Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Exclusive Interview with HUMANS writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley

(Originally posted at Filmoria about series one)
With the exciting series one finale of Humans due on Channel 4 this weekend and the series well underway on AMC in the US, the synths and their human friends and foes have found a place in homes across the globe. We chatted with the show’s writers, Sam Vincent andJonathan Brackley, to discuss what went into writing the show, their favourite moments and the power of Ivanno Jeremiah‘s smile. We also did our best to get a hint of what fans can expect from the newly commissioned series two, which they are now working on.

Sam and Jonathan had already worked together on the last two series of Spooks with Kudos, along with the recent film, so they were already known to the company. When the rights to the original Swedish show, on which Humans is based, were obtained, the pair were asked if they wanted to get involved. Thankfully for us, they accepted!
Here’s what they had to say.

How similar is your version of the show compared to the original?
J: We took our cues from the first couple of episodes so most of our characters are based on a counterpart in the original Swedish series or amalgums thereof. Some of the storylines are inspired by the original but we ended up taking our characters on completely different journeys by the end of the series. It happened very organically. It wasn’t a conscious decision to do that it’s just that these were the areas that we were interested in that we wanted to follow.

What have been your favourite characters to write for?
J: That’s always a tough one to ask a writer. We’ve loved writing them all. I don’t know. I’m not sure I could pick one. Sam, have you got one?

S: The thing is, with this show, the characters are so radically different. You have synths: you have ordinary synths, you have the synths that are very different and more human-like. And then you have a whole bunch of very, very human characters. In terms of dialogue, it was a lot of fun writing for Rebecca Front‘s character, Vera, and also, Gemma Chan – as Anita, rather than as Mia – because then you’re writing the extremely codified, formal, language that an ordinary synth uses. That’s quite good fun to come up with. It was fun writing for Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) as well because we always saw him as the innocent. You could write a character who was highly intelligent and, of course, not human – in the way we understand it – and yet completely innocent and full of wide-eyed wonder. So that was always a lovely character to write. Really, the format gives us such a broad range of characters – that is, you can’t really pick a firm favourite, they’re all so different. I mean, the family talk in this very naturalistic, slang-y, jokey way. Yeah, I think it’s particularly fun writing some of that formal, synth language – that was something you don’t get to do in any other script.

How much of the synths’ mannerisms and behaviours were scripted vs. the actors being able to influence their specific characters?
S: In the script and in our discussions early on with the producers about how we saw it, we gave some broad strokes really. We said that their movement was not be stiff and jerky and robotic and it was more about graceful, flowing movement of economy. When we sat down to really think it through, we thought, well, if a synth makes a movement, they’re going to use the least amount of power to conserve energy and they’ll also make their movements slowly – as slowly as they can, in a sense, because that will conserve power. There won’t be any wasted movement at all because they plan their movements perfectly. They don’t shoot out an arm before they know what mug they’re picking up off the shelf, like us. They have this incredible precision and also this calm, flowing, economical movement. A thing we compared it to was a Japanese tea ritual. That kind of incredibly serene, measured, like flowing water – not a single wasted movement.

We also had the benefit of promising the threat to the viewer, because we have moments where we show that, actually, synths are faster and stronger than we are – and that again comes from the logic that we need them to be faster and stronger than we are because if our five-year-old kid stepped out in the road, you need your synth to be able to do something about it. But they never use that extra strength and speed unless they have to. It’s always there, under the surface. You know that they’re stronger and quicker than you are and in a fight you couldn’t win!
Really, though, we give a lot of credit to Sam Donovan, the director of episodes one and two, who worked with a guy called Dan O’Neill, who’s a choreographer. Sam and Dan worked very closely with the actors playing the synths and set up ‘Synth School’ to explore the physicality of being these creatures. They carried on from there and thought more about it. Gemma Chan, for example, came up with this thing that in order to conserve power, if she was looking at something to her left, she’d look with her eyes first, and then turn her head, and then turn her body. If she didn’t need to fully turn, she wouldn’t. That’s something you see her doing a lot, as Anita, and it’s very effective – it all builds up to this eerie, other-worldly performance. And then all the other synths – they’re all slightly different but they needed to find these points of uniformity where they could create a group performance, because you don’t want them all moving very differently. We had a huge amount of trust in the director and choreographer – and the actors themselves – and we were happy to let them explore that and find that themselves. What they came up with was absolutely brilliant in our eyes.

Do you have a favourite scene?
J: There are so many scenes that were just a joy to write. I think, in more general terms, we really enjoyed putting together episode six because there is so much going on – so many revelations, so many coming togethers of different characters and exciting twists and plot points. That was a real thrill because it was the first moment when all the threads start to converge in the run-up to the end of the series.

S: We were able to actually answer a lot of the mystery that we’d set up and sometimes you expect writers to drag the mysteries out for as many seasons as possible – and possibly never resolve them – but we always thought that we’d surprise people and pull a few curtains back, pull a few rugs (to continue that metaphor!) in episode six. It was very satisfying to do that and know that we’d be revealing some of those mysteries.
One of my favourite moments, actually, is in episode six, and it’s a moment that’s barely scripted. In the scene where Matti [Lucy Carless] and Leo [Colin Morgan] are attempting to bring Mia back, there is this moment where Toby [Theo Stevenson] and Max share a look. Toby looks nervously at Max turns and gives him this lovely big grin that Ivanno does so beautifully. Then Theo, equally beautifully, does this shy, slightly uncertain smile back. That, really, for me, is such a small, fleeting moment – it’s nothing to do with big revelations or plot or story or anything like that – but it is a moment of genuinely human connection where you feel the connection between the synth and the human being, which is what the whole series is about! It gets distilled down to that one moment of a perfectly, brilliantly done look between two actors at the right time. It’s so beautifully acted by both of them.

J: Ivanno’s use of his smile is masterful throughout the whole series. There’s a moment when he gives George a little smile as he’s leaving the house which is superb and the other smile that I love is in episode seven – which was not scripted – when the SWAT team come in at the end of the episode and one of them points a gun in Max’s face and he turns and smiles at him. It just fits so perfectly with where the character is at that time.
So, without giving anything away, what can fans expect from the series finale?

J: Er… Up to this point, we’ve answered most of the questions. There’ll be a [pause] coming together of all our synths and the other characters.
S: [After a long pause, trying to figure out what he can or can’t say] You can expect thrills, spills, tears, laughs, danger, suspense and … I think it’s better to not say any more.

Fair enough! On to series two then – congratulations on getting the second series commissioned this week, by the way!
J: Thank you very much!

S: Thank you!
Did you have something in mind, even before it was commissioned?

S: You can’t help, when you’re right in the middle of the story, to continue telling it to yourself when you’re really involved in a piece of writing so we always had ideas. You just couldn’t shut it off. You couldn’t just get to the end of episode eight and say ‘well, that’s it’. We were wondering what would happen after… Along the way, we had a lot of good ideas that we couldn’t fit into series one and thought maybe this is something we could do if we get to take the story forward. We always had ideas bubbling under. Some of them we told our producing partners at Kudos about, some of them we didn’t, but obviously now that we’ve had the go ahead, we are getting them all down and very much already in the process of collecting them all together and formalising them and beating out a shape for what it’s going to look like.
We loved it too much [to forget about it]. We wanted to return to these people, these characters and this world.

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