Interview: Emily Berrington
In its first season on AMC, the series HUMANS has become a solid hit for the network. The second season will premiere on the network on Monday, February 13th at 10/9c.
In the Season 1 finale, we see the synth Niska on a train on the run from a murder charge and with a hard drive that contains the code to awaken synths around the world. What will she do with the code? Well, you will have to wait and see, but we have an interview with the actress who plays Niska, Emily Berrington.
The English actress may be best know from her role as Simone Al-Harazi on the FOX event series 24: Live Another Day. She’s also starred in series such as Sons of Liberty, Outnumbered and The White Queen. She will soon appear in the upcoming film The Hippopotamus alongside Matthew Modine and Roger Allam.
We sit down with Emily to talk about the journey of Niska in Season 1, what will be in store for her in the upcoming second season and how she personally feels about technology in today’s society.
Pop Culture Principle – With the success of the first season of HUMANS, was there any nervousness or worry about living up to the first season?
Emily Berrington – I was definitely worried because it kind of reminds me of when a band’s first album is successful and then they have to live up to that album with the second one. You want to please the people that already like you, but also push things further to a new place so you are not just doing the same thing again. I knew the scripts had done that, but I was certainly nervous about whether I could deliver that as well and keep the essence of the character that people had amazingly grown to love, but also developing her somewhere.
Actually, once we started filming, the director Lewis Arnold who had worked on the first series as well, he would remind me not to forget to change, that things had changed about her. I just wanted so much to stay true to who Niska had always been. It definitely took me a bit of time to allow these changes to seep in. She definitely is an innocent sort of thing, but yes, she’s learned some things and grown a little bit in some ways.
Pop Culture Principle – Was it hard for you to slip back into “synth” mode? Did you go back to synth school for a refresher course?
Emily Berrington – Yes, we did synth school number 2. We had to work with those guys and refresh our memories. It had been quite a long time, so it was quite difficult to remind ourselves, but after a couple of days, everybody was confident again. But definitely when we first arrived, we couldn’t remember what to do at all. Dan O'Neill took us right back to the basics. We were sitting in chairs, standing up and running across the room, so it all came back.
Pop Culture Principle – Niska had a very interesting journey in Season 1. As an actor, how did you enjoy playing a character that had so many layers?
Emily Berrington – I love playing someone so complex. I don’t think I’ve ever played a character so complex, at least because she’s sort of non-human while also being sentient, but even if she was a human character, the layers to her personality and her mind are so rich. The writers have written so much into her backstory that we have never seen, but they tell you so that you know things about her.
I love it because it’s such a challenge, but I think it’s great to have characters on television that not only challenge the actors, but challenge the audience as well. You can’t just say she is the bad person because she killed somebody. She has committed the worst crime but yet, she is still good in so many ways and I love that complexity about her.
Pop Culture Principle – When we last see Niska, she is on a train heading somewhere with the code to awaken synths. Where does Season 2 pick up?
Emily Berrington – Season 2 picks up where she finds herself somewhere else, I don’t want to say exactly where. She’s in the process of deciding what to do and probably for the first time, she is unsure on how to proceed. In Season 1, she was always very sure of her actions and sure of what she should do about things. The biggest challenge for her at the beginning of Season 2 is for once, not being completely sure. The world isn’t as black and white as it was for her in Season 1 because she’s met some humans like the Hawkins family who are good. So, it’s shaken her belief system a little bit which is quite difficult and painful for her because she’s used to having a very black and white view of the world.
Pop Culture Principle – Niska has to decide if giving self-awareness to synths around the world is the moral thing to do. Does she truly understand the enormity of that decision and what it means?
Emily Berrington – I think she does understand how enormous this decision is, but equally I think the reckless part of her that is reactive can’t bear the idea of not finding out, but equally the very intelligent bits of her is trying to figure out what it will do to the world and there is simply no way of knowing. She can think about it all she wants, but she’ll never be able to imagine what it’s going to be like.
Pop Culture Principle – Season 1 focused on the family aspect and integrating they synths into their world. What will be the focus of Season 2?
