Sci-fi drama Humans, which premieres August 11, is hitting New Zealand screens as one of the year's most buzzed-about new shows.

A co-production between the UK's Channel 4 (Skins, Black Mirror) and the AMC Network (The Walking Dead, Mad Men), the London-set Humans takes place in a familiar, contemporary world where incredibly life-like helper androids known as "synths" (short for "Synthetic Human") are commonplace, although still defining their role in society.

The thought-provoking series has received acclaim for its authentic portrayal of (near?) future technology, a portrayal which is greatly informed by the central role technology already plays in our lives.

"In the past, shows that focus on sentient robots have tried to distance themselves from reality to create a world where these things could exist," says British actor Will Tudor (Game of Thrones), who stars in the series.


"But now we have iPhones in our pockets, we have our computers, all these kinds of things which are getting cleverer and cleverer.

"It makes it much scarier and it raises a lot more questions if it's something that's recognisable and that we might have to deal with in our own lives."

Tudor plays a broken-down, out-of-date synth named Odi, companion to Dr George Millican, played by Oscar-winner William Hurt.

Ostensibly a domestic helper, Odi should have been replaced a long time ago, but Millican clearly sees Odi as a surrogate son and can't bring himself to part with the malfunctioning "boy".

"The relationship between George and Odi is so pure, it's like a man and his dog. It's the least cynical relationship possible. Even if Odi can't officially care for George, George needs him in a very pure way."

While most of the other main robot characters in Humans are high-functioning synths who have been granted self-awareness, Odi's inability to function correctly meant Tudor had to do double the prep of his fellow cast members.

"When we started, we had what we called 'Synth School'. All the people playing synths met and worked with a movement director named Dan O'Neill who was absolutely fantastic. He worked with [physical theatre company] Frantic Assembly on this project.

So we worked out how the synths would move when they were perfectly new, out of the box, as it were. And then I had to deconstruct it and find a way to correct those movements."


Tudor looked to a variety of sources for inspiration in how to play a robot who's not quite all there.

"Some of it was looking at the technology of 10 years ago and how it performs now, so I'd look at my old Windows 95 computer, for example, or my phones once they've become obselete.

"Another thing we looked at was dementia and autism. When human brains start to work in different ways, we looked at how we could use that to mirror a synth going wrong."
Tudor's performance is a thing of subtle beauty and helps make the scenes he shares with Hurt the beating heart of the show.

"He [Hurt] is an incredible actor", Tudor says of his legendary co-star. "He is an inspiration. He's quite possibly one of the best actors in the world. To work with him was such a joy and honour. It was just wonderful, I learned so so much."

Although their scenes together are highly charged, Tudor doesn't betray Odi's lack of emotion for one second.

"There were moments when I would hear a voice saying, 'You can feel the emotion inside you, don't let it come out'.

"The other actors and I were talking about it, how you're not allowed to do so many things, like scratching your head. You're not really allowed to blink, all this stuff. It heightens every sort of intention. It's extraordinary."

It really is extraordinary and the show is striking a chord with audiences for its innovative approach to what was previously the realm of high science fiction.

"People seem to have taken it to their hearts. I reckon it's something to do with the domesticity of the show.

"It focuses very much on the family side, the relationships between synths and humans and also how the presence of those things makes its mark on society.

"It raises questions that a lot of shows don't and that kind of need to be raised. I think people have responded to that."

One of the more adult questions the show raises is to do with using robots as sexual partners.

So I naturally decided to finish my conversation with Tudor by asking whether he would ever consider doing so.

After first bursting out laughing, he reponds with a no: "It would be very, very strange and weird. I don't think I ever could, no."

Humans premieres on TV3 Tuesday, August 11 at 8.30pm.