Domhnall Gleeson & Alicia Vikander talk robots and chemistry in Ex_Machina
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Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander are the kind of effortless stars that seem to have arrived overnight. Gleeson has carved a niche for himself as an alternative leading man in the last couple of years, delighting us in Frank and About Time, as well as a whole host of supporting credits in a roster of envious titles – including the highly anticipated seventh chapter in the Star Wars saga. Vikander, conversely, is a Swedish born actress who has gained critical acclaim for her turn in the fantastic Danish feature A Royal Affair, and is set to impress further in British First World War drama Testament of Youth (read our interview with her about that film here)and pulpy Australian thriller Son of a Gun. The two share an extremely similar stratospheric rise to stardom, yet let’s not forget they’ve already shared screen time together - playing husband and wife in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina. So when The National Student gets the opportunity to catch up with the pair in the Soho Hotel during press duties for the upcoming Sci-fi thriller Ex Machina there’s an air that these two actors have a very bright future ahead of themselves. Ex Machina, on the other hand, sadly displays a not so bright future. Gleeson plays Caleb, a coder who’s invited to spend a week with the mysterious CEO of the fictional Bluebook Corporation Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). Whilst there he meets Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot with extremely advanced Artificial Intelligence, with whom he’s tasked by Nathan to test. The film is a moody psychological thriller and is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Back in Soho Hotel the pair, Gleeson with long shaggy hair and beard (a hangover from his time on the Star Wars set?) and Vikander in an elegant, spotless white outfit, act like two peas in a pod – it’s easy to see why the two have such a great chemistry onscreen. Did you feel a need to understand the science behind the film when researching your roles? DG: I watched documentaries and read a certain amount, but I just needed to know what I was talking about. AV: Yeah, in one way with Ava we don’t know whether she exists. So, it was a bit of a clean sheet creating her, but then of course I did the same thing - I read up. I think what helped me most was a fear of robots, which I think a lot of people share. In a way, it was interesting because I was questioning why I felt that way. I began to read a lot about the human body and brain function. And suddenly after reading two books I started to feel like a machine! Because I read about dopamines and electrodes, about why I feel certain things, why I fall in love, and suddenly I started to see myself as an organic machine. It helped me to open up and be a bit more welcoming to the idea of robots, in a sense. How did the production achieve the robotic look of Ava? AV: Well, I was wearing a Spider-man-looking grey suit that you could see parts of. So I had that very tight onesie on while shooting the film and I spent about four and a half hours every morning [in hair and make-up]. And the shape that you see as Ava was what we saw. So it was a bit strange. DG: Other-worldly, yeah. It was brilliant because they built the forehead back and actually had it drop down onto the skullcap. They didn’t have to do that, and I loved the fact that they did. AV: Well, it was a money issue, I think. DG: (Mock correcting himself) …they did have to do that. AV: You kind of forget, because it was such a special look and you don’t think about it. I remember the first time I went to the canteen at the studio and I had a little warm coat on and I went in and ordered food and suddenly the entire place just turned their heads. I wondered why, and then I remembered what I looked like. DG: You walked back to your table like this…(Does impression of robotic walking) Can you describe your first reaction when you read Alex Garland’s script? DG: I thought it was phenomenal. AV: Its one of the best scripts I’ve read. DG: Yeah, I think it might be one the best, just as a piece of work. He’s the sort of writer that I’m in love with. I love the way he writes. I love the sort of material he creates and I love how concise he is. One sentence tells you… DG & AV: Everything. AV: The way I read it, I couldn’t stop, just like the best books, the thrillers I’ve read. I kind of hope I had the same journey that the audience will when watching the film. It was very rare, normally you have to use your imagination quite a lot and I was just sucked into it. Normally you have stage directions telling you things and in this script there was so much in the subtext and the story is within the dialogue with those three characters. And still with Ava, I wanted to play her. She isn’t really described - what she is, how she talks. It’s all just so subtle.
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