Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays Dr. Athena Morrow on HUMANS, discusses how her character’s tragic backstory drives her, why Athena can’t condone the work of people like Milo, and the unique way Athena keeps the memory of her daughter alive.
Q: You’ve done other work in sci-fi, most notably The Matrix. What do you find appealing about these types of projects?
A: I get this question a lot, and it always makes me laugh because I don’t really think of projects in terms of genre. I look at them from the storytelling aspect. I wouldn’t have thought that I would even enjoy science fiction movies or TV, but I actually do when the storytelling is as good as HUMANS or other things I’ve done that have appealed to me. When they came to me with HUMANS and I watched the show, what I was drawn to was the the layered depths of the characters, the humanity in it. And then, of course, the question around technology and around artificial intelligence is such a relevant conversation that I’m having with a lot of people. [The show] really mirrored what I’m personally looking at and exploring in my own life, so it was really easy to say yes.
Q: How would you describe Athena when we first meet her? What’s driving her?
A: The creators sent me the [character description] for her, and it was really one of the best I’ve ever read. One of the things that really spoke to me was her being someone who really was married to her work, that she really had no sense of anything outside of what she did for work. [She’s] very type-A personality, controlling in a way, scheduled, really managed and tight. Then, we discover that she’s had this child who ends up introducing her to a part of life that she had forgotten and that she just didn’t have any connection to anymore. Her daughter loved nature, loved being outside, and was a free spirit and completely different than her. Through her love for her daughter, she explored nature in a way that I don’t think she ever would have if she hadn’t had this child.
Q: Why is Athena initially opposed to working with Milo when he has seemingly unlimited resources to invest in A.I.?
A: He’s just everything she doesn’t like. Ultimately, she does say yes, but she definitely doesn’t think that this young, overconfident rich kid is the answer. He’s just not her way. She’s doing what she’s doing privately, in her own way, on her own terms. In a way, she’s keeping her daughter alive in herself through [her work], and she’s not looking to rush it. I don’t think she’s doing any of this consciously, but in her day-to-day, her purpose is getting up and doing this work. Bringing some young, hip guy into everything that she is doing is very off-putting at first, and a part of her is just like, “No way!” Then, she starts to expand her thinking. Even when she says yes, I think she’s guarded about it. She doesn’t really divulge and tell him what’s going on. She’s not that person. She’s very private.
Q: You mentioned Athena’s daugher, Ginny, who we learn in Episode 3 is in a coma. How did that reveal inform the way you think of Athena?
A: The pain of that is immense. [There’s] all the love that a mother has for her child, but also Ginny awakened in [Athena] a part of her that had been dormant. So, there’s this very layered grief in there, and I felt a lot of compassion and pain about that. I thought it was an interesting idea of this scientific woman trying to bring back her daughter in any way that she can, desperately holding onto her. And who wouldn’t? I would be the same way.
Q: We also learn in Episode 3 that Athena’s virtual assistant “V” is an extension of her daughter Ginny’s consciousness. Does Athena view “V” and Ginny as separate beings, or does she consider them the same “person”?
A: She’s with “V” every day, and she calls on “V” all the time. I think “V” gives her so much comfort. When she thinks of Ginny, I think there’s so much pain that she’s lying there [in a coma], but “V” is almost like this buffer in a way to not have to go all the way to the pain. It’s like relating to Ginny but with enough distance to not have to think about what happened to her. I think [Athena] has a lot of integrity, and I think her decision to work with Milo goes against a lot of what she’s about. I think that conflict is there within her, but she is doing it for the love of her child and hoping there’s a possibility that she can bring [her] back.
Q: Do you think Athena’s complaints about Milo’s “less than pure” intentions are hypocritical? Athena hasn’t exactly been honest about her work…
A: I really felt like she needed to protect what she was doing from him. I do think that she makes some decisions that aren’t in the integrity of who she is and does some stuff that she ultimately regrets doing. She has to live with some of her actions, but I think she is deeply conflicted. Because of what she wants and what she needs, she does end up partnering with him in a way that I know she would never do if she wasn’t dealing with what she’s dealing with and wasn’t so desperate to find an answer. I could only see why she needed to do what she needed to do. She’s in massive grief. She’s not out living her life. She’s either working on this, with her daughter or sleeping – and probably with sleeping pills. This is not just someone who is getting on with things or healing herself.
Q: Also in Episode 3, Athena meets Hobb, who has been silenced and forced out of his work. Do you think Athena sees a cautionary tale about what can happen to a scientist at the forefront of dangerous innovations?
A: I think she ends up becoming quite shrewd and really garners some internal power of “I need what I need, and I need it from you.” I don’t think she’s afraid and I don’t think it makes her afraid of anything. I also think it took a great deal for her to have that backbone in that moment. I don’t think that’s easy for her, but I think she got in the car and did a big exhale. [Laughs]
Q: What was it like working in the UK among a cast of mostly Brits?
A: It was great. I love Europe, and I lived there when I was younger. I’m also Canadian-American, and Canadians and the British are so similar in certain ways. I feel like there’s a certain kind of construct when you’re working on television and movies with all of the crew. You could probably place me in any crew or cast me in any situation, anywhere. All of that foundational work is laid out and then you just find your way in, personality-wise. It was effortless on this show to slip in. People were so warm and really lovely, and I’m such a big fan of the show, so I was just so grateful to be a part of it. I think it’s an interesting time to be traveling, too, with what’s going on all over the world right now. It’s good to get out of your bubble, out of your small life, and see the rest of the world.
Q: After spending so much time talking to a computer this season, do you have any new fears or appreciation of Siri or other voice-command machines?
A: After seeing the show, after working on the show, and especially after watching the Synths and the way they were trained to move, my husband and I were commenting how watching people with their cell phones in their hands feel like Synths. We all become that, actually. It’s not even like there are human beings and then there are Synths. We are morphing and detaching from ourselves into a virtual world while we’re walking down the street, sometimes with our kids. It’s so crazy to see everybody with their heads down. I went to this chiropractor that was telling me how many young people he’s treating who are developing pain in the back of their necks from looking down all the time. We don’t have any clue about the ramifications of what we are doing, and it terrifies me, for sure. [Laughs]
Read a Q&A with Gemma Chan, who plays Mia.
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