In light of tonight’s series premiere of Almost Human, the two leads, Karl Urban & Michael Ealy, sat down to talk to the press about the show & their characters.
If you don’t know about this show, here’s the premise: Almost Human takes place approximately 30 years in the future, when being a cop has only become a more dangerous job than it is today. Following an unprecedented increase in the crime rate, every police officer must partner with an android. This series follows the week-to-week missions of John Kennex (played by Urban), a detective and sole survivor of a devastating police ambush, and his robot partner, Dorian (Ealy), as this buddy-cop duo solves cases and fight to keep the lid on dangerously evolved criminals in this futuristic landscape.
Check out what the guys all had to say. First up is my question.
Jenny: What’s the hardest thing about playing your characters?
Michael Ealy: I think originally it started out that that was probably the hardest part for me; to try and absorb the idea that a machine is being human or a machine is trying to act human. That was definitely difficult at the start. I’m starting to get the hang of that now.
So I think right now the hardest part is actually trying to understand and develop somewhat of a bible for the world that we live in. You know what I mean. So it’s like, can you talk on the phone or do you talk through your com? Sometimes I can get a call from Mackenzie’s character, Rudy, and Karl can’t hear it and sometimes he can.
So it’s like we’re trying to find out what are the rules of the world that we set up. I think that’s probably the hardest part for me right now.
Karl Urban: For me, one of the aspects that I find most challenging, I think, is the physicality of it. As I said before, this is a real fun, action-packed show. When you are attempting to achieve the quality of action and sort of the engaging performance that we are on a weekly basis, it certainly takes its toll.
We shot an absolutely amazing sequence last week where—it’s a little bit of a spoiler—Michael was fighting with another robot. I was fighting with another cop. It was absolutely amazing, but I tell you, the next day both of us couldn’t move. And of course you don’t have a day off. You’ve got to get back to work and do it all again the next day. So I think there’s a certain physical aspect of doing this show that I’m definitely finding a challenge.
Jump with me to read more.
On how they prepared for their roles
Karl: The preparation for me was a multi-level process. It involved a lot of discussion with Joel Wyman, J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk. When it got on the ground here in Vancouver we started shooting. We had a bunch of tactical training. I went on a bunch of ride-alongs with some cops just to get a sort of feel of what the reality is of their job.
Then there’s also a physical component. Our show is a fun, action-packed hour of television. Michael and I both need to be in good shape to do our jobs. We pay a lot of focus, time and attention to keeping ourselves in good shape.
Michael: Basically kind of a similar situation in which I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Joel Wyman. As I said before, I try to model my version of synthetic droid or Dorian, in this particular case, after three particular characters in film. That’s Jason Bourne [in the Bourne Identity], the Terminator 2—Robert Patrick’s version—and Starman, played by Jeff Bridges. Those are all three movies that I kind of watched over and over again to try and find a good, strong foundation for Dorian.
On what they love most about their roles & the show
Karl: Many things. I guess what I most love about Kennex is firstly his temperament. Often, you know, he can be kind of prickly on the surface but as we get to spend more time with him in the show we get to see a real softer side to him. I particularly like his relationship with Dorian.
At first, as you see in the pilot, Kennex is pretty adverse to accepting robots, robot technology, but the wonderful thing is that he forms this incredible bond with Dorian and he really comes to accept and see the value and the special unique qualities that this robot has. For me that’s such an endearing evolution in the character. I think that’s been one of my most favorite aspects of portraying Kennex.
Michael: I think for me one of the things I like the most about Dorian is his sincerity and his—we’ve had some episodes where he’s kind of come to this conclusion that there’s an automatic protocol. When, for lack of a better term, the … hits the fan he has like an automatic protocol that takes over and he has to do things that are—he has to sacrifice himself in a lot ways.
