Gemma Chan as Anita in Humans

Gemma Chan as Anita in Humans


We don't know a single person who wasn't hooked on the Channel 4 drama Humans - set in the near future, when sophisticated human-like 'synths' have become a large part of the workforce, Humans is one of those chilling when-technology-goes-too-far dramas we banged on about for hours.

The star of the show - not least for her freakishly good robot acting - is actress Gemma Chan, who played a synth (or synthetic) called Anita sent to work at the house of a family who soon discover she's way more human than they thought.

We caught up with Gemma to get her take on the show that became our Sunday night addiction...

Hi Gemma! Can you please humour us at some point during this interview and say 'I'm sorry Lucy, I don't understand the question'?

"Haha, I've been asked to do that a few times!" 

We were totally hooked on Humans, but what attracted you to the show?

"I read the script and just loved it, I couldn't wait to get to the next episode. It wasn't just that I really cared about all the characters, I thought the subject matter was so interesting - it was such a fresh way to explore what it means to be human." 

How long did it take you to get Anita's movements just right?

"Usually as an actor you try to react and be as natural as you can - but obviously this was very different! When I auditioned they didn't want me to be too human or robotic, but they did want something that looked other than human. The challenge was finding what that was. Every movement as a synth uses up energy so there has to be an economy to it, but it has to be graceful too. Once I'd been cast I worked with a brilliant choreographer called Dan O'Neill for several weeks before we started filming to come up with this specific language. We decided the eyes should lead all the synth movements, which is obviously completely not human at all!"

Have you freaked out any of your friends with some robot moves?

"As it happens I'm out in Italy at the moment shooting a film called Stratton. I was talking about Humans with one of my castmates and he was saying 'how would you pick up that glass?' When I picked it up as a synth he said 'oh my god you completely just switched into it!' It never felt natural to me but I think there is some muscle memory there which means I can flick into it."

What's your take on that Anita and Joe sex scene? Can you call that cheating?

"There's not really a simple answer to that - everyone will have their own opinion. I have changed my mind so many times about that sex scene talking to Tom Goodman-Hill, who plays Joe. On the one hand I feel a bit sorry for Joe because in his mind - rightly or wrongly - he thinks of Anita as an object, as nothing different to the toaster. How different is it to using a sex toy or a vibrator? But then on the other hand, even if you don't know that Anita is a sentient synth she does seem more than a normal object. She has a relationship with the children, she cares for them, so you can also totally see Laura's point of view too. Obviously it becomes much worse when Joe realises that Anita is Mia who can think and feel underneath. It's a tough one, I don't really know!"

Do you ever think we'll be able to create a sentient human using 17000 strings of code? 

"Well there was a computer last year that passed the Turing Test and convinced a group of people that it was human - obviously this was in an online forum, they weren't talking face to face, but the computer made jokes, caught onto what people were saying to it and even tracked back to earlier bits of the conversation. I'm not sure if you could ever really get true creativity, but when you break us right the way down we are all little building blocks of code so the possibility is there. I don't know whether we should ever try to do it though!"

It's also interesting watching the human backlash against synths on the show...

"You can see why there would be that backlash against a new influx of labour that's cheaper than human labour. At the moment we have issues arising from an influx of migrant labour - I don't think it would be unlikely that you'd have a similar resentment towards synths." 

So what's coming up next? 

"There's still the question of Karen and who she is - you'll find out before the end. There will be a reckoning of sorts and a lot of characters coming together. There is also a big cliffhanger at the close of episode eight, though you won't feel cheated. I think the writers have been very clever that way. Otherwise I don't want to tell you anything or I'll give the game away!"

While you wait for Humans series 2, catch up with the 8 best documentaries on Netflix

Continued below...

Interview by Lucy Pavia