It is not everyday you meet someone like Will Tudor. Known for his role in Game of Thrones, starring in the world famous series for three years running, we met Will at the premiere of the first episode of Humans in which he plays the Synth Odi (on Channel 4, Sundays at 9.00pm). Thrilled by the premiere, we were very excited to have him on set. Without doubt, Will's professionalism, talent, charm and personality are all traits of a great protagonist and an even greater star to be. Needless to say the shoot was absolutely fantastic, and during our interview we discussed the importance of relationships, growth, and self-reflection.
How did you find the shoot today?
It was great – it was something that I have done a bit of before but nothing in that kind of capacity, nothing as creative I suppose. Ram is amazing!
You seem very comfortable in front of the camera on a photo shoot!
I think so, I think having been in front of a screen camera I suppose there are skills that you can translate -but then there are differences as well. It was great fun!
When did you start acting?
I started quite late compared to a lot of my contemporaries in that I first pretended to be someone else when I was sixteen, whereas a lot of people started when they were twelve or ten. I thought “to hell with it!” and auditioned for a house play, which was Faustus, and I got given the role of Dr. Faustus. It was a huge amount of lines to learn. It was a very daunting task, but it was an amazing experience. I stepped out on stage and thought “this is what I want to do” – so after that I did English literature at university, all the while knowing I wanted to then go to drama school afterwards - and that’s how it’s been ever since.
“I am fascinated with how unforgiving the camera is. ”
What did you want to become before that, before you wanted to act?
Both of my parents are doctors. I come from quite a medical family so that was always in the cards. I think there was a thought of perhaps going into law, but then once acting happened my dad was always supportive. Then we decided that if acting is something I can do and something I am really passionate about, why not give it a go? I was very fortunate in that respect.
And how did you find going to acting from studying English - was there an engagement with acting all along?
Well, I suppose there are two answers to that. One which is that doing English we studied a lot of plays and having the knowledge of all the plays and playwrights we studied helped quite a lot when approaching drama school – but also while I was at uni I did a lot of amateur drama. I was quite active within the drama society. I probably spent more time doing that than my degree and I had a lot of fun. It was a very active society, they did probably three shows a term and it was a real opportunity not only to get to know the people there but also to try and hone a skill before drama school.
Have you ever worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon having grown up close to there?
I never did but as I grew up around Stratford upon Avon it’s always been a bit of an aim of mine. I would go there all the time and I’ve been really lucky having been able to see a lot of their shows. Shakespeare has always been something that I have been very passionate about. It’s interesting that in my professional career so far, that hasn’t happened. The way it has been going has been really great and interesting and I think it’s something I’d like to do at some point. I don’t know when that might happen but it’s an amazing organisation, the quality of their pieces is incredible, especially in collaboration with London producers as well. I’ve just seen Oppenheimer recently and it was wonderful.
Would you describe yourself as a theatre or film actor?
Oh, blimey… Well like I say it’s funny because I came from a theatre background but I am so fascinated with the process of filmmaking and screen in general that at the moment it’s something that I am so happy to explore further. I don’t think I could really categorize myself in that way. The ideal for me would be to be someone that spans across the spectrum. That would be something that I would look back onto and think that I have achieved something.
How did you start in film and how did you attain your first film role?
“It certainly has made me feel very proud to be part of something so huge and that people love so much.”
When saying that I started in theatre I mean having grown up near Stratford upon Avon and having done only theatre up until drama school. After drama school it was all screen, and that just happened fairly organically, doing auditions with my agents. I have been fortunate enough and been given the opportunity to work on all these projects.
How different would you say you find working on a film set and your experience of being involved in theatre productions? You say you very much enjoy the process of filmmaking? What do you enjoy most about producing film?
I am fascinated with how unforgiving the camera is. You can’t lie in front of a camera; it will read through your eyes into your soul and I think that for an actor helps one to really hone your craft because it won’t let you do anything, which isn’t truthful. It’s the same with stage in that it all needs to come from a place of truth but film is so unforgiving that that just has to be there and you cant lie at all. I think it was Ben Kingsley that said he adores the screen because it appalls acting and it adores behaviour [“I'm very in love with the fact that the camera is revolted by acting and loves behaviour”] and I always thought that was very true and probably what made me want to engage with screen work.
Are there any big characters you adore or a role that you always wanted to play?
That is a good question. To be honest I think if something is challenging and allows for a lot of creativity then I would be very happy. There are directors like Mike Leigh who would be wonderful to work with. At the other end of the scale you look at people like Christopher Nolan who do some incredibly exciting, intelligent pieces that are still the big end block. I very much like a piece that I have done recently called Humans where we all were given a lot of opportunity to come up with ideas to really allow a sense of creativity to come through. Something, anything like that is wonderful and that’s what most actors want.
You are starring as Olyvar in Game of Thrones for the third season running, which you are very popular for at the moment – have you found this restricts you in some ways or do you think playing Olyvar has changed the perception of you as an actor?
