A Woman You Should Meet: Gemma Chan

You’ve probably seen Gemma Chan before. The gorgeous British actress has been on a variety shows (Sherlock, Doctor Who, Secret Diary of a Call Girl), usually in recurring roles that always leave you wanting more of her. Now, with her lead role in the new show Humans, you’ll get it.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Sutra

Tell me about your character Anita in Humans. What is she?

She is a synth, a highly advanced humanoid robot, essentially. Our show is actually set in the present, in an alternate present, with a twist. They do everything… a lot of jobs that humans don’t want to do anymore: they clean people’s houses, they check the tickets on the bus, they can drive your car, they can cook for you and it’s just an accepted part of everyday life.

You meet Anita when she is first bought by a very normal suburban family. The family soon starts to realize there’s something a bit different about Anisa. I would describe her as an enigma; she is a very complex character.

How is she different from other synths?

There’s something different about Anita because of the way she was made and her history, which you’ll find out when you watch the show.

There are a group of synths that have started to display qualities that might be human. She is certainly one of those.

Synths are purchased to do the things humans don’t want to do. What would you make your synth do for you?

Oh gosh, I’d love a synth to help me organize my life. I mean, in terms of everything from tidying up and organizing my wardrobe…that would be brilliant. I’d want one to teach me another language, just speak to me in Spanish or something until I pick it up.

Are you ever afraid of all this technology just completely taking over?

I am! And not even futuristic technology that we know is coming out. The technology that we have today could take over. We’re so reliant on technology that we don’t even understand it. And even if that technology doesn’t set out to kill us – like robots usually try to – I still think we need to be careful about what we lose of ourselves. It changes us and the way our minds work.

How do you prepare to become a robot?

It was definitely a unique challenge for me, as an actor. I’ve never done anything like it before. The directors and writers didn’t want any movement that was overtly robotic, but they did want something that was other than human.

We worked with a really brilliant choreographer and together we did a little experimenting with what the movement could be like. The fundamental part of it was that these are machines and they run on battery power so every movement you make uses up energy. There has to be a reason for everything you do.

We literally had to learn to walk again [laughs] and how to stand up, and sit down. It sounds so simple, but you don’t realize how many little things you do as a human, how many extra little moves, and physical ticks and idiosyncrasies you have.

What was the most challenging part of the role?

I was playing a machine that was starting to develop human characteristics. It was a big emotional challenge. I had to do very emotional scenes and play them without showing that emotion in the normal human way. For example, I wasn’t allowed to physically cry. If I ever did start to cry, they’d have to yell cut, fix my makeup and start all over. I learned how much power you can have in stillness.

Would you say that having to relearn how to do everything has changed how you do it in your own personal life?

If anything, since we finished filming, my body has pretty much rebelled and gone back to its own ways [laughs]. It was such a physical effort to have the good posture and everything. As soon as I came home from a day of filming, I’d sprawl out on the couch. I think I’ve gone the opposite way.

What piece of technology can you live without? And what would you never give up?

I could never give up my iPhone even though I have such a love/hate relationship with it. I’m so reliant on it, but I hate how reliant I am. You have the knowledge of the whole world in the palm of your hand or in our pockets every day.

What I could absolutely live without are those self-checkout counters at the supermarket. They’re so annoying to deal with and when you make a mistake you have to call over a real live person anyway!

The synths don’t seem to be overly made up to look like robots. If the synths were to walk among us, how do we tell them apart from humans?

No, you’re right, they don’t really look like robots and that was a very deliberate choice on behalf of the creators. The show explores the blurred lines between machines and humans, it’s one of the themes. One of the easiest ways to tell at first glance is that the synths have bright green eyes once they’re bonded with a primary user.

But other than that it comes down to the movement. As soon as you see them move, you know right away, you think to yourself ‘that is not how a human would move.’

One of the things we really thought about while perfecting our movement was that most people lead their movements with a part of the body, but we decided that in the synths the eyes lead every movement. So, if you’re turning around or changing directions, your eyes would go first, then the head and then your body.