One of the hottest new sci-fi shows coming to television this Fall is Fox’s new series ALMOST HUMAN. Set 35 years into the future, robots and androids have become an integral part of everyday life; so much so, that many are paired with police officers in street patrols and to respond to criminal complaints. ALMOST HUMAN introduces viewers to John Kennex (Karl Urban), a police officer injured in the line of duty, who comes back from his convalescence to find himself paired with an unusual android, Dorian (Michael Ealy). The show seeks to explore themes of what it means to be human and how working together can benefit both humans and droids. The series is an unexpectedly touching and humorous look at life in the future, which also hides a darker side just as treacherous and volatile as the world we live in today. In a recent exclusive interview, creator and executive producer J.H. (Joel) Wyman talked about what inspired the series and the fantastic casting for its key characters.
How did you decide upon the idea of ALMOST HUMAN for your next television show?
JOEL: I was just finishing FRINGE getting the last season up and I was sort of thinking about a lot of these elements because I was researching stuff like future technology. I am sort of terrified of technology in some ways because I’m worried that humanity is going to be left behind. It consumes me. So I started to think about how I would like to tell stories about the human condition in this environment and how I could go about telling stories like I loved telling in FRINGE. Right away it was clear that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and so I called J.J. [Abrams] and said, “I’d like to forward you this and let’s want to do this” and he said, “oh my gosh, yes! Great.” So as I was directing the series finale of FRINGE, I was writing this one.
And you just thought, “I want to do it in the future and I want to do these different themes with androids”?
JOEL: I’m really fascinated by artificial intelligence. I’m fascinated by where we’re going as a society and how television and computers fit into that, and there’s a downside to that. There’s another side and I’m interested in showing that. But there was something more that made me really wanted to tell this story now and that is because of who I am. As seen in my work, I’m always writing about the same thing, which is that life is tied by the connections we make — human connections: that’s what life’s really about. Every time I watch a science fiction film or show, even those I hold in utmost respect, they’re always post-apocalyptic and dark. There’s always the lesson that the writer or creator was saying that humanity really messed up: “Look now, look now what you’ve done!” As a morality tale, that works fine; and as a cautionary tale that works fine. But I’m much more hopeful in the way I look at the world. So I wanted to tell the story of the future I want and I believe that humanity is good enough and will be smart enough to avoid certain parallels. Maybe at the last minute, but I love humanity and believe in it’s goodness that we’ll not make mistakes of that kind. I’m very hopeful. So I wanted to write a story to kind of extend that hope to the viewers and realize that “this is going to be great.” Are we going to be hit with things in the future, the near future and otherwise? Absolutely. And are we going to be caught in the center of the wheel and things are going to happen? For sure. But are we resilient enough to succeed in the end and the answer to me is: yes. That’s what I’m always trying to say. So I really thought this was a great new way into a science fiction genre that is usually told from a different perspective.
So ALMOST HUMAN is not just an exploration of “what is humanity?” It’s
more a self-exploration of who we are individually as well. That becomes an interesting entry point into the show as each character tries to assess “who am I really underneath my skin?”
JOEL: That’s right. It’s “how do we find our place in this world?” Like to see it through the eyes of John (Karl Urban) and the eyes of an android (Michael Ealy) that is more human that he ever asked to be or expected to be, those are great barometers to how we are. It’s an interesting element of the human race. Technology will give us plenty of things to be concerned about. Technology will try us on many levels. But our humanity will always win out. I believe that.
The actors cast in ALMOST HUMAN were unexpected, but they work perfectly. What did you see during their auditions that sparked your interest in casting them for each of their roles?
JOEL: It’s really no secret, if you know me. I love people and when I meet somebody as an actor, they are in my room ’cause they can act, so it goes beyond that. It becomes who are they, what do they stand for, and how do they focus on the role. That’s a large part of casting is trying to find people that understand what I’m writing about — that connection to the character. So I knew I needed John, who is a damaged-heart, and I needed Dorian, who is a beautiful-heart. When I met Karl [Urban] we spoke for like three hours on the telephone. It was J.J. [Abrams] who set up the meeting ’cause he had just worked with him on “Star Trek” and J.J. said, “You guys are going to love each other.”
