‘I started to feel like a machine’: An interview with Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander

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Ex Machina is a film which raises many questions, answers some, but leaves most ambiguous. However it is clear after speaking to the cast and crew that there are many hidden elements and special aspects of this film.

Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb) and Alicia Vikander (Ava) possess a strong chemistry between each other off screen, and are both very passionate about what is possibly their most unique roles yet. The protagonists spoke about how their preparation for the role was so different as the film is scientifically focused. Gleeson explained how he read and watched documentaries, but the experience for Vikander was different and perhaps more important as she had to be in the mindset of something artificial. She explained how creating Ava was a ‘clean sheet’, however it was interesting that through exploring the irrational fear that some have of robots and technology, she began to question herself as a person, asking herself why she felt like that, and rather than researching artificial intelligence, she instead researched about the human body and brain function. She explained ‘I started to feel like a machine’ as she opened up and became more welcoming to the idea of artificial intelligence.

Although Vikander claimed to feel comfortable with the concept of artificial intelligence, this theme in the film inevitably evoked many questions on real life artificial intelligence, a concept which was aided in the film with the guidance and advice of Murray Shanahan (robotics advisor) and Adam Rutherford (science advisor). However it would seem that Garland managed to express this idea accurately in the film prior to outside advice. ‘He’d done his homework’, Rutherford explained, ‘both of us experienced a script that was pretty much there…the treatment of philosophical issues is spot on’. However natural curiosity makes audiences of Ex Machina question whether such an advanced level of artificial intelligence could ever be constructed. ‘I don’t think we should be worried’ Shanahan said, ‘but I think it is quite possible, even probable that it will appear within the next 100 years’.

Gleeson explained his first reaction when reading the script as ‘phonomenal’, with Vikander adding that it was probably the best one she’s read. Domhnall spoke very highly of mentor Garland explaining ‘I love the way he writes, I love the sort of material he creates, and I love how concise he is’, Alicia agreed saying that ‘one sentence tells you everything‘. Both actors spoke of the clarity in the script in the way that the story is largely within the dialogue. For example Vikander spoke of the freedom she had in creating Ava as she isn’t really described in the script, she stated ‘it’s all just subtle, but in there’. She met with director Alex Garland to figure out just who she was but was not limited in her creative input to discover who Ava is as a person.

Both actors highly praised Garland in explaining ‘he got the best out of everybody’, and constantly reminded them of what was important in film. Gleeson explained how ‘mystery’ was the word Alex constantly used, and Domhnall even wrote this on the front of his script to remind himself to make sure mystery was consistent throughout the film. Both Vikander and Gleeson recognised something special in their time working in this film, as Alicia described the experience as ‘rare’ through acting with such a small cast in such a limited setting. The film had clearly stood out for Domhnall also as he explained what draws him into working on a specific project, ‘I want to be part of telling good stories…and being central to these stories is something I really treasure’.

Garland is undoubtedly a talented and unique director with a great humbleness in his attitude to film making. ‘It’s all about the collaboration’ he explained, ‘what I have seen has always been filmmaking between a group of people…I really do see directors as just one of the people doing a job’. He recognises film making as a team effort, and certainly gives due credit to his whole cast, ‘there will be moments in this film that will be attributed to me…they’ve got nothing to do with me’. As well as this, although this is Garland’s first film he has directed, he does not lose sight of his true passion, ‘I came to film from novel writing…I still see myself as a writer’. Garland is confident in who his sympathies lie with in the film, ‘I was on the side of Ava…I was with her…my issues are not with her, it’s with the people who are making her’. In this way Garland explained that there is also a moral and ethical element to the film in the extent which humans should have control over AI’s.

After speaking in depth to the cast and crew of this unique and thrilling film, it is clear that the film possesses many deep and personal qualities to everyone involved, which ultimately all contribute to making the film as incredible as it is.

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Former Film Editor for The Edge, second year history student, Irish dancer and film enthusiast. My biggest inspiration is by Bear Grylls. Yes Bear Grylls. Originally from West London.

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