Humans: Interview with Gemma Chan who plays Mia
When we left her, the world had seemingly just changed forever – where do we rejoin the action, and what’s happened?
Series three begins a year after Mattie uploaded the consciousness code to all the synths. When we rejoin Mia, she’s living at a place called the Railyard, which is a government-controlled area where conscious synths have been put to live, and she’s there with Max and with Leo, who’s in a coma. And she’s struggling to come to terms with the events of Series two. I think Mia feels a certain amount of responsibility and guilt over what happened, because the code was uploaded to save her life. And she’s also struggling with Ed’s betrayal in Series two; and she’s still not resolved her feelings about that.
When you go back to playing Mia after time away between series, how long does it take for you to get back into synth mode?
We have a synth boot camp that we go back into before each series, and we have a very good choreographer called Dan O’Neill who whips us back into shape, but it takes longer than you’d think, actually. Especially as we had quite a big gap between Series two and Series three.
In your downtime, do you, as a cast, all practice being synths together?
[Laughs] Do we all meet up and pretend to be synths? No, we don’t, sadly.
Do you ever get fans of the show asking you to move like a synth when you’re out and about?
I’ve had people ask to record voicemail messages in Anita’s voice, and I’ve had people come up and try to turn me off, pushing the bit under the chin.
That’s quite weird!
It is a bit odd. Quite an invasion of personal space!
Do you think that playing a synth, and therefore having to make everything that bit more understated and subtle, has made you a better actor?
I don’t know about that – I’d leave that for other people to judge. You have to express yourself in a different way. I suppose it has made me more resourceful, in a way. I now really know the power that you have in stillness, and in economy as well – how you can convey something in the most efficient way. And also really using your eyes – not doing the little tricks and ticks that we usually do. So it has made me focus it down to what’s needed to convey something.
Humans has been a phenomenal success. Why do you think the show has struck such a chord with audiences?
I think there’s something about the fact that it feels very embedded in a real world – so even though it’s science fiction, it feels very plausible, it feels very grounded. Some of the scenes that have the most drama take place in a family kitchen, and I think people watching it can feel “that’s how my family might respond if we had a synth in our home.” It’s very relatable for people. And there’s a great range of characters in the show, there’s always someone for everyone to relate to.
One of the very clever things the writers did was set the drama in what is essentially the present day.
Yes, absolutely. It’s not set years in the future, it’s a time that could be now, and that really sets it out from other science fiction shows. As well as it being more relatable, it feels like there’s more danger, because it’s not happening somewhere far away, in time or in space. It’s very much that this technology is embedded in your everyday life, it’s already in your home, so if it goes wrong, it’s very much a threat to you and your family. It’s not in a lab environment, it’s already in the family home. It’s tapping into that sense of unease a lot of us feel with technology that has now become part of our everyday lives. And we’re only just waking up to things like the surveillance that goes on, and I think the show really taps into that paranoia, that worry.
Humans is filled with strong female characters – was that one of the things that attracted you to the project?
Yeah, definitely. There’s a backbone of really strong female characters, from the youngest, Sophie, and Mattie and Laura in the family, through the synth family as well. I think all the female characters are complex and nuanced and fully-rounded characters, which is what you really want as an actor.
On the subject of gender, do you think things are finally and irrevocably changing in your industry, in terms of gender parity?
I would say that we’re at the beginning of change. The conversation has definitely started, and there’s discussion going on. I don’t think we’re there yet, there’s a lot of things we have to work through, and I think we’re in new territory in a lot of ways. But I’m excited that it feels like we’re hopefully at the start of a new era.
The programme deals with the debate surrounding Artificial Intelligence – you made a documentary about it. Is it an issue that you have strong opinions on?
Yeah, definitely. I learned so much making that documentary, and it was equally fascinating and terrifying, speaking to people working in this field, and talking about what the implications are potentially going to be. There’s one side of it, letting the genie out of the bottle, where we might become collateral damage if we don’t get the aims of AI completely right. That could happen. But in a practical sense it’s already happening – just the sheer number of jobs that are being taken over and automated. That’s not some far-fetched thing. Something like a third of jobs will disappear in the next 20-30 years, and our whole economy will change. How will we pay people, how will people structure their times? We’ll need to rethink so much.
If this technology was available, would you get a synth?
No. I give a different answer every time I’m asked this! I think I’m a no, now. I feel a bit like at this particular point we should try and move back a little bit. I think I’d be too unnerved by a synth in my house.
You’ve all been together as a cast for three series now – what’s the experience like of working together?
It’s really great, we’re like a big family, it’s one of the nicest things about the show, coming back and seeing the familiar faces. And we kind of have a shorthand to work with each other now as well, which really helps.
If you could take one cast member home to be your personal synth, who would it be, and why?
If I could take any cast member at all, I would take Pixie home [Pixie Davies, who plays Sophie].
The show is also shown in America – do you have a sense of how it has gone down over there?
I feel like, although the show is set here, its themes are quite universal, quite international. And from what I hear, it’s gone down really well there.