Tom Goodman-Hill, who plays Joe Hawkins on AMC’s HUMANS, discusses why his character has done a 180 on trusting Synths, how losing his job impacts Joe’s ego, and the awkwardness of having a robot couples counselor.
Q: Last season, Joe was the one Hawkins family member advocating for Synths. Now, his tune is quite different. How would you describe the way Joe has evolved between the end of Season 1 and where we find him early in Season 2?
A: There’s been a change in his attitude towards Synths and to A.I. in general — mainly since realizing that there were Synths that could be conscious, which is obviously not something he’s able to reveal to people. At this stage, he’s just terrified because he thinks that it’s going to have an adverse effect on his kids and that it’s going to be something that’s impossible to stop. He tries, in the only way Joe knows how, to come up with some blunt, sudden solutions to get the kids away from Synthetics. That’s where he’s at now.
Q: Does he truly believe moving into a new house will grant the family a fresh start?
A: I think he’s hoping it starts the process. I don’t think he thinks that it’s necessarily going to be the final answer, but he hopes that a fresh start and not having their own Synths in the house will perhaps just roll things back a little bit, allow things to settle down and allow him to get his relationship with Laura back. It’s a long, hard road and he hasn’t started very well. [Laughs]
Q: Joe loses his job in Episode 1 when his position is made a “non-human” role. Do you think Joe thought this was inevitable, or is he genuinely surprised to be let go?
A: I think it’s a pretty classic case of Joe being only too human. He just doesn’t realize how fast things move. He didn’t see it coming but he’s always wise after the fact. [Laughs] The moment it happens, he’s like, “Of course that’s happening!” He doesn’t know which way to turn at that point.
Q: Things seemed to be looking up a bit for Joe and Laura – and then Niska shows up. Joe shows Laura a lot of support, but how does he really feel about it?
A: [With Laura] it’s not too bad, but it’s not great. They’re making a good stab at it, but I think they know that their attitudes are polarizing. Laura is moving much more towards wanting to help Synths and Joe is much more about getting them out of his life. As long as that is the central problem between them, it’s always going to be an issue because that’s the way the world is going in this parallel universe. Nothing is going to stop the advance of A.I. Joe just doesn’t see far enough in the future and he’s not as intellectually astute or bright as Laura. That’s difficult for him. He loves Laura, and he wants to save the marriage. He just swallows it and thinks, “Well you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” He’s really hoping that somehow this will work itself out, but his distrust of A.I. is too strong, so it’s always going to be a problem.
A: He doesn’t know who Odi is. As far as he can see, Odi is just an ordinary Synth, not a conscious Synth, just one that is there as an experiment for Mattie to work on. That, as far as he’s concerned, is fine. He doesn’t know the history of Odi at all.
Q: Joe can’t seem to escape Synths: He even got stuck with one as his marriage counselor! Is it awkward for him to talk about these private personal issues with a Synth, when it was missteps with Anita that put them in this place?
A: [Laughs] It’s deeply awkward, but at the same time, you have to admit that it’s sort of oddly appropriate and strangely helpful that Barbara is not a conscious Synth. She’s just doing a straightforward job based on algorithms and statistics. That, he can cope with, and he’s kind of talking directly to Laura through Barbara. He doesn’t have a problem with that. I think he’s fine with artificial intelligence as long as it isn’t conscious. He’s fine with Synths just doing the job that they’re supposed to do as long as they’re not conscious and as long as they’re useful. I think this is the through line that’s come from [Season] 1 – as far as he was concerned, Anita was a machine and he wasn’t being unfaithful. What he did with Anita was a symptom of his loneliness, as he saw it. That’s where he stands with the whole Barbara thing. She’s just doing the function she was designed to do.
Q: In Episode 3, Joe is ultimately forced to go back to his old employer in a lesser role. How does that affect the way Joe views himself?
A: It’s a huge knock to his ego, but he’s not too proud. He’s happy to just muck in and do a straightforward factory floor job. That aspect of it doesn’t bother him. I think part of the thing is Joe knows he’s not as intelligent, either emotionally or intellectually, as Laura. So, he finds it hard every time he’s reminded of that, and it’s difficult for him. He absolutely supports Laura and he says to her, “Give them Hell” when she’s off to defend Niska. That’s all to the good, but it’s just difficult for him to come to terms with the idea that he’s not as intelligent as a Synth. [Laughs] He finds it hard enough that he’s not as intelligent as his wife or older daughter. He’s proud of them and he loves them, but he finds it hard, so that’s another knock for him and it’s difficult.
Q: In Episode 3, Sophie starts acting strangely Synth-like. What is Joe thinking at this point when he sees her odd behavior? Does he hold himself responsible for bringing Anita/Mia into her life?
A: I think it’s the last straw when he realizes that it’s had an impact on Sophie. That really hits him hard and he certainly feels personally responsible. He’s determined to try and do something about it.
Q: As a father yourself, how do you feel about how isolated Joe seems to be in his children’s lives?
A: He struggles. With Toby, he can see the relationship he’s getting into [with Renie] is problematic, and he just doesn’t want Toby to get hurt. I think the way Joe sees it, his position in the family and his usefulness within the family unit is being eroded. It’s not that he wants his authority back, but he wants to feel useful and feel like he can actually do something for his children. He’s finding it increasingly hard because he doesn’t understand or relate to the Synth world, which they have all grown up knowing and being a part of. That world is having more impact on them than he is, and that displaces him hugely. He’s massively out of sorts and just doesn’t know where he stands in this world, and that’s terrifying to him.
Q: In Season 1, you said that if they were real, that you’d get a Synth, “no question.” Do you still feel the same way?
A: [Laughs] I wouldn’t be getting one now! It’s ridiculous isn’t it? I’m trying my best to wean myself off my complete dependence on my phone and trying not to be so married to apps, as it is. I think the further we hurdle towards the singularity – and we are hurdling towards it every year — the technological leaps that are made are astounding and terrifying. The faster we go there without addressing the problems that HUMANS tries to address, which is how we deal morally and ethically with A.I., the more scared I become of just how quickly those things are changing. I’m no longer going to be first in the queue to buy a synthetic human if they ever exist.
Read a Q&A with Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays Dr. Athena Morrow.
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