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Q&A – Neil Maskell (Pete Drummond)

Neil Maskell, who plays Pete Drummond on AMC’s HUMANS, talks about Pete’s struggles with technology and being an analog man in a digital world.

Q: What drew you to the role of Pete?

A: I thought Pete was an interesting role because he’s a very human, very flawed character. He finds it difficult to hide his emotions; they’re written all over him, and I thought it would be interesting to play that part and really emphasize his humanity, as opposed to the robots in the world.

Q: Why does Pete work in the Synthetics Department if he hates Synths so much? Or does he hate Synths so much because he works in the Synthetics Department?

A: We actually came up with a reason for that, the writers and I, in his backstory. Really, the work is very boring. Some Synths are vandalized, some have to be returned. We thought it was much more of a 9 to 5 job and the hours probably required less overtime. Maybe at some time, Pete might have decided to do this for Jill, as sort of a last chance to get things to work. And he did it even though he finds it hard to deal with the technology, because it’s an easier job and he’s probably more able to take time off, especially after Jill has her accident. That was the idea anyway. Even so, his instincts are as a policeman, so he would find it difficult to switch off, to not keep investigating, to not follow more leads, to not do other research. Even though he can be a bit bumbling sometimes, he is a good copper and he pursues whatever he’s doing with vigor and fastidiousness.

Q: Why does Pete struggle with technology so much?

A: He’s a man confused about his place in time. If you had to distill it in a sentence, it’s that really. He’d have been better off being born 20 or 30 years ago, where he could cope with the amount of change he’s had to accept, where situations like that wouldn’t have arisen for him before. He can’t provide the same kinds of things as a machine, so the very thing he hates he depends on. For work, if there weren’t any Synths he wouldn’t have a job, and then at home, he can’t give his wife the therapy and care that she needs.

Q: Can you describe his relationship with Karen?

A: They have a kind of joke-y relationship, and that’s the only aspect of Pete’s life where you see him have this sort of lightness. They enjoy each others’ company, work effectively together and manage to have a bit of fun.

Q: Since his relationship with her is one of the only good things in his life, what does it mean for him when she reveals she’s a Synth?

A: That shock is overwhelming for him. After everything he’s been through — the breakup of his marriage, his suspension from work — everything that gives him value and purpose is taken away. Then all at once there’s this relationship that he wasn’t expecting that gives him a glimmer of hope that there’s a different kind of future. Then it’s all shattered in that moment. I don’t think he happened to intellectualize or discuss it in those terms, but I think it’s a bit too much for him to absorb.

Q: In Episode 7 and Episode 8, Pete develops a very strong drive to go after Karen, despite her reveal that she’s a Synth. Why is that?

A: It’s two things, really. One, he’s operating emotionally rather than intellectually, and then two, he is by instinct a copper. He’s following the leads and trying to get to the end of the mystery. It’s that, as much as his own sort of upset about what’s happened. Those two things are kind of happening at the time.

Q: Many people today seem to be struggling with this feeling of being left behind by technology. Are you excited or more concerned about the future of artificial intelligence?

A: I know I am. As someone who’s not particularly technological, I’m certainly owned by my smart phone. I think it was Aldous Huxley who said, “Man is the subject of his own invention.” Whether you want to or not, you’re always checking your phone or your email. It now owns us. We are the subject of it rather than it working for us. So I think there’s something relatable in that story line. I suppose I’m wary of the future of artificial intelligence, but it’s here. The problems are here, of technology and our subjugation by it are here. But there are other problems that concern me much more than artificial intelligence, if I’m honest. Social inequality is a far more immediate concern for me than if a race of robots is going to rise up and take over.

Q: Which HUMANS certainly seems to touch on in a lot of ways.

It certainly does, doesn’t it! Robots as slaves could be parallels to our use of the third world as effectively as manufacturing and imposing slave labor upon people in other nations, and us not thinking about them, or not thinking about them as being emotional. I think the series very lightly touches on that.

Q: Would you get a Synth, if they were real?

A: The problem is, in the series, these things already exist before the story starts. The prototypes have already come out years before, the arguments of whether or not it’s OK to have Synths has happened years before. The public is bored by it and it’s just become a societal norm. I find it very hard to put myself in the context of having lived through those events, of where the characters already are in this time. It’s like if you’d asked me ten years ago, “Would you get a phone that you would have to look at every 5 minutes?” I would have said, “Absolutely not, I just want a phone to make phone calls.” And now here I am, a slave to it. My instinct is to say no, but I probably would [get a Synth].

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