The Fox series Almost Human, from creator J.H. Wyman (Fringe) and executive producer J.J. Abrams, is a high-tech, high-stakes action drama set 35 years in the future, when police officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. An unlikely and intriguing partnership is forged when part-machine cop, John Kennex (Karl Urban), is forced to pair with the part-human android, Dorian (Michael Ealy), to investigate what is clearly a deep cover-up. The show also stars Lili Taylor, Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook and Michael Irby.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Lili Taylor, who plays police captain Sandra Maldonado, talked about how she came to be playing a character originally written as a man, why she wanted to play a cop, what it’s been like to work with this cast, adjusting to never really knowing where your character is going next, how she’d love for her character to get out in the field more, and what she thinks about this representation of the future. She also talked about her desire to find a balance between film, television and theater, and why she thinks The Conjuring became so successful. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
LILI TAYLOR: Maldonado was a man, and it was my manager that said, “What if you thought of this character as a woman, and had Lili audition?” And they were open to that. But, it was the ingenuity of my manager. And then, I did go in and meet and read, and it just felt really right. Of course, it was Joel [Wyman] and J.J. [Abrams], which is why my manager was pursuing it and I was interested. They’re great. What I like is that they have a lot of autonomy within the network context. And it’s character-driven, which I’m also interested in.
Was this the first time you’d ever gone after a role that was originally written as a male character?
TAYLOR: Yeah, I think so. I bet my managers have suggested it before, and the people probably weren’t open to it. What sets J.J. and Joel apart is that they were open to it. I think they are more open to females having more to do. That they were open to it said, “Well, I’m in,” to me. If they were open to it, that says a lot about who they are.
Did the role change much, once you had been cast?
TAYLOR: We haven’t really gotten so much into Maldonado’s stuff yet. The first year [of a show] is so crazy. There’s so much to figure out, tonally, especially with the two leads. So, the focus is there, and I understand that. For the whole show to work, you’ve gotta figure out that foundation first. So, I feel like Joel is taking into account that I’m playing the role, and that I’m a woman. That’s playing into it, for sure. I feel like there’s almost a sisterly feeling with Kennex. I don’t feel mother as much as I feel sister. Sometimes it can feel motherly, but I don’t like when it gets there. It can feel motherly when he breaks the rules, which he does a lot. But for some reason, I’m not as interested in the motherly relationship. The mother-kid dynamic just doesn’t interest me so much. It’s boring. It’s just more narrow, and not as interesting.
When you read this script, did you find the themes and ideas in it very intriguing? Is this the type of story that you’d personally be drawn to?
TAYLOR: Not necessarily. I’m not a big sci-fi person. I’d like to be. I just somehow missed that boat, and I’m figuring out where to begin, catch up and do some educating. I am interested in it, I just didn’t know where to begin. I am interested in cop stuff. Sci-fi, I wasn’t so sure. What I’m finding more interesting is the science of it. I love science, and I think it does feel like Joel is getting ideas from a lot of science stuff, like neuroscience. That interests me. Science in the future interests me.
TAYLOR: Yeah. We shot the pilot in 15 days, so I was like, “Oh, geez, can we do this quality in eight days with not as much money?” And we can, thank god.
Did you ever wonder if Maldonado might have any suspicious motives?
TAYLOR: I never did. Maybe that’s because I talked to Joel a little bit, and there was no information that Joel gave me that led me to believe that. But, a lot of people were feeling that, from the pilot. I was like, “Wait a minute, is there something I should know?” I wasn’t really interested in that, unless we were going to go all the way and I turned out to be a robot, or something like that. I just didn’t want to turn out to be a conniving bitch.
Why have you always wanted to play a cop?
TAYLOR: I don’t know. It’s so weird. I’m not one of those actors who’s like, “I wanna play this. I wanna play that.” I don’t normally choose things from that place. I’m not a kid. This is a profession, and it’s not just about what I want to play. There are deeper things going on. I can just take an acting class and do a scene where I’m playing a cop, and just show my little actor friends that, but I don’t have to subject everyone to my little fantasies. But for some reason, I find the archetype interesting. It’s been around for years. Cop stuff plays all over the world. They know it can go. I have mixed feelings about the police force, so it’s funny that I wanted to play a cop. I don’t know what the hell that’s all about. I guess law and order is nice.
