ALMOST HUMAN: Michael Ealy on Playing an Android, What Drew Him to the Series, and More | Give Me My Remote

ALMOST HUMAN: Michael Ealy on Playing an Android, What Drew Him to the Series, and More

September 6, 2013 by  

There are a ton of procedurals on television these days — the good, the bad, the forgettable — but the new Fox drama, ALMOST HUMAN, is giving the genre its own little twist: it’s set in 2048, and in the future, law enforcement officials are paired up with android partners. (And since the series comes from former FRINGE showrunner J.H. Wyman, you can expect the future to be appropriately bizarre in all the right places.) Playing one of those androids — albeit a discontinued/bug-filled model whose big flaw is that he was made to feel — is Michael Ealy (Dorian), who has been a familiar face on television over the past few seasons, including starring in the USA Network series COMMON LAW.

I recently sat down with Ealy to get his take on playing an android, the show’s appeal, keeping up momentum, and more…

As an actor, what is the balance you’re trying to strike in order to keep Dorian relatively innocent, yet still keeping his joy at being reactivated intact?
Michael Ealy: As actors, we’re supposed to reflect life, we’re supposed to emulate human life. I based this character on many different characters and taken a little bit from everybody, but what’s interesting is, it’s not like I’m playing a fireman, where I can watch firemen movies and see how people play firemen or go talk to a fireman and have firemen tell me how they get down, how they act, how they feel, how they deal with crisis, what happens when one of their men goes down, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I can’t do that.

So, there are a lot of challenges to this role, and I’m glad people are responding positively to Dorian, because it was a lot of work. It was a lot of work. And it still is…hopefully I can sustain it.

For me, it’s about staying true to what was established in the script. I think for me, it’s about trying to make sure I don’t forget where I came from; remembering that this is a second chance for Dorian. And Dorian is a second chance for John. And Dorian can lose it all again if he doesn’t learn from what happened the first time. And what’s so great about the Dorian model is he’s supposed to learn from what happened previously; whatever he does, he’s supposed to learn from it. Being able to operate from a place of free will has enabled him to do that. Whether or not he can do that, I don’t know.

As an actor, it’s so much fun to play, so interesting to kind of read the script and figure out, “Okay, how human is this moment? And where can you take a beat in this scene and look at what’s going on around you and observe that for yourself? And what do you learn from that?” I hope that as the scripts progress, you see Dorian bring back what he’s learned from watching what happened in episode 3 [to help with what happens] in episode 9…because he has to connect those dots.

Of course. There’s a great dynamic between John and Dorian, and given that some people have seen the pilot at Comic-Con and many more have viewed some of the teasers and trailers, have you gotten a lot of feedback on that?
ME: Yeah, it’s funny, my Twitter was down for like a week, so I couldn’t really see it [after] Comic-Con. I couldn’t use Twitter at Comic-Con, and it was killing me! [Laughs] This is where I need to be tweeting; I couldn’t do it, my Twitter was down.

When I was able to get on my computer, I was able to see things, and the response has been, “You people have to see this show”…I’m excited about that. I’m very, very excited about that.

Again, we blew it out in the pilot. We really did. Everybody who sees the pilot, they’re like, “It’s like a movie!” So we have the challenge of trying to sustain that, which is virtually impossible, but hopefully, we will establish such strong character work on the show that that’s enough to hold people over. Because we can’t physically get the same amount of action into an hour-long episode that we do in the pilot. You just don’t have the production days. But that being said, we’re going to push the envelope as much as we can — as much as we physically can — to make the show a cinematic quality.

As you’ve shot beyond the pilot, is Dorian getting to interact more with the show’s other characters?
ME: There’s something between him and Maldonado [who is played by Lili Taylor] that we don’t know yet, and that’s going to come later, and I’m curious to see what that is, because I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure if Maldonado was good or bad [Laughs] — I had some questions about that when I saw the [pilot] script. I’m curious to see how Dorian and Maldonado know each other. Was she a part of his previous tenure? And we’ll see how that goes.

In episode two, he has a moment with Valerie Stahl, [who is played by] Minka [Kelly], and in the first one, he had a moment with Michael Irby, Detective Paul. So he is definitely getting around. He’s spreading the love.

