Lili Taylor (The Conjuring, Hemlock Grove) plays a police captain in the new Fox drama and in support of the show’s upcoming premiere, she took time out of her busy schedule to talk about what viewers can expect from Almost Human.
Exclusive Interview with Lili Taylor
You have so many different projects that you’re juggling. What did it take to convince you to sign on to another television series?
Lili Taylor: “I think television is really interesting these days. Even though it’s a network, because it’s J. J. Abrams and Joel Wyman I feel like they had quite a bit of autonomy within that network context so that they can be fairly creatively free. I feel like TV, if you can be creatively free, TV is very interesting right now. That seems to be where the in-depth character stuff is happening, the interesting stories. So I thought, why not?”
As someone who easily goes back and forth between television and films, have you seen quite a change over the years in the way actors are no longer pigeonholed as being either a movie actor or a television star?
Lili Taylor: “Oh in fact you become a star by doing TV which is the opposite. I remember when it changed almost because I was doing a play with Calista Flockhart. She went off to do Ally McBeal and we were all making fun of her. she had like two weeks before she was going to abandon us and we were making fun of her like, ‘Oh, Ally McBeal,’ and that’s when TV started to change. She became a star after that. It was controversial, but she’s still a star. Then, of course, HBO totally changed everything. But it was already beginning to change before that.”
That change must make it so much easier in deciding to do television work now because you no longer have to worry about being put in a box and labeled a “TV actress”.
Lili Taylor: “Totally. I mean that’s sort of how the English have been doing it for all these years where they just do anything. Not any kind of work, but any kind of platform: theatre, film, TV. It does make you sort of more of a worker, which I am. I’m an actor; I love to work. Not just in anything, but I love working so I want as many options as possible and this totally opens it up. Especially for women, I think. TV is like that’s where you’re going to get to see the risks getting taken with women who are older. And not just women who are older, but just different kinds of women you get to see on TV.”
There are more interesting, in-depth characters on TV played by women and it’s really interesting that they’re able to do that when movies can’t necessarily pull that off.
Lili Taylor: “I guess they just have more freedom because of their money source and how they get their money. Like, for instance, even FOX they are beholden to advertisers. Their source of income is so different than cable, so they’re under different pressures. Netflix is almost the freest of them all in some ways. It’s a subscriber-based service, but it’s even more different than that. It’s like Netflix has a whole other thing that’s sort of been taken off their shoulders. And movies…getting that financing is really hard for movies, even if it’s independent, even if it’s a small budget.”
How much do the producers and creative team matter when you consider taking on a television series? Do you give that much weight or is it strictly by what you think you can bring to the character?
Lili Taylor: “Oh, for sure, the company. I mean, really, it’s first the director but with TV it’s not as simple as that because it’s not a director’s thing. It’s different, so it would be the company and the creators. What excites me is the collaboration – that’s what it’s all about with me. It’s the relationship and the giving and the taking and creating something together. If the part is great, but the creative process isn’t, then to me it’s not that interesting. I’d rather do it for a monologue class or a scene study or something and not force everybody else to sit through something that’s not so great but for me it’s a blast, you know?”
That makes complete sense. And speaking of your character, I read that it was actually written for a male. That’s great that they were open to making the gender change.
Lili Taylor: “I think it is so totally awesome. It says so much about who they are, that my manager said, ‘What about Lili? What about if you made this character a woman?’ and that they were open to that just says volumes about these people.”
Lili Taylor: “It’s not, and I think one way they get it right is that it isn’t that far away. I think with sci-fi when it gets so far…there’s a ton of sci-fi people out there and they like all different kinds of things. It’s not a world I know. I don’t know that world at all. For me, when it’s too far or if the relationships aren’t strong enough in that too far-ness I just am not relating. For me, sci-fi works really well with like Children of Men when it’s close enough that I can comprehend it but it’s far enough that my imagination gets involved. For me, I like that balance and this is what this has.”
The show’s described as sci-fi, a drama, an action series, a buddy cop show with a twist. How would you describe it?
Lili Taylor: “We’re on episode 10 and it’s gone through a lot of changes. And, you know what? It’s becoming more of a relationship between two guys and I think, for me, that’s where the stuff is. I think that’s what we’re also seeing with all these shows that are doing so well is they’re character-driven and they’re relationship-driven. People like complex characters. They like to be fed that minutia. They like following it. I mean Breaking Bad is a perfect example. The Sopranos, they like. They like characters and that’s I think what they’re realizing with the show is that the more in-depth they get with the relationship and the characters, the more interesting it is. And so let go of the sci-fi stuff, let go of some of this other context stuff because if that other thing isn’t there in this situation, it’s not going to work.”
You said by episode 10 it has shifted a little into that, but unfortunately not every new series gets to play out 10 episodes before getting pulled from the air. How do you think the series does in establishing itself over the first few episodes?