I don’t think it’s restrictive at all. I think if anything it has been an amazing platform. It is a fantastic show and it’s something that I had watched a lot beforehand. It is amazing to see how the perception of my character, which is quite an extreme character, has changed me over the three years that I have been in it. It is an honour to be part of it.
Has your increased popularity through Game of Thrones changed your private life?
I mean, professionally it’s always something that people are very interested in. And I suppose socially as well because it’s such a culturally significant show. I think in terms of my life as it goes, it has opened a few doors and given me the opportunity to audition for things that I might not have been able to before and in that respect it has. I think it certainly has made me feel very proud to be part of something so huge and that people love so much.
What other series do you follow if any?
Now, that is a good question because I am currently looking for the next thing to watch! I am just starting House of Cards. I was a very big fan of 24 from when I was a teenager but there is a lot of stuff; there is the English series The Office that I was always a big fan of – and I think when I was a teen it was The O.C., but now I think House of Cards is what I am looking forward to watching for a few months.
You have already mentioned your latest project, the Channel 4 series Humans. The show in which you can be seen is written by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley and based on the award-winning Swedish sci-fi drama Real Humans. Set in an alternate present, people are able to purchase a robot model, the Synth, that is a highly developed robot servant in human-like appearance. You play the Synth Odi that lives together with its owner George, played by William Hurt, in quite an interesting relationship. The series Humans has a much smaller cast than Game of Thrones – did you find that experience different and has the process of producing Humans been quite an ergonomic one?
“... do Synths take away part of our humanity?”
Well, it was a really interesting process because not only was it a very unique idea but also we were given the opportunity to work collaboratively to create the characters which doesn’t happen very often. It was such a joy – we actually had to attend “Synth school” which was a movement workshop with the choreographer Dan O’Neill who was absolutely fantastic. We had to learn how to move like robots, not in the traditional sense but more in the sense of a graceful economy of movement so no excess energy is used for a task that has to be done. On top of that we had a rehearsal for each block, which again allows you to bring ideas and be playful and also bond quite a lot with the actors. I was fortunate to work with William Hurt and the rehearsal process was a big part of that, being able to share ideas and the philosophy behind the project.
How did you hear about the role in Humans or how did you get involved with the project?
My agent rang me and was very very excited and said this is a really really good script. I don’t think I had ever heard them talk that way about a project so I read it and was blown away by the script! I think it is one of my favourite scripts since I started acting professionally. I went to the audition and I worked very very hard because I loved the character, I loved the relationships in it, I loved the ideas and I think it speaks and hopefully will speak to people now because there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed as we enter the technological age.
Acting as a machine how did you deal with developing the character? Do you think Odi has a character as such?
That’s an interesting question; what I have come to realise, having watched it back, is how much of a knife-edge we are on in terms of trying to get the character right, because his and George’s relationship is very sweet and it’s very moving. Obviously if you give too much emotion, Odi is not a robot any more but if there is no characterisation in that respect, the relationship might not work in the same way. We were able to work through that and find the best ways to do it.
Odi is a slightly out of date Synth ready for an upgrade, protected by his owner George who has formed a very close relationship with Odi. Do you look at the relationship between the two as both ways, or more as a projection by George?
I think it is two ways. Although Odi can’t feel, he does have a sense of reliance on his owner. Synths will be programmed to protect and look after the person they belong to so I think the relationship is two-way but it’s not the same. Like I say, Odi can’t feel anything towards George but his reliance on George, he needs George to fix him. At the same time he serves George, he knows George intimately, and he knows what George needs because he has learnt that across the years. He has learnt that since George has lost his wife, this is what makes him happy. What came up when we were filming was that amongst the various sorts of models on relationship in the series, Odi is the loyal one who will always try and come back to his owner, except without the emotion that a dog can show. He is like a child that doesn’t understand why their parent is doing certain things but knows to look up to this person. I think the programming makes Odi put George on a pedestal and that is reciprocated by George who sees him as a son. But obviously they are both programmed in very different ways, one being a human and one being not (laughs).
Do you think in our reality it would make, and in the series does make, people react differently to the Synths that they have a human-like appearance? If one thinks about the amount of machinery that is already being used today do you think the series merely puts ‘a face’ to this technology?
Certainly, if the proliferation of these Synths were to happen in real life, I think people would feel incredibly uneasy. I think there was a study done and the result thereof was that the closer a robot looks to a human the more the human will reject that robot because it’s eerie, it’s uncanny. I think the issue it raises is that if one is to treat one of these Synths as a slave or abuse them then there is a real problem. How is one to differentiate between seeing someone attacking someone who looks human but is a Synth and someone attacking a human? It blurs the boundary of morality I think, especially for children growing up with Synths as nannies and in parenting roles. Do these children grow up and think that servitude is the ideal, the example? I think there are a lot of philosophical questions that arise and this is one of the reasons why I was so drawn to the project.
How different is Humans to other series or films with similar subject matter – does it raise different questions or the ethical questions you mentioned in a more subtle way?
