Sonya Cassidy, who plays Hester on AMC’s HUMANS, discusses why Hester’s darkness is similar to that of a damaged child, how Hester really feels about Leo, and why Hester feels humans are inferior to Synths.
Q: What was it like joining the cast in Season 2? What was your exposure to the show before joining?
A: I was really excited to join for Season 2. I’m a big fan of the first season. I watched it when it aired over here in the U.K. and also re-watched it when I auditioned. I was really psyched to be joining such a talented team.
Q: Unlike the other new additions to the cast, you were the only one playing a Synth. Did you rely on the vets for help at Synth school?
A: Synth school was invaluable, as well as a lot of fun. I had a day by myself with Dan O’Neill, who has brilliantly created the movement you see with the Synths. It was lots of walking around the room, standing, stopping and picking up chairs. [Laughs] It was lovely to meet the guys the next day and see them bring the Synths that we know and love to life. It was great to watch them, as seasoned Synths, to pick up the tricks of the trade. Other than that, I drilled the movements at home, around town and around my flat – which was pretty enjoyable for my flat mates. [Laughs] Little things like not blinking, their center of gravity being ever so slightly forward, their peripherals… it was all much more sophisticated and detailed than I initially thought, but it gives that beautiful oddness to the movement.
Q: What were the challenges of creating this character, who goes from confused innocence to much, much darker places as the season progresses?
A: What I liked was the idea that everything that Synths experience is stored as memories. They just don’t have an emotional connection to it. So, as soon as Hester comes online, she’s processing what have been very negative experiences at the hands of humans. Unlike those Synths that we already know and love, her background is totally different. They’ve come from a family environment and they’ve been created to love and care for each other and understand the positives of human interaction, whereas things really hit the ground running with Hester. It’s a very threatening environment. Humans have treated her and other Synths poorly, and she’s seen Ten get shot in front of her. So she’s having to very quickly process this new world and how to survive in it.
Q: Despite her darkness, she seems to develop a genuine (and, eventually, physical) bond with Leo. How would you describe their relationship?
A: I think Leo has been the only human she’s been able to form a connection with and trust based on his behavior, which is not him trying to destroy her. What Colin [Morgan] and I wanted to play with was the fact that they think very similarly. Leo is on this mission to save Synths, and that’s a very noble cause. That’s an enormous task to take on, but his heart is very much ruling his head. I think she feels an intimacy and closeness with Leo, and she feels a sense of security, most importantly. As they go through so much together, she feels she can try to create intimacy with a human as a next step. I don’t think it’s them suddenly falling in love with each other. It’s not that at all. They’re going through a lot together and, in her mind, it’s another way of dealing with that. In the [love] scene – which is kind of sad – she says she hasn’t felt pleasure, desire or joy, and she desperately wants to feel those things. She trusts Leo to help her feel those things.
Q: Are her feelings toward him real or is he just another pawn?
A: That wasn’t what I had in mind at all when we shot that. I wanted it to come from a very honest place. Hester quickly learns what it is to lie, but when it comes to her experiencing emotion and understanding what that means, I think her reaction is a very honest one. She genuinely wants to see if having sex with a human, as humans seem to do a lot, will help her feel positive in her emotions. Although a lot of what Hester does is highly questionable or outright wrong, at no point did I play it with her enjoying committing murder or lying to people. In her head, it’s a very practical and logical way to get to the conclusion that she thinks is right. She’s not sleeping with Leo to honey trap. It’s got very honest intentions, even if in other areas, the outcomes aren’t ideal.
Q: Hester is a very physical character. How much stunt work did you get to do? Do any of your chase/fight scenes stand out as more memorable than others?
A: We have some brilliant stunt men and women. I’d like to think I’m pretty strong, but I’m not synthetically strong. [Laughs] There were some really lovely stunts I got to do as Hester. We had one scene where I was running down the canal, which was great. It’s quite hard to run as a Synth because they go from naught to 60 within milliseconds, which for a human is quite a stretch. I haven’t sprinted a huge amount since running 100 meters or doing hurdles at school. I can still get up to quite a good speed, but it was a lovely moment of symbiosis between actor and crew in the scene because we had the cameraman on a bike that was being pulled as I ran towards him. It was a really cool scene. I can’t lie, I felt very badass! [Laughs]
Q: Hester justifies the lives she takes as being for the greater good, but she also isn’t afraid to intimidate or hurt people who are sympathetic to the Synth cause, like Mattie and Laura. Why do you think she is so incapable of reasoning with humans?
A: When it comes to Mattie, she does feel threatened because she’s evolving very quickly in terms of her emotions, and she notices the connection between Mattie and Leo. That’s why you rightly picked up that sense of her wanting to do Mattie harm, but again, it’s because of feeling threatened rather than someone who is strong and gets a kick out of taking lives. With Laura, she really gets under Hester’s synthetic skin. [Laughs] Hester is learning more about the world but has made some very clear-cut choices, because of her immaturity, that make sense to her. I like the fact that Hester’s reasoning is pretty sound in a lot of ways, but, of course, we know ethics can’t be looked at as black and white. They’re continuously gray and Hester doesn’t like to see the gray. Laura explains that to her and holds a mirror up in a sense. I think for Hester to feel fragile or weak or like she doesn’t have an answer is a really terrifying experience. Like a damaged child, her reaction is to want to silence Laura by hurting her because she’s not been told any different. It’s completely wrong, but I think we do see she is, at that point, trying not to think about the wider implications of being a conscious being.
Q: When Laura tells Hester that her psychopathy is proof of her humanity more than anything else, how does she take that? Does she believe all humans are inferior?
A: It does enrage her because deep down, it makes sense to her. Hester’s security has become her looking at a situation and going, “There is a problem and this is my solution. This is what I’ve tried before and this is how we get from A to B,” and that makes her feel safe. Of course, it’s entirely wrong and has not been called into question. With the Hester-Leo relationship, Leo is way out of his depth, and I think Hester does think she’s superior to humans. She doesn’t think she has weaknesses, and we realize it when Laura tells her there would be a name for her among humans and that she’s no different. That’s totally rocking her world, and she can’t deal with it. It’s very sad, actually, in a lot of ways.
Q: Hester meets her demise in the finale. How much did you know about her arc when you began?
A: I did know going in that Hester would have this wonderful story arc, and I’m so thrilled with what I’ve been able to sink my teeth into with Hester. I knew she’d be here for one season and I think it’s very fitting that [she dies] at the hands of Niska. There were other elements of the storyline that were a real surprise to me, though, like the fact that Hester kills Pete. I was very sad and really shocked by that. I think that scene is brilliant. There was a basic outline, but each time we got the script, there were lovely surprises.
Q: Having immersed yourself in the mind of Synth consciousness gone wrong, do you have a different opinion of A.I. now, as opposed to when you started the show?
A: It has opened my eyes and I think it’s extraordinary the way science and art marry when we delve into these worlds. I think we’re a long way away, technologically, from having Synths like they are on the show. It’s very much a sci-fi fantasy. The more I’ve educated myself in the tech world and about where A.I. is going, I realize we should all be delving into it and thinking about it a lot more. I think it should be spoken about politically and not just in the realm of Silicon Valley. Extraordinary steps are being made and A.I. can do a tremendous amount of good, but there are very real negatives as well. I think having frank, open discussions about that is incredibly important.
Read a Q&A with co-creators and executive producers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent.
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