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Q&A – Gemma Chan (Anita Hawkins)

Gemma Chan, who plays Anita Hawkins on AMC’s HUMANS, talks about preparing for her role as a robot and her love of science fiction.

Q: You spent a lot of time in “Synth School” to prepare for your role as Anita. What did you learn there?

A: Everything — learning how to walk again, learning how to stand up and sit down. These things are ultimately machines which run on battery power, and every little move uses up energy and uses that battery power, so there had to be an economy and grace and efficiency to every move that you do. Even the simplest thing like picking up a cup became so complicated, because these machines are so precise. As humans, when we pick up a cup, we might not put it down straight or it might slightly rock a little, but as a Synth, you have to put it exactly down, with no spillage, no shaking at all. It sounds really simple but it’s actually really hard. Another thing we decided was that different movements are led by different parts of the body, and as Synths, the eyes lead the movement. So whenever you were turning to look at someone, the eyes move first, then the head, then the body. Remembering to do that every time was a challenge.

Q: What were some other challenges of playing a character who is a machine?

A: Besides the physical challenges, there were many emotional challenges as well. As the show goes on, I had to play some very emotional scenes but I was not allowed to physically cry. And often if I did cry and a tear would roll down my face, they’d call cut and we’d have to get makeup to come in and wipe the tear away, and we’d start it all again. It became about finding a different way to convey emotion without crying, and without using the breath. As an actor, you really rely on the breath to convey every emotion that you’re feeling, but as a Synth, you can’t be seen breathing very much. So that was very tough.

Q: You’re a big British football fan. Do you think Synths would make good footballers?
Yeah! Although I think there’s an element to football, or to all sports, where there’s that little something that you can’t program for, that bit of creativity. Dummying, fooling, things like that would be probably be difficult to program into a machine. But there’s that video game FIFA which does an amazing job of simulating a real football game, so who knows. But I think there’s that spark of creativity that would be hard to replicate.

Q: Would you watch a game if it was all Synths?
Yeah, I’d have to.

Q: Would you get a Synth if it were an option?

A: You know, I kind of change my mind on a daily basis about this. I think I would probably resist for as long as possible, but then I would get one and end up being really reliant on it. But God, it would be weird, wouldn’t it? Having one of those things in the house. What happens when you go to bed at night?

Q: You’ve appeared in the Doctor Who special (“The Waters of Mars”) and return to sci-fi again for HUMANS. Do you have a penchant for the genre?

A: I love sci-fi and I feel like the best sci-fi always comes down to asking questions about what it really means to be human, and that’s the crux of the show. Some sci-fi fans think it has to be set in the future or set in space or some kind of fantasy world, but actually, as you can see in our show, sci-fi can be presented with a lot of realism in a very grounded world and it’s still sci-fi. Hopefully sci-fi fans will love the show, but hopefully people who don’t think of themselves as sci-fi fans will engage with the show because they can relate to it, without labeling it and just enjoy it.

HUMANS airs Sundays at 9/8c.

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