Interview with Executive Producers J.J. Abrams & Joel Wyman from Almost Human


Executive Producers J.J. Abrams & Joel (J.H.) Wyman spoke to the press recently about their latest show, Almost Human. They talked about the show itself, the actors & characters, and how they dealt with the science fiction/futuristic story lines, so check it out.

On how Almost Human is different from any other Bad Robot show

J.J.: While we have been involved in a number of different series, none of them were approached from a strategic point of view, meaning we didn’t really try to figure out how is this unique? We just tried to do it from the inside out and figure out what makes us care. I think that the specifics of this one, obviously, the story is very different than anything we’ve done before.

The type of show in that it is very much a cop procedural show, which is a very familiar show. We’ve seen a million buddy/cop shows and the fun of that was twisting it in a way that Joel came up with, which is having it set in a place and with specific characters that allow for conflict and cases every week that don’t feel like everything you’ve seen a million times before. I think that this show has a level of humor that is distinct from what we’ve done. I think that part of it is just the relationship between Karl and Michael’s characters.
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On Michael Ealy’s character, Dorian

J.J.: I do think that what Michael Ealy brings to this role is an incredible sense of thoughtfulness and compassion and he is playing a character who is, by design, literally, as brave and as knowledgeable and strategic as you would want your partner to be if you were riding along as a cop.

But he’s also as altruistic and as considerate and empathetic as you would want. I think what Michael brings is that kind of depth, that kind of comedy and humanity. The title Almost Human, of course, applies to both Karl and Michael’s characters. I think that the idea when Joel pitched it was always that Dorian, this synthetic cop, was in many ways more human than his partner.

On how John deals with having a synthetic leg

Joel Wyman: Yes. That’s a very large part of his character, because at the root of it, he’s a little bit worried about the advancement of technology and where that’s led humanity and what the world looks like with this onslaught of new developments and unchecked growth with technology.

He feels, while he appreciates technology, such as things like the new bulletproof vests or better weapons for the police, he still has a problem with the line between humanity and robotics, or synthetics. He looks at that and is forced to kind of deal with the idea that his well-being now depends on this technology that he sometimes holds with a sense of contempt. That’s the journey for him, is that he’s starting to realize it’s not the technology that’s bad; it’s how you use it.

On making Maldonado a female

almosthumancall1117smallJoel: Originally we conceived her as a man, the concept of Maldonado. Somebody had brought up – I’m not sure, I think it was April Webster, our casting director, that said what about Lili Taylor? Then once we started talking about – we are huge fans of hers – once we started talking about that concept we realized that the character of Maldonado would actually be far superior if it was a woman.

The character started to take on all these incredible aspects that really weren’t there in a male version of her. We just embraced the idea and we’re so fortunate to get her because we just all really adore her. That’s how that came about. It wasn’t originally designed as a female, but we went down that road when it was presented and we loved it.

On whether or not the cast has influenced where the characters & show go

Joel: Yes. You always start with something and then when, based on your casting, at least for me and my experiences, it always transcends it and makes it better. You can learn what you were trying that wasn’t working, or all of a sudden, you’re surprised by something that works incredibly well that you didn’t anticipate. It’s no different from this show.

In the casting process, it was so interesting, because when we were finding these guys, each one of them had something that was just so perfect for the character. We knew that fundamentally they were right for the roles, but just who they are, and what they bring to it, and what they’ve examined now having these roles as actors, and what they dug into, has just made the show that much more rich and provided us with a lot of opportunities and avenues that we didn’t even dream of. Yes, we’re always influenced by the people that are bringing the work and the characters to the program.

On what will drive this show forward besides the relationship between the leads

Joel: The difference between Almost Human and say, Fringe, or whatever, is that Fringe had a mythology every week, that was the main thrust of it. Underneath it all, at least to me, it was a quintessential kidnapping story, and a show about a family that really is trying to hold it all together in a time where holding families together is really hard. People immediately gravitated toward that mythology. That was that.

