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Q&A – Emily Berrington (Niska)

Emily Berrington, who plays Niska on AMC’s HUMANS, talks about her character’s many layers, coping with death and what Niska might do with that missing hard drive.

Q: What drew you to the character of Niska?

A: I loved the idea of playing someone so complex, who seemed to be so hard and so suspicious of people and of Synths; who was violent, but who also clearly had a vulnerable side to her. I loved the challenge of bringing all of those things together. And then, dealing with the fact that she’s a Synth, so there was all the physical and vocal work that needs to go into that. I had to play her as a machine, but without losing the reality of her feelings and emotions, which are very human.

Q: How did you prepare for your role?

A: There was a day where I was filming and I was just thinking, “I’m a human, playing a robot who’s playing a human.” [Laughs] The layers I was putting on myself seemed impossible, but it was great having a brilliant movement director, Dan O’ Neil, who was on set all the time. Without him, it would have been almost impossible. Every day there was a new challenge, like, “How do Synths put their coats on? How do they run?” There was always a new issue we had to work out, but that’s also what made it so exciting.

Q: Staying with George causes Niska to expand her view about humans. Can you describe her relationship with him?

A: When Niska meets George, he’s someone who’s kind — not abusing her or anyone else — and he’s impressed with what she is instead of afraid of it. He was also involved in her creation so he’s got the element of a father figure for her. He challenges her on every single thing that she believes. She has this black and white view of the world, almost a fundamentalist point of view, but he challenges her with kindness and humor.

Q: Niska seems to respond to the works of Nietzsche, and it’s something that she and George connect over, as well. Why do you think that is?

A: Niska was sort of a tutor figure to Leo growing up, so she’s very well-read and that’s kind of where she got all of her information about the outside world: through reading and philosophy and through her academic study. I think for Niska, to meet someone who also has that interest in learning and questioning is kind of mind-blowing to her. She’s probably never met someone who’s so similar to her in that sense. It certainly made me go away and read some Nietzsche. William had obviously already read every work of Nietzsche ever, but I had to do a bit of homework.

Q: How did you approach Niska dealing with George’s death [in Episode 7]?

A: I think she’s devastated by George’s death, because he was the only person at the time that she had a proper relationship with, and the only person who ever really understood her for all of the different things that she is. So going into that, I had to play all of her emotions in that scene as if she were a human being, because her emotions are completely human.

Q: What was it like filming that scene?

A: That scene was so hard to film. I was so sad filming it, and particularly because I enjoyed filming with William so much, and we filmed it just as he flying back, so it was like saying goodbye to him as well. I really found it absolutely agonizing to do that after spending some really amazing weeks filming with him in that beautiful house.

Q: Do you have any favorite memories from being on set?

A: One of my favorite scenes to film was when Niska is playing with dolls with Sophie [in Episode 7]. Trying to forget how to play with a doll and thinking, “If I saw this for the first time, what would I think you were supposed to do with it?” We had a real laugh doing it. Pixie was brilliant at improvising with them. She is the most amazing actress and has the best career of any actor I know.

Q: The last scene of the season finale reveals that Niska has taken Mattie’s hard drive with the consciousness file. Regardless of what actually happens when HUMANS returns for Season 2, what do you hope Niska will do with the hard drive?

A: I would love for her to go forth and unleash the consciousness for all of the Synths. What else would she do with it? I hope she doesn’t put it in her sock drawer and forget about it. I hope she uses it for what it’s for! Obviously I hope she does it responsibly… but I think she might not.

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