Emily Berrington – It’s always a thing, but if anything, everybody is much more fragmented as compared to Season 2. You really see the characters out on their own and even if they are still existing as a family, you are seeing the individual struggles more. I think a theme of Season 2 will be looking for one’s identity which is definitely what Niska is working kind of who she is and who she wants to be as well as Mia and Laura. There are a lot of storylines that deal with you finding yourself and your place in the world and what part you want to play, so it’s definitely more fragmented in many ways.
Pop Culture Principle – Did you have to approach your character differently in Season 2 as compared to Season 1?
Emily Berrington – In Season 1, I had absolutely no idea of what was going to happen. I didn’t even realize how amazing the storyline was going to be. At the start of Season 1 I had only read about two episodes which I thought were great, but I didn’t realize how complex and rich it was going to be.
This season I was more prepared for the kind of journey you might need to be ready to go on. I was also physically a bit more prepared for the second season. I didn’t realize how tiring it was to be a synth. I’m not giving anything away, but there are scenes of me in the second season where I am sitting on a chair for a very long time which sounds great in theory, but it was very difficult as synths don’t sit like humans of course.
Pop Culture Principle – What do you think is Niska’s biggest strength and her biggest weakness?
Emily Berrington – That’s a good question. I think it’s kind of the same for both, her curiosity. It’s her curiosity about the world and her need to find out how things should be and that inspires her to do so many amazing things and risks with people. It’s sort of the most lovable thing about her is that she is curious. I love the scenes with her in Season 1 where she is playing with the dolls with Sofie.
Curiosity also gets her into trouble in a way because she can’t bear to not find out. At the end of Season one when she leaves the code with Laura, she just can’t bear not being the one that might get to find out what it does or what to do. So, I see curiosity as both her strength and weakness.
Pop Culture Principle – Where you surprised by the success of the first season of HUMANS?
Emily Berrington – Well, it’s always a surprise because even when you think something is brilliant, it doesn’t mean the public is going to like it. It was a surprise, but it wasn’t a shock and it felt very deserving of the script. It was kind of unbelievable to be part of something that has just started and it being so successful. I’ve done other things before like 24 and you already kind of know what you are getting into.
But, it was really exciting to see something that you had no idea if people were going to respond to it so well, but it was kind of overwhelming. It was the first time that I was a part of something were people would recognize me from the character I played on a series. It was strange, but great and I just loved it. It’s great that people got what I loved about the show which is brilliant.
Pop Culture Principle – What are your thoughts on the HBO series Westworld and HUMANS being compared to each other?
Emily Berrington – I haven’t seen the series yet and I intend to because it’s a subject that I obviously am really interested in now. From what I understand, HUMANS has more of a domestic aspect to it and it’s in the world that we currently know and understand. From what I hear, Westworld is a bit more set outside of our current reality and time.
I think Sam Vincent said during a press conference that there are 101 shows about police and it’s not surprising that there are going to be more and more things about artificial intelligence because you can’t turn on the news without it being a thing.
I don’t know if you read about this, but there is a European Union committee getting together to discuss rights for robots. It’s funny, because all the stuff that Niska wants is coming true in the real world. I have no doubt we will see more and more of this because it is a topic that is no longer science fiction, but it’s now reality.
Pop Culture Principle – How do you personally feel about technology and how it affects our lives today?
Emily Berrington – I think there is some aspects of it that are brilliant and advances in communications and things like that I am psyched about. I do worry that anything that replaces a human job I worry about. Anything that makes people less inclined to speak to each other I worry about. I think we need be wary of things being done without necessarily the right kind of consideration with it. I mean, I am curious about what is possible and I wouldn’t want anyone to stop, but it’s something that we need to think about.
Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the second season of HUMANS?
Emily Berrington – You can look forward to the season being much more epic and much more international. The themes explored are much bigger and the stakes are much higher, especially with Niska and the code. There are also some surprises about quite a few characters. You think you know the characters well and you will discover things about them that you couldn’t have imagined.
The Season 2 premiere of HUMANS will air on Monday, February 13th at 10/9c on AMC. We would like to thank Emily for taking time out of her schedule to talk with us. If you would like to keep up with all of Emily's latest news and projects, you can follow her official Twitter account @BerringtonEmily and you can also like her official Facebook page here.
**Photos courtesy of Reiner Bajo/Colin Hutton/Kudos/CH4/AMC**