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Lili Taylor and Minka Kelly talk about cops and camaraderie in 'Almost Human'

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From Emmy Award-winning executive producer J.J. Abrams and creator/executive producer Joel "J.H." Wyman comes "Almost Human," an action-packed police procedural set years in the future, when police officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. The year is 2048. Detective John Kennex (played by Karl 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 trauma-onset obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and the “psychological rejection of his synthetic body part,” John returns to work at the behest of longtime ally Captain Sandra Maldonado (played by Lili Taylor).

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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 (played by Mackenzie Crook) introduces John to Dorian (played by Michael 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 (played by Minka Kelly) and the distrustful Detective Richard Paul (played by Michael Irby), who does not welcome John back with open arms. "Almost Human" follows 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. Here is what Taylor and Kelly said during a recent conference-call interview with journalists.the winter finale on December 16th. So, without further delay, let’s proceed and please welcome Lili Taylor and Minka Kelly. First question please.

Can you talk about how you got involved in “Almost Human”?

Taylor: Well, for me, it was kind of interesting because Maldonado was originally written as a man, and my manager suggested. “What if you thought of Maldonado as a woman and what if it was Lili?” And they were open to that, and I went in and I read, and I think it felt really like an interesting way to go for everybody. I was interested because of [“Almost Human” executive producers] J.J. [Abrams] and Joel [Wyman]. They are very creative, and they have a lot of creative autonomy as well, so all that combined made it interesting for me to join up.

Kelly: I auditioned. I was one of the last ones to be cast, and I auditioned, and then a couple of days later I was flying out to Vancouver to shoot the pilot. I also was attracted to it because of the people making it J.J. and Joel. I’m big fans of theirs and I just had a strong feeling it would be something very interesting with these guys just because they’re so smart and creative, and also the cast. The cast was already set in place and so I was really excited for the opportunity to work with these people.

You know not everyone obviously has Kennex’s back, but your characters, both seem to be supporting him and his comeback and what he’s doing. What is it about your character and this character that makes them sort of be an advocate for him?

Taylor: Well, I think one thing that’s specific to Maldonado and Kennex is that they share a bond because they went through a tragedy together, and I think that’s just something that just seals the bond between two people. And then secondly though, I think Maldonado really appreciates the way Kennex thinks outside the box, and it’s frustrating, but it’s also what makes him special because he’s sort of the renegade, a maverick and intuitive, and risk-taking. That’s also his blessing and his curse, but especially these days with the robotic nature of things that the more kind of someone who’s a little bit like unpredictable for me is important.

Kelly: As far as my character goes, as you see in the pilot, she meets him for the first time but she’s known of him for years and has been waiting for him to wake up because she’s just been such a huge fan of his. And when it comes to sort of sticking up for him she has a real strong compassion for all beings but especially for him just because she holds him in such high regard. And so she’s just always admired him and looked up to him, and I think that’s why.

Lili, since your Maldonado character was originally written for a man, how did you approach the role? Did you draw on past characters, strong characters that you had?

Taylor: Yeah. I’d already seen but I re-watched a lot of “Prime Suspect” with Helen Mirren, the original one, the BBC one, and that helped a lot. Of course “Aliens” and any time anything that had a woman in charge in that sort of patriarchal context was interesting to me … I went back and looked at all of the old “Lethal Weapons” and you know some of those classic cop buddy shows.

“The Wire,” of course, helped a lot. I love “The Wire.” It’s one of my favorite shows, but I love it … The level of veracity on that show was so strong that that helped a lot. And just in terms of the humanity and just kind of the messiness of it, just to remember that Maldonado is a human being and not this kind of this person in charge who is just one dimensional but has a lot of dimensions. And then I also just tried to bring the qualities of kind of a more receptive leader as opposed to an aggressive … I don’t know what the opposite of receptive is but just more of a listener and a collaborator instead of like a sergeant.

Kennex and Dorian are dealing with a tough negotiation, so what can you say about what your characters will be up to in that episode?

Taylor: Well, I’m the captain so I’m at the precinct, and I’m sort of overseeing the whole situation, you know base camp. So it’s a very tense situation. I have to control a lot of elements, and I’ve got my men and women who are out there in harm’s way and the background is that we suffered a tremendous loss. I lost over 13 of my men and women so I think it’s almost like Maldonado is having a little PSTD like it’s very intense but she has to stay in control and get through it. So that’s what my point of view is in that situation.

Minka, can you speak about to any possible romance between Kennex and Stahl?