That’s something I didn’t see coming when I signed for the role. It’s been kind of interesting to watch that unfold. And at the same time his humanity and what he can learn from Kennex, it’s just interesting to see somebody learn about friendship or learn about death from another human being. The themes of the show are defining what humanity is for us in this world.
On what attracted them to the show
Karl: For me it was a multitude of things. Firstly, it was my relationship with J. J. Abrams and Bryan Burk. I had a fantastic time working with them on Star Trek. When they approached me with this material I read the pilot and was immediately drawn to the characters, the dynamic between the characters and the world. It seemed to me that what they were endeavoring to achieve was a fun, action-packed kind of buddy cop show and do it in a way that, I think, hadn’t quite been done before. So that really peaked my interest.
From there I spoke to Joel Wyman, who was the creative genius behind Fringe. I have to say I made an instant connection with Joel. He’s a fun, smart creator. I was completely impressed with his vision for this world, these characters and the limitless possibilities of where we could take it. I felt like I would be kicking myself if I turned this down. So that’s really kind of what drew me to the project.
Michael: For me, it started with that pilot script, which changed multiple times by the time we actually shot it, but each time it got better and better. From the first read I was just highly impressed with this world, this level of writing. It never hurts to associate yourself with the J. J. Abrams camp. That definitely didn’t hurt, but at the end of the day, for me, the opportunity to play a character like Dorian doesn’t come along very often.
To be honest with you, I’m not the biggest sci-fi guy. So I can’t say I honestly ever thought about playing a machine. At some point I thought about being a vampire and that was probably in Underworld when I was trying to become immortal. I never thought about immortality, so to speak, by being a machine. It’s an interesting concept for me and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.
On what they added to their characters that wasn’t in the script
Karl: For the most part what you see on screen is what’s on the page. We’re really blessed with having an amazing team of writers headed by Joel. The wonderful thing about the process is that if Michael and I feel like we have something to contribute we are working in an environment where it is welcomed.
So we will do what’s in the script and on the page, but then also we have the freedom to try one for ourselves. Michael and I do take that and it’s been really amazing to see, I think, that through that part of the process it’s certainly opened up avenues for the writers to explore directions, which may have not been previously considered.
Michael: I would say kind of the same thing. What we’re able to discover every day that we go to work about these characters has been—there is a significant amount of off-the-page intrigue, again, in establishing this world that we’re not—we can’t use sense memory. We’re in a world that doesn’t exist yet, and I think that has been probably one of the more interesting components in terms of trying to understand what we’re doing and where this thing is heading.
On dealing with the technology portrayed in the show
Karl: Most definitely I’m taken by the technology. We’re dealing with concepts that obviously aren’t present in our world. Concepts like Dorian, a fully functioning life-like humanistic robot that in many ways is actually more human than my character. To me that’s probably the most amazing piece of technology in this whole show.
Beyond that we deal with other things, whether it’s cloning, whether it’s synthetic technology, say synthetic hearts, whether it’s sexbots. We’re introducing concepts that are just around the corner. I think the wonderful thing that Joel and his team do is they really research these technologies that are just over the horizon.
I think that’s going to be one of the fun and exciting elements about our show, is people are going to be able to tune in next week and go, “Oh my gosh, is that seriously two decades away? Is it ten years away?” So I think from that standpoint it’s going to be a though provoking element of our show, amidst all the fun and action and comedy.
Michael: I would agree. In trying to build this character of Dorian I find it pretty incredible that there’s potential in 40 years for machines to be commonplace. It’s not like we walk around and people don’t know that Dorian is a machine or he’s a cop-issued DRN. The world is very much aware that he’s a machine. So it’s definitely been commonplace and I think that’s almost inconceivable to me right now, but it’s fascinating to think about it when you really get there.
And one of the things that we’re dealing with on the show, in terms of machines, is the civil rights of a machine. Are their rights being respected? We’re dealing with that now in the states so it’s kind of interesting to see a similar story line being played out in the future but with machines.
