Humans’ Sonya Cassidy on That Robot Life

Colin Hutton/Kudos/CH4/AMC
Colin Hutton/Kudos/CH4/AMC

In case you haven’t been watching the AMC and UK hit sci-fi series Humans, let me catch you up on the first season. In an alternate present, robots — called synths — are everywhere doing everything: minding children, looking after the elderly, cleaning the house, collecting tickets at the train station — so much so that they are edging human beings out of a job. But it’s all so very convenient, and most people couldn’t imagine life without them.

Then along comes Leo Elster, son of the original synth inventor David Elster, and his synth siblings. You see, Dr. Elster found a way to imbue synths with sentience, which sounds like a grand idea, until you realize that synths are stronger, faster, and smarter than humans. Give them the ability to think and feel for themselves, and it might just be a recipe for disaster.

Speaking of which, Leo and his synth family figure out that their dad left them the key to pass on the sentience program to other synths. When we leave them at the end of the season, they are trying to decide what to do with this unexpected and potentially dangerous gift.

Want to know what happens next? Well you’re in luck, because Season 2 of Humans premieres on AMC Monday, February 13 at 10 p.m.! To get ready for the new season, The TV Junkies spoke to English actress Sonya Cassidy, who will be playing newcomer Hestor, about what we can expect from the new season WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead!

 

The TV Junkies: How did you get involved in this show? What attracted you to the role of Hester?

Sonya Cassidy: I am a big fan of the first season of Humans. It was one of the most exciting shows I saw the year it came out and so when an audition came up to play a synth in the show, I was very happy to get in the room. There were two rounds of auditions, I rewatched the first season and did my best synth impression [laughs] to get the role and, yeah, here we are.

Colin Hutton/Kudos/CH4/AMC
Colin Hutton/Kudos/CH4/AMC

TTVJ: Was there anything you had to do to prepare. I know you have experience with taekwondo. Is the role very physical?

SC: There are moments that are very physical and in general playing a synth is a lot more physical than I imagined. Like I said, I rewatched the first season and did my best Anita (Gemma Chan) impression around the flat, which provided a lot of entertainment for my flat mates [laughs]. Because it’s a lot harder than it looks actually. We had this thing called Synth School before we started and I had a one on one with our movement coordinator Dan O’Neill, and he talked me through all the physical elements and the inner workings of synths. It’s much more sophisticated than I ever imagined. Little things like their eyes move ever so slightly before their heads because their peripheral vision is narrower, their centre of gravity is ever so slightly forward — it’s great for your core actually, playing a synth, because everything they do is very economical and effortless. As a human, to play with that was a wonderful challenge. But what was fascinating for me was to delve into what it’s like to be conscious, which is a fantastic philosophical challenge.

TTVJ: Can you tell me a little bit about what Hester’s first thought is when she is “awakened” and becomes self-aware?

SC: I think it’s pretty horrifying for her. I think what’s interesting is that for synths to feel weak, to feel that they don’t have a programmed answer to whatever’s happening to them is unfathomable. On top of that, her first experience with humans is that of being lied to, being hunted. She receives a lot of negativity, so that goes on to form her view, as a child, essentially, in an adult looking android body. So it’s completely all-consuming for her and unknown, but things really hit the ground running because of course for a sentient synth in the world that we’ve created in Humans, that’s a very dangerous thing. She’d be shut down immediately. So without quite knowing what it is, that fight or flight instinct kicks in straight away and thankfully she meets Leo (Colin Morgan) and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah), and much more unfolds which I shan’t go into, but you’re in for a treat!

TTVJ: I know that Season 2 of Humans has already aired in the U.K. How did audiences react to it over there?

SC: People really enjoyed it I think. The feedback has been lovely and fans of the first season has been thrilled. And rightly so — I think the writers Sam and John (showrunners Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley) have really raised the bar in terms of scope and those characters that we already know and love are facing new challenges, and the new people we are introduced to, people and synths, are incredibly compelling and throw up challenges also for those characters that we know. For those of you who already love the show, you will hopefully enjoy [the second season] as much if not more than the first season. But for those that are new, there’s plenty to wrap your head around and be thrilled and excited and shocked by. It’s been a great ride to be a part of that.

Colin Hutton/Kudos/CH4/AMC
Colin Hutton/Kudos/CH4/AMC

TTVJ: The question that the show keeps bringing up it seems, is what does it mean to be human? How would you answer that?

SC: What it is to be human is a huge question [laughs]. I think we humans are probably still figuring that out. When we look at AI and the idea of conscious synthetics, I think we’re a long way away from that. As much as technology is advancing at an incredible rate, to have consciousness in technology is something I can see [happening] for a long while yet, because it’s still such an enigma within us, and I think that’s part of the allure and the pain and the challenge of being human. But what I love about this show, from the first season and still, there aren’t many [shows] that can appeal to such a wide demographic, that can excite and thrill, but at the end of an episode has you just sat on the sofa thinking very deeply about, as you say, what it is to be human. Any show that asks us those questions and makes us check in with what goes on in our own minds, what we feel and think, and how we respond to that, but also the wider implications of AI, is a very special show indeed.

TTVJ: Why do you think those questions are important to ask in this day and age?

SC: As human beings, the more time we spend to just delve inward the better. For me to really tap back into that and really stop and think, what does it mean to be conscious has been a wonderful challenge. Unlike with a baby that is born to parents, like the synths in the first season that are essentially created to be part of a loving family unit with support and discipline, Hester doesn’t have any of that. Her journey in a lot of ways is a human one, which is again what I love about this show. It reminds us that we’re humanizing technology a lot more [while] we’re dehumanizing people still and we have to stop that. What’s so compelling about Hester I think is that she so honestly responds the situation and is forced to develop in a way that only she knows how, in a way that a lot of human beings do. Although we feel we can sit back and look at Hester as a piece of technology, actually there’s the potential for anything in all of us that are sentient and that’s kind of scary, but also fascinating.

TTVJ: Can you hint at the role Hester will play in this awakening of synths that’s happening in Season 2?

SC: Well, as I mentioned before, the synths that we’ve already met were created in ultimately positive environments with guidance and rules, and they have had a much more positive experience with humanity. Hester’s world, from the get go, does not reflect that, so she is responding in the only way she knows how. It’s like Max and Leo have effectively got a child on their hands that they don’t have the time or resources or really the understanding to sit down and teach Hester, so she’s having to learn herself. But along the way things happen that come of that, that will raise important and significant challenges for other characters. As I said, I don’t we’re even close to sentience in technology at all, but were that to be the case, the ethics around your computer thinking and feeling for itself is huge. This world that has been woken in Humans Season 2 raises many many more questions that will hopefully have you guys pondering the enormity of that for a long time to come [laughs]. It’s never a dull moment when Hester is around anyways, I can say that!

 

Are you a fan of Humans? Excited for Season 2? Sound off in the comments below!

Humans Season 2 airs Mondays at 10 pm. ET on AMC.