Kelly: I don’t know yet. I think they’re sort of flirting with the idea, but I don’t know how long that may or may not take to actually act on. But right now maybe they’re just having a little mutual admiration, I guess. I don’t know where it’s going to lead though.

Growing up, you probably watched a lot of cop television shows and movies. Taking that in to consideration along with the first day versus the latest episode that you all shot, how has your perspective of being a cop changed?

Taylor: That’s a good question. I’m sure Minka has a different answer. For me, I’m a captain, so I think the experience is more boring than I thought because I’m always in the precinct, and I don’t get to go out much. I’m dealing more on like an administrative, political level, and I’d love to be able to get out and do stuff, but the realities of a captain is they just don’t get to have as much fun is a light word but like excitement and adventure and danger. That’s my experience, but I’m sure Minka is out in the field, so what’s been your experience, Minka?

Kelly: Kind of. The thing I take most from my experience, being a detective, I’m in these rooms, and I’m interrogating these people, and I’m trying to find different ways or angles to get people to give me what I want, and so it’s just really interesting. There’s a lot of psychology involved in sort of figuring out who you’re dealing with and what level of compassion you have for these people and knowing who is good and who is not. That’s been really interesting and fun.

What do we have to look forward to this season from your characters?

Taylor: Well, here’s the thing: It’s the first season, and so the focus really has to go on Kennex and Dorian, and so in some ways it’s like I think if the show gets picked up and does well I think that all the other characters, the more supporting characters it’s going to be the second season where their stuff is going to come out. But overall, for me, what’s it’s been is just like more just watching the development of the relationship between Kennex and Dorian and how that has become much more poignant.

They push each other’s buttons and what comes out of it is this friction but this poignancy and a humor that I hadn’t really seen. I didn’t know it was going to be to that extent but I’ve seen it happen as the episodes have gone on. So that’s been one of the main things that I think people are going to find interesting as they view the shows.

Kelly: Everything that Lili said, as far as my character, other than being held hostage. Like Lili said, it’s really the focus is on the guys and getting in to their back and forth, and we’re just sort of helping them solve these cases.

What do you like most and dislike most about working in sci-fi?

Taylor: Well, for me, it’s more interesting for me when it’s grounded in relationships. I’m a little sci-fi illiterate actually, so I need to like educate myself on that for sure, but for me as an actor and so on if it’s not connected somewhere in the characters or in the relationship, then the context doesn’t really resonate for me. And what I’m finding interesting about this is it is so grounded in the character — it feels character-driven. So then the context becomes interesting to me because it has meaning, and it’s not just sort of props and cool gadgets and stuff like that or techno-speak. You know it’s all sort of coming from some deeper place, and that’s why it’s working for me.

Kelly: Exactly. I’m very new to the sci-fi world and also rather sci-fi illiterate, and so it’s a lot of work for me to really understand what is going on here because there is so much more going on than just the words on the page. And it is a challenge to make these words grounded and find the meaning to what’s going on and what I’m saying it and why I’m saying it.

It’s a lot more challenging, acting-wise, than being in a conversation with someone and reacting to them and having an emotional sort of experience with another actor about a relationship, which is what I’m used to. And so, this is a whole new world for me, and it’s really exciting to dive in to this world and learn and exercise this whole new muscle. It’s a real joy, and I’m having a lot of fun.

This question is sort of related to the previous one. Technology plays such a huge role in the world of “Almost Human,” and many of those technologies are fictional whether they’re robots or handheld devices. How does that impact your day-to-day job as an actor?

Taylor: You know, in a way, it’s great because it really lets the imagination go, and I think it’s the same thing with horror. For instance, like you know the thing that you can’t see is the audience is that which is really scary because your imagination is going on. Imagination is usually much stronger than the actual thing. And, really, it’s the imagination I think that is sort of one of the fuels for an actor, and so in a way it’s great …

I just find them a lot freer in attaching whatever I want and finding my own meaning with the thing because—and I also have a freedom because nobody can say, “Well, that’s not how it is,” because it hasn’t happened yet. So and even like, for instance, on a lighter note, I’m trying to use pencils as much as I can in the show or like any kind of objects that we are using presently today, and like I imagined someone saying, “I don’t think there’s going to be pencils in 2050.” How do you know? There might still be pencils. So I feel like it’s an open playing field, and I really love it. It gives me a lot of freedom and permission.

Kelly: I agree with all of that. It’s fun. I don’t know what else I can add to though, so pretty well said.

For more info: "Almost Human" website

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