TAYLOR: There is not one loose cog in the bunch. We have a nice flow. You get what you get and it doesn’t always work, but this works. We just got lucky with the flow. We’re all on the same page. We’re all at the same skill level. It says a lot about Joel and J.J. that they are making room for the moments, and to encourage them. They let the directors know that they want these moments and they want complexity and they want responses that aren’t stereotypical. It’s okay if it’s in the grey area. For network TV, there’s some really complex stuff happening. And I love acting with everybody.
Is it a bit of an adjustment on a TV show, to never know too far ahead about your character’s story arc and journey?
TAYLOR: Yeah. TV is not my comfort zone. I really love knowing everything and building the character from that. It really makes me have to just stay in the day, and so it’s a lot like life, in a way. It’s more about life lessons, as opposed to acting skills. Joel is not going to throw me any big curve balls, and he really does let me in on the process, which is great. Sometimes they don’t, and I understand why, but it is hard. I would have maybe made different choices if I knew certain things. If, all of a sudden, your character becomes a psychopath, there are certain things I would have done, prior to that. But, what are you going to do? This is TV.
Do you feel like you know a lot more about who Maldonado is, at this point, than you did when the show started, or are you still discovering things about her?
TAYLOR: I’m still discovering. The thing that’s neat about TV is that the writers are still discovering. That’s partly why you don’t know what’s happening. What you’re giving them is affecting them, and then it changes what they’re doing. It is a very reciprocal relationship, almost like an audience in a live theater. I can feel that happening. I can feel that things that I’m doing impact what they’re doing, and vice versa.
TAYLOR: Not this season. I don’t know if you ever will see her get out much. I’ve talked to some actors who have played captains, and they’ve told me that you don’t get out. They know I want to get out, and they’ve said they would get me out, but I don’t know. They want me to be happy, and they know I’m getting a little stir crazy in the precinct, so they’ll find things. I love going to set, but I also want to get out sometimes.
What do you think about this representation of the future? Is this a world that you’d be okay in, or do you see things that you wouldn’t want to have to deal with?
TAYLOR: What I like about Joel is that he is hopeful. He is not a nihilist, and I’m not a nihilist either. I don’t want anything too nihilistic because life’s too hard, as it is. There has to always be some kind of hope, or I just don’t think humans can keep going. The world is bearable, even though the Mad Max elements scare me. That rogue, crazy world shit that’s happening is scary. You just adapt and you figure out a way to deal with it. So, I guess I’m okay with it.
At this point in your career, is it important for you to find a balance of film, television and theater work?
TAYLOR: It’s funny, the Brits seem to go between all three with no problem, and they’ve been doing it since way before we were. TV wasn’t really cool until the mid-90s, and now you can become a movie star from doing a TV show. I love to work and I love acting. I’m finding that I should be open to whatever platform it is. I love theater. That’s my first love. But, you can’t do theater unless you do TV or movies ‘cause you can’t afford it. So, I have to do the others. And TV has some really interesting things. Look, I have a kid, too. It’s nice because it does keep me in one place for awhile, and I like that. That’s interesting, for personal reasons. It also does feel like theater, in a way. I love going to the same set. There are certain things about it that feel very theater like. It’s like a one-act play, in some ways, and I like that.
TAYLOR: I had an idea. It’s not that you don’t want to get too confidant, but there’s just so much out of your control that you have to let it go. I thought, “If this does not work, I’m crazy. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what does work.” It just felt like we were in the zone. Everyone felt like they were in the zone. Every crew member, James [Wan], the DP, and everybody was just at the top of their game. It just felt really great filming it. I did not know it would become my #2 favorite horror film. The Exorcist is still #1 for me, no offense to James, but it’s #2 for me. It went up above Rosemary’s Baby. I’ve seen it four times and I’m still in awe of what James did, and how he built the whole thing. I still get scared, every time. He’s doing things on so many levels, psychically and visually. He’s just a master, at the top of his game.
Almost Human airs on Monday nights on Fox.