These are cops. Every week there is going to be – they’re going to show up at work and they’re going to have a case at work. That case is going to be really compelling and really fun and it’s going to take them on a journey. Through those cases we’re going to learn more about our characters and the relationships are going to diversify and grow.

Not to say that there is not any mythology; there is definitely going to be some mythology. Inherently, this show is a week-to-week great action show with cases that you’ve never really seen before, or concepts that you have seen, but just told in very different ways, because of the nature of our program. That’s how they’re going to go.

I’m always interested in hiding certain things and planting some things that will come around later, maybe in different ways than you first thought. That’s it. But when you sit down to the show, what we’re hoping is that you’ll really be engaged by the compelling stories and these great characters, and go forward with them as they understand their place in the world.

On the synthetics (androids) themselves & their rights and how human they are

Joel: That’s a really good question. J.J. had set us up with some very, very brilliant people from MIT, and one of the brilliant people was a woman who studies robot ethics, which is pretty amazing because when you talk to her, you get the idea that, wait a second, this is definitely coming. Some of the amazing things with these robots that are now what we see in the future are definitely robots, not human. They’re not becoming human, but they’re definitely becoming beings.

That’s a moment where you’re thinking, they’re real. They are thinking beings. What are their rights? Then, where are those lines drawn? A lot of those things are examined in some of our later stories. Those concepts of what exactly is a robot? What is an android? What is a being? If it’s able to think, if it’s able to be, then what? We’re definitely interested in those types of things.

On how the science fiction work on other shows has influenced Almost Human

Joel: For me, on Fringe, I got to, in a lot of the research that I did and got to experience on a week-to-week basis, really definitely influenced the direction of this program and how it was conceived. When you start to get involved in what’s possible, what technology is out there, how is science dangerously out of control, what are we up against as the human race? It just really starts to make your mind expand with all these concepts that you sometimes worry about and sometimes go, wow, that’s really wild.

It definitely, that for me was a huge influence. It actually, looking at what’s to come, in my experience on Fringe, it definitely was the seed of this program. I’ve always loved to talk about what ifs and scenarios of look where we’re going. This is a perfect platform for these cautionary tales and what if scenarios.

On how the film Blade Runner influenced Almost Human

Joel: In my mind, you can’t touch something in this wheelhouse, or in science fiction, without owing a huge debt to Blade Runner. It’s definitely one of my favorite films. It has so much to look at. It was just so amazing and instructive as a young person watching that movie on how not just what’s happening in the scene, but what’s happening ten layers behind the scene, what’s going on in the street behind it, and then what’s going on in the building behind that? … creating was a real lesson for me.

But there is something about those types of … features that I definitely did not want to go for. I hope that we’re not really in that territory and that we were successful, because what occurred to me is in watching all these incredible science fiction, or reading all these incredible science fiction books, the future is largely, oh, look what you humans have done. You’ve really messed up and now what are you going to do? Whereas I think what we were talking about is something a little bit more hopeful, that we will have some hardships as a human race and it will be difficult at times, but ultimately, we will persevere because that’s truly what I believe.

I am a hopeful person. I really believe that the world is going to get it right somehow. I wanted to make it a brighter environment where it’s not raining all the time, the atmosphere is not completely ruined, that people still have children and are very excited about their daughter’s seven-year-old birthday party. That they’ll want to do what they can to get her that present that she wants. That there is a sense of going forward and a sense of, okay, this is the future in 40 years.

It’s still going to have a lot of the same stuff that we deal with now. It will have some things that are much better. It will have some things that are more dangerous, sure, but we’re resilient and we’re going to succeed. That was the difference. But as far as, of course, setting a world in the future and things like that, that’s a huge influence on me.
Final remarks:

J.J.: I just thank all of you for your time and support of the show. It means a lot and I just want to thank all of you guys.

Joel: Yes, thank you all very much. We really do appreciate the support.
That’s all from these guys. Be sure to check out the call with the two leads, Karl Urban & Michael Ealy, here: Almost Human call #1.

Don’t forget to tune in tonight on FOX at 8/7c for the series premiere, and then tomorrow night for the regular time slot premiere on Mondays at 8/7c.

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