With a behind-the-camera pedigree of J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Lost) and Joel Wyman (Fringe), Almost Human has been one of the more highly anticipated new shows this fall season and, thankfully, it’s finally here.
Set 35 years into the future, the drama centers on John Kennex (Karl Urban) as a damaged police detective - both mentally and physically - who is back on the job after a two-year absence.
Reluctantly paired with a synthetic partner named Dorian (played by Michael Ealy), Kennex is also trying to piece together a splintered past and keep his present life together. The series also stars Minka Kelly, Lili Taylor, Michael Irby and Mackenzie Crook.
I sat down with Urban recently to talk over how he sees choosing film and TV roles, the challenges in playing someone emotionally closed off like Kennex and whether sci-fi is his genre of choice in his work.
TV Fanatic: Knowing your work in film and now you’re doing this show for television, some might think you have to choose one path or the other. Is that anything you've thought about or think about or are you just thinking job-to-job?
Karl Urban: That's an interesting question. For me, I just want to practice my craft. I don't care what the medium is. I don't care if it's theater. I don't care if it's film, television, radio. I don't care if I'm busting on the street. If I get to do what makes me happy, then I'm happy.
In the case of this, I was working on Star Trek. J.J. came to me and said, ‘I've got this really special project I would love you to consider.’ Now I respect J.J. and I love J.J. He is one of the most talented individuals currently working in film and television. I read the script and I thought, ‘How could I turn this down?’ I was immediately drawn to the character and the relationship between him and his partner.
To get the opportunity to play a character who wakes up from a coma after two years, to find that he's got a prosthetic leg and to find out that the life that he thought that he was living was a complete fabrication. That who he thought was his girlfriend or his fiancé for a year, was actually a criminal plant. The starting point for this show is incredible.
The John Kennex that we see at the beginning of Almost Human is not the real John Kennex. He is a damaged individual. He is an individual who has been through the mill and he's full of guilt. He is full of self-loathing and hatred and anger, prejudice, and he has to come to terms with that. He has to learn to deal with those issues in order to survive, in order to do his job, and he's not ready to do his job. He's just not ready. Through this relationship with this synthetic lifeform, he starts to slowly piece by piece reclaim his humanity.
TVF: Any time in the process, even when you first read the script, did you ever think you'd like to give the Dorian role a shot or did you always feel like John was who you should be?
KU: That's an interesting question. I mean, yeah. The script was so well written that I was immediately drawn into the central dilemma of both of these characters. But, for me, ultimately all the set up that I've just talked about, Kennex was the one that I wanted to play. The story is told through his eyes. He's human.
TVF: How was it working with another actor, who's not emotionally giving you much, because I know that's a big actor thing from my acting in college. Michael, he has to close himself off emotionally in a way.
KU: Here's the irony of the series. I'm actually the character who's not giving him much, because ironically he's almost more human than I am. I'm the character who is a bit closed off, emotionally repressed. He is the artificial human who is actually a bit more in touch with his emotions and a bit more in touch with his humanity. So for him, he gets to expound about the intricacies of talking about your feelings.
You have to understand, Kennex was burned. He was burnt by the fact that his idealism of what true love or a relationship was ultimately made him vulnerable and that vulnerability was exploited by a criminal organization, which resulted in the death of 11 men, including his best friend and partner. I mean, that's heavy
TVF: Lili Taylor has talked about how she sees the relationship with your characters as sister/brother. Do you see it that way?
KU: I definitely do. Lili's character, Maldonado, says that John is the only one she can trust. When she says that, she's not just referring to dishonesty within the department. She's referring to morally trust. I think John, even though his execution or his actions are somewhat at times outside of the book, he is morally centered. He will not hesitate to call her on it, if he feels that she is straying from the moral rectitude of a situation in order to serve a political agenda.
TVF: So she trusts him. Does he trust her? Does he trust anybody after what he's been through?
KU: I don't know if John trusts anybody. I really don't.
TVF: After what he's been through, why would he?
KU: I think John is very mistrusting of everything and anything. If your trust is betrayed to such an extent, I couldn't imagine it. I mean, you're engaged to a woman for a year and you find out that that's fake, that you were being used, that you were a patsy. How much are you going to trust in people after that?
TVF: Can he trust himself because in some ways, he has to kind of doubt everything he's remembering.
KU: Absolutely. You know, ostensibly, when we find John at the beginning of this, he's a drug addict. He's addicted to a substance that is trying to help him reclaim his life. He's not functioning properly. He has this baggage that he's trying to reclaim his former life. He's trying to remember events and remember how he got to be where he is. To me, that's really interesting and fertile ground.
TVF: What about John's father and what we might find out down the line. Do you personally know that story? Do you know that whole story?
KU: I know small segments of it. There's a certain amount that I can extrapolate from discussions with Joel and from what's in the script. Yeah.
TVF: Was acting always your path? When you were growing up, was this always what you wanted to do or was there something else?
KU: When I was a kid, I would go to movies and be drawn into those worlds. I really I guess sought the escape of those characters and those worlds. I just had the tenacity and the obstinence to follow that. Paid off so far!
TVF: And with sci-fi, was that always kind of your bag or do you like a little bit of everything? What were you drawn to?
KU: I like everything. I really do. I've been a little bit fortunate enough to work in a lot of very successful films and many of those just happened to be science fiction genre. I've also worked with films that have not like Red or The Bourne Supremacy. I don't pick my projects by genre. I really pick them by character.
TVF: That’s serving you well so far!
Almost Human Season 1 premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. and then airs in its regular Monday at 8 p.m. timeslot.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.