He’s spreading the love as much as possible, considering ALMOST HUMAN creator J.H. Wyman has said Dorian won’t be getting a love interest during the show’s run…
ME: You know, we never thought about that. It’s interesting in doing press, because someone said to me, “You’re Michael Ealy, come on. You gotta get somethin‘.” And I’m thinking to myself, “And that’s why I took the role.” That is the reputation I have as an actor, and now it’s time to break that. It’s time to break that. I don’t think Dorian is asexual as much as he’s still trying to understand the human interactions and interpersonal dynamics for himself.

What would be more interesting would be to see Dorian develop a connection with either a human or another droid. It could be another droid. But it could be interesting to see him develop a relationship with another human, i.e. Jeff Bridges in STARMAN. It can be kind of interesting. I just think it could be more interesting that way rather than sexualizing the whole thing.

Right. It could be fascinating to explore Dorian connecting with someone on an absolutely pure level and just struggling to understand it. Sometimes you can’t help who you connect with, and Dorian would have no real framework to grasp that.
ME: Imagine having never been through a break-up. How does that define you going into a relationship? It kind of makes you 12, I guess. You have no jaded qualities to a relationship, your guard is not up in terms of, “He didn’t call!” We can all relate to that. So then it becomes [Dorian] doesn’t have any of that. So I think it would be fascinating to watch Dorian kind of develop a connection with another person.

That’s completely fair. You’ve done television in the past — are you the kind of actor who likes to know as much as possible about what’s coming or are you comfortable just getting your information as the scripts come in?
ME: I am absolutely the kind of actor who wants to know where I’m going. [Laughs] Because in features you do know where you’re going, and you do know where you end up — I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not knowing where you end up in TV. But there is something that if I’m going to play a character — or sign up to play a character — for five years, that’s a big canvas. That’s a very big canvas. And Joel and I talked about this: I don’t want to find out in season 3 that Dorian is an alcoholic or some random factoid that we never dealt with and now all of a sudden we’re bringing it up. He had a kid — how the [heck] did that happen? Let’s not go crazy. Let’s just figure out a trajectory for the character this particular season and see where that goes. And Joel’s been great about that. He and [co-showrunner] Naren [Shankar] have been really good [at saying] this is what’s going to happen this season. And that’s fair.

It’s hard. It’s hard to keep an audience engaged, you know? It’s a big, big challenge. I hope we’re able to do it. I feel like we’re off to a good start. And based on our second episode, I think we’re coming back very strong for the second….we’re going. I’m very excited.

It’s good the show keeps its momentum, because it’s always unfortunate when a show loses its footing right after a good pilot.
ME: I’ve been on those shows! It is a tricky, tricky thing…I’ve been on shows where the pilot wasn’t that great, and they still go, and you’re looking at the second episode and we really have to ramp it up, because we barely made it in by the skin of our teeth.

With this one, I think we’re going in with a little bit of swagger and good vibrations, and we have to maintain what we’ve established in the pilot. And part of the reason you sign up to a do a show with Joel Wyman and J.J. Abrams is because they’ve been there, they’ve done it, they know what they’re doing. They really know what they’re doing. So in essence, I’ve actually been able to relax a little bit, you know what I mean?

I find out they’re after Karl Urban for the role of John Kennex. And I love Karl in RED. I’m one of the few people that talk to him about this — like, “RED was awesome, dude, you were really, really good. I didn’t even know who you were and I was like, you were really good in RED. Really good.” And then obviously he’s done other things.

But then it’s like, man, Lili Taylor. Michael Irby. Ooh. These guys put together a cast. And as Karl said, that’s one of J.J.’s specialties — casting. Putting together the right group of people that will work together. So I give all credit to Fox and Bad Robot and Warner Bros. and everybody that got behind the casting process because I think we got one of the stronger casts out there. I really do.

It’s great because even though the pilot really does focus a lot on John and Dorian, there are little teases about what’s to come for the rest of the cast that could be paid off later in the season.
ME: And they will. Because those guys — you don’t hire these actors if you’re not going to use them. There’s no point. And we’ve got the right people. So I’m very excited about that.

ALMOST HUMAN is set to debut Monday, November 4th at 8 PM on Fox.

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