'Almost Human': How to play a TV robot without acting like Data

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Human actors playing robots/cyborgs/androids in TV shows and movies. We’ve seen it — the jerky movements, the quizzical head tilts, the blank expressions.

Fox’s fall sci-fi drama Almost Human is a series built around this device, a violent future Los Angeles where human cops are paired with android partners (here’s what Comic-Con said about the pilot). In the show, we meet two different android models, a stiff rule-following current edition and a discontinued more emotional version — Dorian, played by Michael Ealy. The challenge, the Almost Human team told the Television Critics Association press tour on Thursday, was to bring Ealy’s character to life in an original way.

“I think we’ve all seen the robot that longs to be human,” said creator J.H. Wyman. “We felt that, to tell the story we wanted to tell, that it was probably better for us to have a robot that was more human than he could handle and sort of trying to understand what he is versus wanting and longing to be something he’s not. So that was our way in.”

For Ealy, that meant making his character “as observant as possible.”

“As an actor, you tend to draw on your human instincts and your background, what you’ve gone through,” he says. “The hardest things in playing Dorian is to act like I don’t have that and to bring that kind of innocence to him that he doesn’t have the experience, the life experience that Karl [Urban's] character has. So he’s fascinated with that, and he observes it, and he learns from it … For me, what it comes down to is this — I hate to simplify it ‑‑ but I tend to try and reduce Dorian sometimes to make him somewhat childlike in that he’s just innocent in terms of observing what’s going on around him.”

So will Almost Human eventually pull a Robopocalypse, Battlestar Galactica or Blade Runner and have the police ‘bots revolt? That seems like an obvious first season finale cliffhanger idea. But Wyman hinted that it’s a less interesting angle for him. In fact, his answer to the question was rather great:

“Most of these incredible novels or imaginings of the future are post‑apocalyptic, very dark, and it seems to me that the writers who wrote them were saying, ‘Do you know what? Humanity [is] really messed up, and look at what we have to get out of,’ which is an interesting and very worthy topic, and I get it,” he said. “But that’s not what I’m really interested in or writing about. I’m writing about that I believe in hope, and I believe that we are good. And I believe that we are smart, and I believe that we are going to stop anything terrible from happening. I believe that I want to tell those stories, that it’s not too late for humanity; that humanity has to deal with some incredible technological advances that double and triple and quadruple the dangers that we face as a society and as a human race. But I do think that we have the tools to deal with them. It’s just like, hey, technology is not bad. It’s how we use it … We want to tell stories about where the human race still has a chance, man.”

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