Mark Bonnar, who plays Neil on AMC’s HUMANS, talks about Neil’s conflicted view on Synths and what’s changing his perspective.
Q: You were recently in a play, Instructions for Correct Assembly, that also touches on AI. What interests you most about this genre?
A: I think the genre allows us to explore ourselves and the bigger pictures in life. It allows us to look at ourselves and the world in which we live through a different prism. I think HUMANS does that very well with a small ‘p’ and a capital ‘P’, politically. Morally and philosophically, it examines our motivations and the minutiae of our domestic and public life. It’s such a fantastic and cleverly written show.
Q: Is there anything in particular that stood out to you about Neil?
A: What I like about the way Sam [Vincent], Jon [Brackley] and the writers on the show write is that the characters are not your stock, standard “goodies” or “baddies.” They’re not black or white; they’re filled with gray. They’re conflicted – especially Neil. He has his reasons for his apparent nonchalance about the outcome and the fates of the Synths. It becomes apparent as time goes by in the series. He’s pretending it’s not the reason, but it is – the fact that he lost his young baby when Day Zero happened has affected him and he’s pretending that it’s not. There was immediately a lot of interesting depth when they pitched the character to me and the fact that I had a lot to do with Katherine [Parkinson], who is an actress I very much admire.
Q: What was it like when you got to film with so many “Synths” at the railyard?
A: We did have the orange-eyed bodyguards at the Dryden Commission and what they do is remarkable because you have a set of very strict rules to physically adhere to. Once we got to the Synth compound and met all those guys who were playing the Synths who’d been awakened, I was just awestruck by how gifted they all are. It’s such a difficult thing to do to play a robot who’s becoming a conscious being and discovering feelings and emotions and thoughts for the first time. It was remarkable to be in their presence. They’re incredible. I was filled with admiration.
Q: One of the Green Eyes is able to read Neil’s emotions and registers that he masks his despair. How does that land on Neil?
A: That’s quite a scene. I think it lands quite profoundly because he comes back to it a few times. It starts him on his journey of self-discovery. He’s previously brushed it aside and thought to himself, “Synths are Synths and that’s that,” but he then starts to question if they really feel. It becomes a thing for him.
Q: How did the overall visit change his perspective?
A: I think it’s an awakening for him. He hadn’t bargained for them being quite so thoughtful and conscientious and kind and interested – like humans. He hadn’t bargained on them being quite so human-like and wanting to be the best they can be. From his perspective, they all seem to be interested in bettering themselves and becoming good “humans.” That whole sequence hits him quite profoundly.
Q: How would you describe the evolving relationship between Neil and Laura? Why does he kick her out in Episode 4?
A: It’s overwhelming, I think. A lot has happened to him on Day Zero. It was only a year ago. He still hasn’t come to terms with the death of his son, as you would expect, and him and his wife splitting up. I think he finds himself incredibly conflicted because he’s very attracted to Laura, but the consummation of the relationship brings up a lot of other feelings in him that he can’t deal with. He can’t cope with the fact that he’s become very intimate with someone who is an advocate for the very beings that he blames for the collapse of his life. It’s too much, too quickly. He dives in with both feet because he’s very attracted to Laura, but as soon as the relationship is consummated, the consequences of his actions psychologically hit him hard and he deals with it in a terrible way. He can’t cope and he shuts down completely.
Q: What prompts his apology in Episode 5?
A: I think he knows he’s behaved like an idiot. He’s not an idiot, but he’s behaved like one. He goes there with the best intentions and to apologize, but he’s still grappling with all of this. He’s still grappling with his own feelings. It’s a massive thing to get your head around that everybody in this parallel world pretty much has a Synth. They’re pretty commonplace and, for all intents and purposes, they’re indentured slaves once you’ve gone and paid for them. Not only is he dealing with his personal issues, but also as a man of science, he’s dealing with what this whole thing means and his changing attitudes. He’s dealing with the personal and the political. It’s quite a gray area. He wants to build bridges when he comes around in Episode 5.
Q: What was your relationship like with technology/AI before joining the show? Has it shifted at all since working on it?
A: My relationship with technology before the show is probably exactly the same as it is now – highly suspicious! [Laughs] Although technology is a wonderful thing in the right hands, in the last couple of years we’ve seen what it can do in the wrong hands. I view it with wonderment and suspicion.
Read an interview with Ruth Bradley, who plays Karen.
HUMANS airs Tuesday at 11/10c. Click here to add a reminder to your calendar.
Watch full episodes of HUMANS on amc.com and AMC apps for mobile, Fire TV, Xbox One, Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast. To get more exclusive interviews with the cast, sign up for the Insiders Club.Read More