The intriguing drama series Humans, from British writing team Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent and airing on AMC, explores the emotional impact of blurring the lines between humans and machines. The story takes place in a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a Synth, which is a highly developed, artificially intelligent servant that is very similar to its living counterpart.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Colin Morgan (who plays Leo, a desperate and tortured man on a mission to be reunited with his beloved Synth family) talked about why he was so intrigued by this character, whether or not he’d want a Synth in his own life, why he felt he needed to know his character’s backstory before the shoot began, how Leo feels about what’s been done to him, his favorite character interaction this season, and that he’d like to continue to explore this world. He also talked about how much he enjoyed his experience on Season 2 of The Fall and working with Gillian Anderson, as well as what he’s got lined up next. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: How did this come about for you? Did you just read the script and respond to it, and did you audition for the role?
COLIN MORGAN: It was more or less similar to any other process I’ve been through. I read the script and thought it was absolutely fantastic, and I was highly intrigued by Leo, the character. I didn’t really know what his full backstory was, but I really wanted to know what was going on and why he was the way he was. So, I spoke to the producers and Sam Donovan, the first director, who I had worked with before, and read a couple of scenes, and then I was lucky enough to be offered the role.
What was your reaction to this world that has humans and robots inhabiting it together? Was that something you were immediately intrigued by, or are you very much not a techie person, yourself?
MORGAN: I’m not very technical. The fact that the script drew me in, I was interested in not just what my guy was going through, but I wanted to know what was happening with everyone. There was no storyline that I wasn’t interested in. Without really thinking about too much of the technology, what I was seeing was a series of scenarios with humans trying to make sense of their purpose. That’s what’s so interesting about it. It doesn’t have to be technology. That can be anything that’s introduced into society that makes us question ourselves. It’s people questioning the reason why they’re here, and that’s been an enduring question since the beginning of existence, I suppose. The fact that this is a technology that’s been created by humans and it has this kind of affect on us, it’s a weird scenario. We put ourselves in this position. I was just intrigued by all of these different characters and the very different reasons for relating to this technology, and very different reasons for wanting to be free of it or trying to understand it and trying to understand themselves
If you lived in this world, would you want a Synth in your life, or would you never want to have one?
MORGAN: I don’t think I would. I’m quite an independent person, and I think that having one around would take that element away from me. I’ve certainly seen the affect that it has on the characters in Humans. That’s not something I want to subject myself to.
Once you started working on the show, were you given more information and details about Leo’s backstory?
MORGAN: Before I accepted the role, that was the first thing I wanted to know. You need to know that you can do a good job, so I had a chat with Chris Fry, a producer on the show, and he mapped out for me exactly what had happened to Leo and what his journey was going to be, over the series. So, that was an automatic yes because it was just so unusual and intriguing, but I was also intimidated and a bit scared by it, which was a good sign. You don’t know how you’re going to do it, but you should definitely jump in and work hard. So, I knew exactly what had happened to him and what was going to happen to him before beginning.
Is it daunting to try to understand what it might be like to live as someone like Leo, or did it come easier than you expected?
MORGAN: It was quite difficult, actually. But, getting into a character’s head is part of the process that I love. What was a big thing for me was trying to understand what it was like to quite literally be the only thing in the world that is uniquely singular. There is no one like him. He’s so dependent on his synthetic family that his father created for him, and he’s spent his whole life essentially brought up by them. They’ve done everything for him. They’ve educated him, they’ve loved him, they were his friends, and they were essentially his whole livelihood. Now, suddenly, he doesn’t have them. He’s questioning that, if he doesn’t have the one group of people who can possibly understand him, than what hope does he have in the world of humans to exist, be understood and feel like he belongs. So, it’s a quest for belonging, which a lot of us are on. Particularly for Leo, it’s hard because he’s not used to not getting what he wants. He’s a little underdeveloped. He doesn’t quite know how to interact correctly with humans. He can often get aggressive and be unsure of how to communicate. He’s difficult to predict, in some respects. It’s not his fault. It’s how he was brought up. He doesn’t understand. So, he’s trying to learn how to pave his own way, but it’s important that he have his family together to do that.
How do you think he feels about what’s been done to him? Do you think he wishes he would have just been allowed to die, or do you think he’s grateful that he has a chance at life?
