Emily Berrington, who plays Niska on AMC’s HUMANS, talks about her character’s mysterious journey this season and the surprise reunion in Episode 7.
Q: At the beginning of the series, Niska was very anti-human. How much has her perspective changed since then?
A: She was very anti-human to begin with and she saw the world as binary. Things were either good or bad, and humans fell into the “bad” category. With George, the Hawkins family and Astrid, she began to realize that this linear way of looking at things doesn’t work. Now, she’s at a point where she’s realized that things are more complex. I wouldn’t say she’s particularly trustful of humans – or anyone, really, as a rule – but she’s worked out that it’s not simple. You can’t classify them into being automatically bad.
Q: Niska was the one to release the original version of the consciousness code. How does she feel now that all Synths are awake? Does she have any regrets?
A: It’s very interesting because she releases the code with certain hopes of what it would do for society at large, but it didn’t do those things because it didn’t get released in the way she imagined. It took a while to work and then the second release of the code had huge implications and caused thousands of deaths, but it also wasn’t a huge surprise. I think there was an element of her making the decision recklessly, knowing it had to be done, and then whatever consequences that followed would be dealt with. The reality of the consequences is quite difficult. Nothing has been solved. If anything, more problems have arisen. I think the way she’s dealt with it is by retreating into what she does know and feels secure in, which is her relationship with Astrid.
Q: Last season, she was also at the forefront of proving to humans that Synths can feel. Where is she now in this fight for Synth rights? Is she still a part of this larger picture or focusing on something of her own?
A: When we first find her in the beginning of Season 3, she’s taken a back seat. She can’t work out what the next steps are for Synth rights. The big deed of releasing the code has been done. She’s doing the only thing she knows that makes her happy, which is to be with Astrid. She’s living undercover, but then that is also a daily remember that nothing has been resolved. It doesn’t take long for her to rejoin the fight, but inevitably, she does it in her own way and on her own path rather than doing the obvious thing of joining her family and fighting alongside them. She receives these mysterious messages and has a sense that there might be something bigger. She doesn’t know what it is, but for the first time ever she’s trying to trust something that’s a bit ambiguous.
Q: How much did the bar bomb affect her? Is she surprised to see Synths hurting other Synths, even indirectly?
A: That was a huge shock. Synths had gotten used to the idea of humans hurting them, but the idea of Synths hurting other Synths is something new and really shocking. The bar bomb immediately brings about the fact that she can’t pretend like everything is fine. There’s so much more to be done in order for everyone to live safely together, including her and Astrid. The fact that Astrid is hurt by it is the thing that drives her to go find out who did it. It’s so shocking to her.
Q: Does Niska pursue the bar bomber as revenge for Astrid or for herself?
A: She thinks she’s doing it for Astrid because that’s her natural response to anything that happens – to go fight. Astrid asks her not to and she does it anyway. I think she realizes further down the line that she did do it for herself because this is what normally makes her feel satisfied – that there’s been some kind of retribution. What she realizes this time, though, is that it doesn’t satisfy her. It’s just punishing one being. She needs something bigger.
Q: Now, she’s on a journey to find the Synth Who Sleeps. Is she driven by missions? Is curiosity and solving puzzles intrinsically a part of her?
A: Curiosity is definitely one of the main elements of her character. She just can’t not know about something and she must follow it to the very end. She’s hyper intelligent, so anything that doesn’t automatically make sense is annoying to her. She has to go find the answer. I was the same way when I was reading the script. I was constantly asking, “can you just tell me what it is?!” [Laughs] That’s probably how Niska felt. She’s absolutely desperate to know. I wanted to know as much as she did.
Q: Niska struggles at first with having faith that the Synth Who Sleeps really exists. How would you describe her internal struggle of logic versus faith?
A: I loved the fact that Sam [Vincent], Jon [Brackley] and the other writers managed to find something that Niska hasn’t had to grapple with yet, which is faith in something. Particularly as a Synth who is so cynical and finds it hard to even trust a human or Synth who’s standing right in front of her, to have any kind of trust in something she can’t see or understand is pretty epic in terms of her character development. I loved that. It’s not so much a journey of spiritual understanding. It’s about her learning about how to take a leap of faith sometimes. You have no evidence, but sense that something might be worth pursuing and you do it anyway. In the past, she’s always made very deliberate decisions.
Q: How surprised were you to see Odi/Will Tudor again?
A: [Laughs] I’ve been so practiced at being sworn to secrecy that I can’t believe I’m allowed to say it right now! When I read that bit of Episode 7, I gasped. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy about it. He’s such a fan favorite and Odi’s probably my favorite character, though I had very little interaction with him in past episodes. I also thought it was genius writing that the Synth Who Sleeps doesn’t turn out to be something that the audience has to completely understand out of nowhere – it’s within someone very recognizable. I loved working with Will.
Q: Three seasons in, do you find yourself interacting with current technology — Siri, Alexa, etc. — any differently?
A: Alexa is basically a Synth! [Laughs] It just doesn’t look like a human being. It’s amazing, but it does make me tuned into what technology does to us. One of the themes of the show that I found most interesting is that technology can make people feel redundant. Even if technology can do something more efficiently than a human being, is there something sad about that? Do we need to protect roles that we fulfill that make us feel something? Things like driverless cars – I don’t want everyone to have driverless cars because I’ve learned this skill and it makes me feel good that I’m able to do it. There’s something about that that makes me feel disconcerted. I’m very reliant on things that I don’t really understand. I did some writing by hand recently and thought, “Oh, this is weird!” [Laughs]
Read an interview with Ukweli Roach, who plays Anatole.
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