Q & A: Lili Taylor and Minka Kelly Talk ‘Almost Human’, How They Got Their Roles and Imagination

Lili: Imagination is "one of the fuels for an actor"

lili-taylor-minka-kelly-almost-humanThe new FOX show, Almost Human, was a hit right out of the gate. Thanks to Executive Producer J.J. Abrams and the chemistry between stars Karl Urban and Michael Ealy, the show is easily one of the best shows of the new fall season.

Lili Taylor and Minka Kelly, who also star on the show, recently had a conference call to chat about their characters, how they got their roles and working with all of the futuristic technology.

Almost Human airs on Mondays at 8/7c on FOX

How did you both get involved in the show?

Lili 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 women 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 J.J. and Joel and 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.

Minka 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.

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

Lili Taylor: Yeah.  You know I watched—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, but also I just saw a lot of—you know 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 because that show had such a—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 and the—you know just to remember that Maldonado is a human being and not this kind of, you know, 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, you know—I don’t know what the opposite of receptive is but just more of a listener and a collaborator instead of like a sergeant.

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

Minka 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.

I’d imagine growing up that you both 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?

Lili Taylor: That’s a good question.  Well, for me—I’m sure Minka has a different answer—I mean 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, you know, fun is a light word but like excitement and adventure and danger.  So, you know that’s my experience, but I’m sure Minka has a—Minka is out in the field, so what’s been your experience, Minka?

Minka Kelly: Kind of.  The thing I take most from my experience, I guess, is when I—you know 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 as you guys go forward this season from your characters?  I know you can’t be specific.  Obviously, we know Minka’s been held hostage at some point, but what else do we have to look forward to from your characters this season?

Lili 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 that I haven’t really—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.

Minka Kelly: Everything that Lili said, I mean as far as my character other than being held hostage.  You know really 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 figure—solve these cases. 

Lili, you’ve worked in Sci-Fi and horror before and Minka, I think you’re kind of new to it.  I’m wondering what each of you like most and dislike most about working in Sci-Fi?

Lili 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 and so then the context becomes interesting to me because it has meaning, I guess, 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.

Minka 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, and 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 this whole new—exercise this whole new muscle, and it’s a real joy, and I’m having a lot of fun.

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.  I’m wondering how does that impact your day-to-day job as an actor.

Lili 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 so in a way it’s like—and really an actor 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 because we can—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, you know, and even like for instance on a lighter note like 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.  There might still be—so I feel like it’s an open playing field, and I really love it.  It gives me a lot of freedom and permission.

Minka 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.

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