On their relationship to Maldonado, played by Lili Taylor
Karl: My character, John Kennex, has a very good friendship with Lili’s character, Maldonado. She plays the captain so she’s my superior office, but beneath that we actually have a very strong history and a strong friendship. She’s kind of like a big sister to my character.
Working with Lili is absolutely fantastic. She is one of the most grounded and in-the-moment actors that I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. She makes your work better because she is so real and so in the moment. She is constantly exploring the scene in different ways. She is fantastic at keeping it alive and making sure that each take is different and authentic, and most importantly grounded in a reality.
On a personal level, she is really a sheer pleasure to work with. She’s been fantastic to spend time with. She’s an avid bird watcher. I think she’s fantastic in the show.
Michael: We haven’t really defined the relationship between Dorian and Maldonado, or Lili, as much as the relationship is defined between Kennex and Maldonado, but I think what we did establish in the pilot is that she put us together for a reason. We’re still kind of waiting to find out what that reason was. I think with every episode you gain more on an understanding, but I think one day we’ll probably get into why she did and how she knew that this would be a strong match; we’d be a strong match for each other.
Working with Lili, I’ve worked with her before on a reading series and the power that she has, the vulnerability that she has, the sensitivity and the strength; Lili is a spitfire. She’s got a lot of spunk, if you will. She’s not one to mess with. I don’t mess with Lili. I mess with most people on set. I play jokes on them. I don’t mess with Lili. Not that she can’t take it, because she’s a joker too, I just don’t want to get on her bad side.
She’s been great to work with. She’s a great person for this role. She’s really killing the role, if you ask me. She’s doing a great job. I just hope we get to continue to have fun with her.
On getting the right mix of character versus mythology versus plot
Karl: As an interesting part of the process, we shot this pilot and in the pilot Kennex is obviously awakened after being in a coma for 17 months. He wakes up to find that he’s not only got a synthetic leg but also this woman who he thought was his girlfriend of over a year, possible fiancé, was actually working for the criminal organization.
As we started to get into it, we realized that as fun as all that material is, what we really needed to focus on was not defining this character by his baggage so much. That has happened to him, but that is not something that we have been dwelling upon in these first few episodes.
I have no doubt that the mystery of … and Syndicate will come back at some point, but what we’re really focusing on is establishing the relationship between Dorian and Kennex, between Dorian, Kennex and Rudy, Maldonado, Valerie and Paul, and making this a fun, action-packed show.
So a certain amount of it, every week is case of the week. There are current themes which flow from week-to-week, whether it be what’s going on for Dorian, whether it be him contemplating his mortality or taking ownership over his humanity, whether it be Kennex moving towards freeing himself up to have somebody significant in his life.
Our main goal and focus is really to have fun and to make sure that the audience has fun, to make sure that we develop that fine balance between a really intriguing case of the week, something that you’re not going to see on another cop show. We have the benefit of 40-years of futuristic technology to make it a little bit different, and to find that balance between that intriguing case of the week and how it’s presented to the audience.
We don’t want to put all our cards on the table in the first act. We’d like the audience, as like the characters, to not know what’s going on for a little bit, and that certainly adds to the intrigue. And then, as I said, balance those elements out with the fun.
On developing Dorian as a character
Michael: Yes, this is definitely a character-driven show. It’s a cop show. It’s a fun cop show, but I think we focus more on the characters than any other cop show that’s really out there. The cases are good. They’re definitely good. They’re even better, I think, when the cases affect us personally.
That’s where, I think, we hope to stand apart in that way and get people to follow the characters of this show. I think that’s really going to help us in the end. Yes, Dorian’s still dealing with why was he decommissioned in the first place and he’s still trying to rectify that and live the best possible life that he can with this second chance that he’s been given.
That’s all from these guys. Be sure to check out the call with Executive Producers J.J. Abrams & Joel (J.H.) Wyman here: Almost Human call #2.
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.