then obviously this character is not human and so the way of expressing those different discoveries and emotions is different.

As an actor, usually you just follow your instinct and you can do whatever you want. I found quite a lot of the time in these scenes when they became quite emotional, the natural thing to do would be to use your breath or even cry. All those things I couldn't do as a synth. So you have to find another way to express that emotion or convey that emotion, but within the rules of the synthetics. So that was the challenge for me.

I guess a lot of people think that playing a synth would be easier because you have 'less' to do — but I think that must be harder. Was that the case?
I definitely find it harder, yes. It's a unique challenge, I think, because everything comes from such a stillness and therefore every moment is significant. Everything is so specific, otherwise you're telling the wrong story. You know, even just a turn of the head or a movement of the eye, it means something, so you have to be really specific and really careful, and everything has to be thought through. You can't just rely on going with the flow, because you could tell the wrong kind of story.

Gemma Chan
How did you prepare for the role?
Well, we worked with a brilliant choreographer called Dan O'Neill. He began work with us about a month before we started the first series. We covered everything you can think of — the most simple movements like standing up, sitting down, walking, picking something up. We had to think about how a synth would do those things. It all came down to the fact that every movement takes up energy or battery power, so they would use the most efficient way of doing it. You know, we as human beings, we use a lot of extra energy — we don't necessarily take the shortest route to do something and we're not always the most efficient, but these synths, they are. That was the fundamental principle that we worked from and then everything came out of that.

It sounds quite simple, which it is in a way, but we, as actors, had to relearn how to do everything. And he would give us homework. We'd have to go home and practice doing tasks as a synth. So I would be told to go home and practice ironing as a synth. I'd have to practice washing up the dishes or loading the dishwasher!

So you're a real person playing a synth trying to pretend to be human. Doesn't that get confusing?
A little bit, yes. A human playing a synth who, yes, has human characteristics.

When you meet people who recognise you from the show, do they act strangely around you? Do they think of you as a synth?
People have had such a lovely response to the show. Everyone's been really enthusiastic and they want to come up and chat about the show which is really great. Sometimes people come up and they just want to try and switch me off. "No! Don't touch me!" That's funny.

What's your favourite part of the first season?
Episode three, because there's a big standoff between Anita and Laura, which is a really long scene actually, and the power shifts in that scene so many times. You think first of all that Anita's got all the power and then suddenly Laura attacks Anita and it's kind of amazing how it switches. It's not just all about Anita, but for me, Anita saves Toby from getting run over, there's the eye scene, the weird scene with Joe. Emotionally I think episode six is a great one because there are a lot of reveals about peoples' pasts and also it's the first time Anita gets restored to Mia, and that's a very powerful scene.

Emotionally, as an actress, what was it like playing those really emotional scenes?
It was fine. Particularly with Katherine, when I had all those scenes, because she's so great and we get on so well and we'd always have a laugh about it. So it never felt oppressive in any way. It was relatively easy just to play the scene. Actually it was weird, because I felt with Anita, she had her own way of dealing with things because she was almost passive-aggressive in a way. She just never responded. So there was a kind of power in that as well. So I never felt that Anita was really losing. I felt that she held her own.

Gemma Chan
Where did you find your inspiration when playing Anita?
I wouldn't say I based Anita on anything in particular but I wanted there to be a mystery about her and I wanted to give away little clues about her throughout the course of the show. I wanted her to be a mystery but then I wanted her to have that edge so you didn't know whether she was going to be dangerous or whether she's actually really sympathetic and you would care about her.

If synths were real, would you buy one?
I have to say yes, I would. I'd try one. It would be quite useful to have. A synth would be great. Never lose their temper. You could go off and have a nap, they could just take over. It would be great.

Humans Season 2 premieres in Singapore on 14 February at 10pm on AMC (Singtel TV 322).