Playing the role of a humanoid artificial intelligence is no simple task if you want to create something convincing and original. From the notable precedent of Brent Spiner’s Lt. Cmndr. Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), whose lovable android character has gone down as legend in science fiction history, to Ian Holm’s surprise artificial intelligence Ash in Alien (1979), and Norman Lovett’s computer-based Holly on Red Dwarf (1988), just to name a few, we’ve seen a range of different representations of sentient technologies throughout the years.
AMC’s Humans (2015) brings us a modern AI that looks and acts almost perfect to a living human save for its hauntingly clear eyes - the only outward difference that separates the constructs from true humans. But from what we can gather in the show’s trailers and promos, the “Synths,” as they’re called, still operate with a good deal of robotic mannerism that took some practice by the actors to get right.
In order to prepare for their roles on the show, the actors playing Synths attended a “synth school,” or a preparatory class for learning the behaviors and mannerisms the showrunners wanted for the AIs.
What’s on TV interviewed Colin Morgan, one of the actors playing a Synth.
“Humans is a show that focuses on the effect a synthetic human being would have on society. These beings are integrated into the workplace, the family and society in general… and they can do everything better. The show focuses on the positives and the negative implications of this technology. Synth School was really important for the people portraying Synths. For me it was important to come along and watch a bit of it to see how I responded to it.”
Gemma Chan, who also plays a Synth, said “It was about stripping back any physical tics you naturally incorporate into performance. These things are ultimately machines and run on battery power, so every movement has to have an economy and a grace to it. I’m constantly bumping into things, so it was a challenge trying to eliminate all of that but really fun.”
The show’s lead writer, Jonathan Brackley, said synth school “taught them to nix facial expressions and hand gestures and to move with absolute grace, like in a Japanese tea ritual.”
Brackley said audiences will never get to see the internal constructs of the synths, so those expecting one to become dismembered and ooze milky fluid like Alien’s Ash will be unfulfilled. Those expecting a sci-fi dramatic thriller with some potentially great acting and story arcs should give it a shot.