Lili Taylor: “I mean the first episode is the pilot and the numbers are going to be there because it’s a pilot. The word is out and there’s excitement – J. J. Abrams and robots. And then there’s the second episode. Are they going to tune in? That’s about sexbots, so you’re going to have people tuning in for that, right? It’s not gratuitous, but it’s sexy and there’s women and they don’t have a lot on and the lizard brain is activated and you’re going to tune in, right?
And then by the third episode, I think by then they’ll see that there’s enough shooting, enough action with the interesting relationship stuff that I think the audience will be there.”
One thing Netflix does so well is that they let us binge watch. They let the audience get over those first couple of episodes where you’re just getting your feet wet and you’re just learning the characters and they sell it to you all at once. Do you think that’s really the way to go where you get every episode when you want to On Demand?
Lili Taylor: “Yeah, I think so. I think we’re seeing that that’s what people respond to. Netflix got that because they have so much data and they know how to synthesize their data. They were like, ‘Oh wait a minute, we’re seeing a pattern here, and sure enough when House of Cards came out…well, it was before that. It was when stuff started to come on Netflix everybody was like, ‘Oh, did you do two of those? I sometimes do three.’ We all started sharing with each other on how we do it. I think that we’re seeing, in many ways, that if you give the power to us, we know what to do with it. We know how to choose our music. We know how we want to watch things. Don’t tell us what to do, how to do it, when to do it. That’s just sort of that dinosaur model. But we didn’t know this until it started happening that this is how we like to do things.
Some people are saying it’s sort of like novels. It’s like that’s how we process stories and novels in the same way we read chapters and follow a character. That’s probably back to how we told stories around a fire when we were cooking and trying to not freeze. You know, that’s probably where it started and that’s probably how we told our stories as opposed to we’ll tell a little bit and then we’re going to turn the fire off and come back tomorrow.”
Your character is the police captain. Does that mean there’s a fair mix of both sexes working in the department?
Lili Taylor: “No, there’s not a fair mix. But hopefully there will be in season two. But look who the leads are. The leads are two men. They’re number one and two on the call sheet. That’s the reality. It’s a cop/partner thing. It’s Lethal Weapon, it’s 48 Hours, sci-fi, that’s the deal and I’m the captain. I’m number three on the call sheet so it can’t be on me because it’s not Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren where that was the focus of the show.
Once they get this relationship with these characters worked out and figured out and so on, and if the show does well, then they can start to go into other areas with Minka Kelly’s character who is another detective, and of course me being the captain. I said, ‘Look, if I’m going to come onto this show I want there to be stuff going on with my character. Why would I pick up my family and move to Vancouver if there’s not.’ There’s got to be something in there for me to make this interesting for me. They know that, so they’ll start to get into some of the more interesting stuff of a female being in control which I think lots of things can open up there.”
Is she a strict captain or more like one of the guys?
Lili Taylor: “I see her more as a receptive captain as opposed to a rule-driven, rigid captain. There’s a place for those, they work, but there’s different styles. It’s like there’s different coaches. She’s the kind of coach who is quieter, that listens to her team, that respects what they’re saying, and collaborates with them. She’s a leader and she has to be, she’s the captain, but I listen. So I am one of the guys in the sense that I respect my comrades.”
And on a different subject, I have to tell you The Conjuring is now second place on my all time scariest movie list behind only The Exorcist.
Lili Taylor: “I have to say it’s about the same for me, behind The Exorcist. It bumped Rosemary’s Baby, I think. It’s The Exorcist, The Conjuring, and Rosemary’s Baby. [James Wan] knocked it out of the park. It’s fricken great. I love that movie.”
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The Almost Human Plot:
The year is 2048. Meet Detective John Kennex (Urban), a cop who survived one of the most catastrophic attacks ever made against the police department. After waking up from a 17-month coma, he can’t remember much – except that his partner was killed, he lost one of his legs and he is now outfitted with a highly sophisticated synthetic appendage.
Suffering from depression, mental atrophy, trauma-onset OCD, PTSD and the “psychological rejection of his synthetic body part,” John returns to work at the behest of longtime ally Captain Sandra Madonado (Taylor). By mandate, every cop must partner with a robot. And despite his passionate aversion to androids, John is paired up with a battle-ready MX-43. But he abruptly terminates his partnership after the robot discovers incriminating information about him. So technician Rudy Lom (Crook) introduces John to Dorian (Ealy), a discontinued android with unexpected emotional responses. Although such responses were deemed flaws, it is in these “flaws” that John relates to Dorian most. After all, John is part-machine now, and Dorian is part-human. John and Dorian’s understanding of each other not only complements them, it connects them.
As he adjusts to working with his new partner, John also must learn to get along with his new colleagues, including the sharp and insightful human intelligence analyst Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) and the distrustful Detective Richard Paul (Michael Irby), who does not welcome John back with open arms.
Almost Human will follow the week-to-week missions of John and Dorian, as this buddy-cop duo solves cases and fights to keep the lid on dangerously evolved criminals in this futuristic landscape.
– By Rebecca Murray
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