And J.J. automatically thought of Karl as the perfect guy to play someone with a “damaged heart”?
JOEL: It’s funny, right? Number one, he loves Karl ’cause Karl works so hard for him; and number two, Karl’s like the greatest guy in the world — which is also incredibly refreshing to have a person that looks like that and is genuinely a great guy. So when he came in and we met, I knew that he understood the world that I saw in ALMOST HUMAN. He understood that John was very vulnerable and that he wants the world to be a better place for those he loves. And the more I talked with him, I saw that this was a guy who could really understand my world and would go on this journey with me and have a good time doing it. So we agreed to work with each other and right away it was exciting. Then as for casting Dorian, I had known Michael Ealy as an actor for years and I had always liked his look. I didn’t know exactly why, but I loved that guy. He’s just so handsome.
Plus, when you look at him you think, “he’s got a beautiful heart.”
JOEL: See, you understand! That’s exactly right. That’s it. So when I met him, I knew. But that was a more tricky conversation because when you ask an actor like that, “you’re responsible for creating something that maybe completely damaging to your career and I want you to trust me.”
What’s the downside of playing an android on television?
JOEL: It could end badly. But he was transcendent. He was very concerned, but he wanted to do the work and he wanted to make sure he got everything right. And he did. He was no stranger to hard work. But it was his humanity that he brought to it that I really admire. I wanted the android to have that effect on people. I wanted the android to have people comforted by him. That was the design of the character. I thought it was logical that the police force would say, “we have to make this robot like easy to deal with, ’cause we don’t want to freak out the public.” So I imagine what they did was take a program of every race and from what they know about the perfect symmetry of the face and eyes, they designed a very unique, pleasing to the eye, soulful person as an android and that was Dorian — and I felt that when I worked with him. Like he cares. That’s the kind of stories I’m interested in telling. I’ll be frank, I really think cynicism sucks. I think there was an epidemic of it and I think people are starting to have hope for the future and I think there’s a movement of light-hearted people. I’m not just saying that. I really believe that. Cynics are just really damaged and hurt and I want them to feel there’s possibility and hope. I don’t want people to think “we’re going to wreck the world.” I don’t believe that.
What about the casting of Lili Taylor? She is a fantastic addition to the show.
JOEL: I’ve been a fan of hers since “Mystic Pizza” and “Say Anything.” To me, she deserves to be a huge star ’cause she’s a great actress. I grew up with her in those movies and when we were casting, the casting director said, “what about Lili Taylor?” and I was like, “If you can get me Lili Taylor right now, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world. Where is she right now?” So she came in and we talked. Originally, the role was written for a man and as soon as Lili came up, I just said, “I don’t care who else is auditioning, she’s doing this role because I love her.” Once you get an actor for a character like that, you really started to get excited about the role and the role became much more valuable to me. So I started thinking about her and I started thinking about what an incredible character it was: how does a woman like that want to succeed in a career like that giving up a family so that other people can have theirs? It just created this interesting character with so many layers.
What can you share about Minka Kelly’s character and why you cast her in this role?
JOEL: Let’s just say there’s a specific reason and I think people are going to be very shocked and surprised by the depth that she’s going to provide, but only that she hasn’t had the opportunity to show that side. Suffice it to say, it’s going to be a challenging endeavor for her and she’s rolling up her sleeves. She’s also under strict gag orders. But it’s something she’s really excited about. The minute I saw her, I knew I wanted her to for this role. With all the casting we really sought to carefully cast each role.
What exactly is the story of ALMOST HUMAN? What is going to draw in viewers?
JOEL: This is the story of a police precinct in the future where very brave men and women put their lives on the line — and you’ll see things you’ve never seen before. Things that are amazing. I love these people. Yes, there’s technology, but it’s much easier to explain that this is at its heart a cop show. I wanted to write five feature films for each character throughout the season, and in 22 episodes we’ll tell an amazing saga of these people. It excites us to no end. The possibilities are really great. I’m so anxious to tell stories that encourage us to embrace the future.
To see the incredible world that Joel and the ALMOST HUMAN team have created and to meet the fun characters of John, Dorian, Valerie and Captain Maldonado, be sure to tune in for the premiere of ALMOST HUMAN on November 4th at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.