MORGAN: I think he goes through the positive and the negative. As the backstory of his biological mother becomes clear, it will be evident that she was mentally unstable and wasn’t able to give him a mother’s love. So, the fact that he has the love of Mia, in the form of a mother, was great. The other side of it is that his father is very important too, but he never had the love of his dad until his dad implanted the technology inside of him. I think that’s very hard to swallow. To think that Leo really only got his dad’s attention when his dad made him an experiment is really hard to comprehend. I think physically what he would have went through, at the age of 13 when this was done to him, as a boy coming into puberty, his natural development was really messed up. Due to this technology, he was not able to really go through what every other boy would go through, at that time in his life. He was messed around with a lot, and that was quite traumatic for him. So, psychology it’s quite difficult. Also, he can’t forget anything. That’s the other downside with this technology in his head. Every single memory and thought he had cannot be forgotten. There can be no repressed memory for him. It’s all there. That’s a torturous thing to go through, as well. So, there’s more agony in him, at the moment, than there is relief and love. What’s driving him is the hope that one day he can be relieved of everything and feel like he belonged.
Do you think that if Leo had the opportunity to be either fully Synth of fully human that he would even know, at this point, which he would pick?
MORGAN: Good question. It’s difficult. I think he feels closer and more akin to the synthetic side, even though it’s a technology that he maybe resents is inside him. But, he was so failed by humanity. His mother, by no fault of her own, was incapable of looking after him, and his dad, through his own neglect, did not really look after him. He hasn’t had very good examples of humans, so he is very, very distrustful of them and really finds it difficult to see how humans, with all of their complications and extravagances, are not negative. Whereas with synthetics, in his experience, they’ve always been good and kind and nurturing to him, even though they were programmed that way. He knows they were programmed to love him, but if it feels like love, does it really matter if it was programmed. If he gets the feeling of love and the feeling of belong, even if somewhere in the back of his head he knows it’s just a program, I think that’s better than being hurt by humans.
Clearly this is such a complex and complicated character with so many things going on. How challenging was it to maintain the emotional intensity of this character during long hours of shooting?
MORGAN: It was quite dark to explore. Most of the characters I’m drawn to, as an actor, are ones that are quite intensely lonely and a bit lost and are looking for some kind of redemptive answer. The long days of shooting occupy my headspace and it is challenging, but it’s part and parcel to the commitment of that kind of role.
Do you have a favorite scene or character interaction, this season?
MORGAN: Having that scene at the beginning of the season, where he’s searching and searching for Mia, and then finally coming head to head with her was great, but also heartbreaking. It was like meeting a relative with Alzheimer’s because it was her, but she had been changed somehow. It was really hard to understand because it was such a complicated thing. But the quest to get her back and the eventual meeting with Mia, it definitely felt good to have my mother back in my life.
There’s been quite a bit of talk that this show will likely return for Season 2 because there’s still so much more story to tell. Would you like to continue exploring this character, or do you feel like his story is wrapped up by the end of this season?
MORGAN: I’d love to explore it even more. When we get to the end of the first season, Leo is in a place where his mission to have his family back and to have the world that he wants to create for himself, and in general, looks like it could be possible. I’m highly intrigued by how he goes about that and what affect it will have on everyone else, the world over. When we get to the end of the season, it’s a highly intriguing place where we leave it. If we do get a second season, I would love to explore that.
You were so good on The Fall, which was also such an interesting exploration of characters. How was your experience on that show, and what was it like to work with Gillian Anderson?
MORGAN: Oh, absolutely fantastic! I was a massive fan of the first season. I just loved it. I hadn’t seen anything quite like that before. Being a Northern Irish guy, I certainly hadn’t seen anything like that done in Northern Ireland before. It felt really new and fresh and quite terrifying. So, when they approached me to be in the second season, it was a no-brainer. And Gillian Anderson is absolutely phenomenal. She’s such a dedicated, committed and thoughtful actor. Her attention to detail is phenomenal. And Jamie Dornan is such an incredible actor. His commitment to the role and his attention to detail was also just so specific. And Allan Cubitt, who wrote and directed the second season, is just an amazing talent. Also, it was actually a really nice shoot with really good, really talented and really committed people. It was just a really good atmosphere to be in. The actual experience of it was good. The fact that it happens to be a really good show, as well, is fantastic. It’s good that it’s getting international acclaim, as well.
Are you currently working on anything now, or do you know what you’re going to be doing next?
MORGAN: I just finished a film in France, called Waiting for You, with Fanny Ardant. We just finished that, and I think that will come out sometime next year. And I’m currently in rehearsals for a new six-part drama, which I’m not able to talk about. In the next couple of weeks, that will be revealed.
So, no light-hearted comedies on the schedule?
MORGAN: No, in fact these last two projects after Humans got even darker, but it’s good. It’s an aspect of life that I guess I’m really interested in. I’m just fortunate that I’m able to explore that and find pathways through all of these lost souls.
Humans airs on Sunday nights on AMC.