Marshall Allman, who plays Milo Khoury on AMC’s HUMANS, discusses making a billionaire seem likable, why his character’s relationship with Athena is so fraught, and why Milo really wants to create Synth children.
Q: What was your exposure to the first season of HUMANS before you got this role? What did you like about the show?
A: Once I got the opportunity to audition, I watched as much as I could before the audition and loved it. You don’t want to fall in love with a show before you audition, because then if you don’t get it, it’s more disappointing. So, it was kind of frustrating to watch because I thought, “Great. This show is really good, and now I want to be on it.” I specifically remember thinking that everyone on the show is fantastic. I remember thinking, “How did they do this with the Synths?” It was so well-done and hard to discern whether or not there were special effects involved with the movement and the voice. I was just blown away.
Q: Were you bummed, then, that you wouldn’t be playing a Synth yourself?
A: [Laughs] Both Carrie-Anne Moss and I totally wanted to go to Synth boot camp. We talked to Dan O’Neill, who’s in charge of all the Synth behavior, about his eye for how humans behave and what makes humans look human. I didn’t get to go to boot camp, but I got to pick his brain and that was fascinating. It made me have so much respect for everybody who’s a Synth. It’s extremely difficult. So, on one hand I was kind of glad I wasn’t a Synth. [Laughs] It’s so much work!
Q: Your character could come across as just a sleazy, young billionaire, but somehow you make him hard to dislike. How do you approach creating that balance?
A: That comes from the top down. That was something I was so excited about with the show: having savvy writers and producers who wanted to go the extra mile for nuance, dive in deep and create more layers than they had to. That was such a joy for me to have them as collaborators.
There are powerful people who are visionaries, who are just maniacal, extremely sociopathic and aren’t kind to anyone. There are well-documented cases of that, but I think there are also people who feel so convinced that what they’re doing is important. Some of the things they’re convinced of may genuinely be altruistic. But from an outsider’s perspective, looking at all the facts on the table, you would [think] they’re misguided. It’s a little difficult to see that when you’re in the driver’s seat. I truly believe Milo wants to make the world better.
Q: How would you describe Milo’s relationship with Athena?
A: Athena is the closest thing he’s ever had to a girlfriend. [Laughs] That’s kind of how I saw it. There’s so much respect for her, but at the same time, Milo needs her. There’s magnetism there for her and antagonism. It’s all the good makings of a romantic relationship that’s completely platonic… When you get to a certain point in business, most of the people around you are on your payroll, [but] it doesn’t stop your need for peers and friends. So, I think he wants friends. He wants her to be his peer, but she clearly doesn’t want that. It was really hard in those moments to play that because it’s like, “Wow. OK I get to consistently get rejected by this character!” He has to ride this line of pretending it doesn’t affect him, even though it does.
Q: Milo puts on a persona of being unflappably arrogant. How do you think his childhood plays into that? Did you know the full history of your character’s past before you got the script with that reveal?
A: Yeah, I did. What I wanted to create was volatility. Is Milo sitting on a volcano? Is he just going to explode and murder everyone? [Laughs] What you find with people who are suppressing their issues in high pressure situations is it’s sort of this contest of trying to keep their shadows at bay. It’s this overwhelming tsunami that threatens to overtake them at any second. When you give power and money to somebody with a lot of issues, it’s a lot easier to hide those issues. But you can’t eliminate them. You can’t shortcut healing no matter who you are or where you are.
Q: Why do you think Milo doesn’t reveal that he was an orphan sooner, particularly when Athena says, “Nothing bad has really happened to you, has it?”
A: I’m so glad you noticed that! I think because that’s the first moment that Athena shows her cards and in a way, it’s Athena being childish and assuming. It was sort of like this tit-for-tat game of her projecting onto him what she wanted to project onto him and then maybe later, her foot will be in her mouth when she finds out who he really is. What is he going to do? Try to prove to her that he’s maybe not who she thinks he is? There was a version where the writers had him talk about his backstory there and they chose to hold it back, which I thought was a brilliant stroke on their part. I think it’s great because it allowed the audience to assume he’d never been through anything and when you do find out later, you’re like, “Oh. Maybe we’re the ones assuming.”
Q: In Episode 6, viewers discover Milo’s master plan: imbue consciousness into Synth children. What was your reaction to that creepy reveal when you first read it?
A: In my responsibility with playing Milo, I have to see it from his side. I can’t sit there and go, “Boy, this Milo is really screwed up.” From his angle, it’s like, “Look. Just because I’m making Synth children doesn’t mean that I want to abuse them.” … I always thought, “This is a really great idea. Let’s test out parents. You want to have kids? You want to adopt kids? Well, part of the process is taking care of this Synth. You can’t get into the system and change what we record of how you treat this Synth…” There’s a whole other side of altruism to that that I think is really powerful.
Q: Milo’s pursuit of child Synth consciousness seems largely motivated by his desire to keep people from suffering like he did. Do you think that kind of emotional ideology clouds his reason?
A: Honestly, I don’t even know if I see the bad part, still. I haven’t heard a good argument. It brings up all those great questions. If it’s synthetic and it’s not human, is it worth more than a human life? I think in the context of the show, they’re doing such a good job with blurring what is human, and creating an environment where you find yourself as an audience member imbuing these robots with life and then some of them actually are alive. Under that context, it becomes an ethical conundrum. But the point is, as far as most of the public knows, Synths are not human and therefore these can be used to really help a lot of people.
Q: We see a clearer dark side to Milo when he uses V/Ginny, who he knows is the consciousness of Athena’s daughter, as a hostage. Are there no lines Milo is unwilling to cross to get what he wants?
A: That definitely is not cool, and I think that’s what happens when you have one person who is completely guarded and throw someone in who’s completely convinced that what he’s doing is more important than other human beings. It was unfortunate. He does have limits. I would like to think that it pains him to do that. But in his mind, he’s weighing out the pros and cons. I think there’s hope for him to have self-awareness. At the end of the day, I think he finds that he’s reached a point that a relationship with Athena is not possible, but he stills needs to accomplish what he needs to accomplish, and he’s just accepted it. I’d like to think that Milo is young enough and altruistic enough to learn what the limits of his power are and what abuse of power is.
Q: How, if at all, has being on this show changed your relationship to technology?
A: It opens a great can of worms for people to bring the singularity to a level that’s more relatable than it’s ever been… It made something that had blown my mind so relatable and so relevant that it was blowing my mind all over again, and it made it hit home. They’ve done that in such an effective way that I don’t think any sci-fi has done for me recently. For me, it brought singularity home, made me care and took me on an adventure. In that right, I think it’s more than done its job to help people understand the responsibility of technology, the progression of it and what moral conundrums we can face as we continue to play God, in a sense.
Read a Q&A with Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays Dr. Athena Morrow.
HUMANS airs Mondays at 10/9c. For the latest information and exclusives sign up for the Insiders Club.Read More