Siri asks me to repeat my question when I never said a word to my phone. Alexa’s overly friendly, so much so that my husband is a bit jealous. If you’ve experienced anything similar, then Fox’s new fall series neXt is right up your alley. Fox’s science fiction crime drama neXt feeds into the fear of artificial intelligence gaining power and taking over the world.
Season one is set to premiere on October 6, 2020 and stars Emmy Award nominee John Slattery (Mad Men) as Paul LeBlanc, a troubled genius whose creation – the artificial intelligence neXt – has set its sights on world domination. The cast also includes Jason Butler Harner (Ozark) as Paul’s brother, Ted, who runs Paul’s company and Fernanda Andrade (Here and Now) as Special Agent Shea Salazar.
John Slattery, Jason Butler Harner, and Fernanda Andrade teamed up for interviews at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con to discuss the timely drama which finally arrives in primetime this fall.
The premise is scarier than that of most horror series because it taps into a real fear. What was the appeal of signing on to neXt?
John Slattery: “I think just that. The fact that it’s so real. It’s actually happening. It sounds outlandish and the character I play is trying to warn everybody that this thing is potentially catastrophically dangerous and yet he’s a little nutty, so nobody really believes him. So, it’s a kind of classic scenario where we have a limited amount of time to catch something that’s growing more and more dangerous and it’s real. It has the potential to be real.
It’s totally relevant and it’s timely and on people’s minds. The script was great that we all read. It was terrific.”
Did they provide much in the way of a backstory for Paul?
Jason Butler Harner: (Laughing) “He knows.”
John Slattery: “I read the script and then I read sort of a bible for going forward, but not so much a backstory. I mean you kind of cook it up in your head. You learn what’s relevant.”
Did they ask you to do any research into artificial intelligence?
John Slattery: “I did. They didn’t really make us. I read what I could get my hands on before we did anything. I wormholed my way around the internet and watched podcasts of Elon Musk…Bill Gates…Stephen Hawking. I listened to what all these people had to say about the subject, which is scary.”
Jason Butler Harner: “There wasn’t a whole lot of fantastical sci-fi. Like, it’s very much now. Our phones are recording this conversation right now. It knows what we bought at Whole Foods and what we watched that night on television. So, there isn’t a fantastical element. This is real.”
Fernanda Andrade: “There’s just the terror of where is it going to go, right? When all of a sudden an intelligence like that goes rogue and has its own ideas of what it wants to do and where it wants to go, and what kind of damage it wants to do. What does that look like? What kind of damage control do you have to do? And that’s where John’s character and my character kind of team up to tackle that.
I think that’s ultimately really terrifying. That’s why it’s kind of a silent killer because we all have phones; we all have computers and we download that FaceApp anyway – even though we know the Russians are listening – because we want to see ourselves old. So, we allow it.”
John Slattery: (Laughing) “I don’t. I’ve seen myself old.”
Fernanda Andrade: “Well, I regret it for both reasons – for the Russians and for the way that I looked. (Laughing) But it is always that we let it in and what that looks like really not that far into the future. The threat and the stakes of something like that taking control, which really makes a lot of sense. If you build something that can exponentially make itself bigger and bigger, it will outsmart us.”
Jason Butler Harner: “Also, how can human nature self-police itself when we like using them? I don’t know about you guys but I travel a lot, I do a lot, and the idea of not being able to get on my computer, get on my phone to just do basic things including figure out where the restaurant is…there’s a lot things. But I didn’t download the FaceApp but I did look at WhatsApp on my way here to contact all my friends in various companies.”
Do your characters come together because of this investigation?
Fernanda Andrade: “My character kind of stumbles onto John because she’s just recently suffered a loss. A man who was a father figure essentially died in a very freakish car accident and in her investigating that she realizes there’s something fishy. That brings her to John’s character who pretty immediately realizes this is a program that’s out of control.
It’s a very strange thing for her to try to accept but she stays engaged because she wants to know what happened to her friend.
I think it’s kind of a merging of two very different kinds of people because John’s character knows the program and he’s extremely intelligent himself. And [my] character knows people. Her specialty is behavior and the ways people tick. And as smart as John’s character is, he doesn’t have that connection to people. So, eventually, they become complementary in taking on this silent, invisible [killer].”
John Slattery: “And I have an illness that makes me paranoid and have hallucinations. So, when I start warning everybody about this thing they just think I’m crazy. We’ve had a long history of erratic behavior; this has been going on for a long time. I don’t know her and she comes to me with the death of her friend and he was trying to say, ‘I think this is artificial intelligence. I think it doesn’t want anyone to know it exists.’ And she sees this, and he’s trying to find his way to me. So, she doesn’t know why her friend wanted to come to me.
I look at this thing and say, ‘Well, I wrote that program.’ We need each other – all of us – to put this thing together.
It’s like Manny (Coto) said. If you knew somebody that knew all your bank accounts, knew all your passwords, knew all your friends, knew what you did for a job, knew how much money you made, knew all your weaknesses, all your secrets – would you let that person into your house? You already did because it’s all right [in your phone]. So, yeah, it’s dramatic and yet it’s mundane at the same time.”