What is unique about Humans is that it is a show of many parts. Each of the storylines addresses a different moral issue, which I don’t think has been done quite so comprehensively before. Some of the issues tackled in films like A.I. for example. We have the Synth played by Gemma Chan who is a housekeeper and the issue raised is that of a stranger in a house. Not only that, but this stranger is taking away parenting roles from the mother. And the mother therefore feels very uneasy. Then you have my character’s storyline where it’s about care, about reliance; is the love that George feels to Odi any less relevant, any less powerful because Odi is a robot? I don’t think it is. I think it’s just as powerful. It says a lot about what George needs. It also says a lot about the power of projection. The power of putting these emotions onto a being, whether that’d be a child or friend or dog even. But I do think it is just as relevant as what many would consider “real” relationships because George feels it and believes it.
There are a lot of complex characters in Humans – both humans and Synths. Which one or more of the human characters are the ones that fascinate you most in the series?
I suppose I’d have to say Joe and Laura because their relationship is quite tense at the beginning – and the inclusion of a Synth in their household highlights these tensions. As we will see later on in the series – I can’t really give too much away – there are some very interesting questions and moments that are explored with both of those characters, which make me question what I would do in those situations. I think the way they handle them is incredibly well written. The fact that it is quite parochial, the fact that it is based around a ‘normal’ family unit makes it much more relatable, much closer to home and therefore much more poignant.
You filmed one season of Humans. Do you believe it is a kind of series that could go on for a lot of seasons or do you think it is a kind of series that would be more powerful to be left at one or two conclusive seasons?
What is interesting is that the writers have managed to ask so many questions in this first season. Every time I’d read one of the episodes again I’d find something that made me go “oh my goodness, that’s mind blowing, that’s unbelievable” – all these moments that make you ask “oh gosh, yes, what would happen in those kind of situations?” and there are a few things that I think they have not talked about and that they have yet to show in this series. So I hope that there is the opportunity for them to explore it a bit more. I think it would be possible if there is the material, if there are questions that need be asked; then I hope it goes on for a long time because I think it is a very powerful idea and as I said before, one that really speaks to our I-phone and computer age and issues that just haven’t been dealt with yet. I mean we don’t know what will happen. People talk about the singularity being approached where A.I. is able to proliferate on its own, think for itself, and overpower the human mind. That is something we are not prepared for even though we are so close to it. I hope that this show will help to process these questions.
If there were the possibility for you to purchase a Synth in this very day and age, would you consider it? What are your thoughts?
I am far too domestic (laughs) as a person to want to give up those tasks I think. I think it sounds strange but I enjoy that too much. Also I think most people find it too hard to understand what a relationship with these things is. Like said before, they look like humans, how are you meant to treat them? What is the appropriate way to treat them because you can’t treat them like slaves, like we treat our phone. You can’t just ask them questions like you would to Siri in a very blunt manner. Because it would be coming from what looks like a human it doesn’t seem quite appropriate.
In the first episode the teenage daughter of Joe and Laura, Mattie, raises the issue of Synths taking over essential tasks in our lives such as surgery. When her mother tells her she wants her to do well in school she asks for what reason if Synths will be able to be a better surgeon after reprogramming than she could ever be. She asks if this is reality, will we all end up being artists and poets? Do you think this poses a very interesting question?
It is a very interesting issue. Obviously, if you have Synths that can do every job, not just manual labour but very skilled work – what is a human left to do? If we work in order to revive our family, that ethos is undermined and then raises the question of what makes us human? If that is part of being human, do Synths take away part of our humanity? One of the arguments raised in the first episode is that Synths actually help us be more human by freeing us up to pursue the things that we would want to do but aren’t because we spend so much time [on trivial tasks].
“Have we given away some of our liberties?”
On Humans, how do you think “being human” is portrayed and how is this played out throughout the series? What does it mean to be a human being?
That is a really good question. You are not being given any answers throughout the show. The questions are raised and you are left to make up your own mind, which is very important because I think everyone will have a different opinion about what it means to be human. If you have a being, a Synth, that is essentially like a human, that is able to process faster than a human, that is faster than a human, is stronger than a human and one might start to become sentient. Does that replace humanity or does it make it less important? It’s a really interesting question. What happens if our current A.I. starts to be able to make decisions for itself and tries to get us away from the plug so we cant turn them off? It is an idea that was done in Terminator, but now it has become a lot more real a question. If they have that power and we are no longer the “top of the food chain” as it were, then where does that leave us? We have always prided ourselves to be able to reason and that sets us apart from every other being on this planet and yet if we create something that is able to reason better than us what does that mean for humanity?
On a completely different note – do you like Star Trek? We read several posts about it on your social media.
(Will laughs loud) I am a big fan of the latest two films! I think what J. J. Abrams has done is extraordinary! I didn’t particularly watch it before, the earlier series, but from what I have seen, the way they have updated it and made it relevant to both fans of the old show and new fans is extraordinary, and I think it is going to be very interesting to see what they do with Star Wars.
Do you think today there is the possibility of producing something as classic or do you think it has become more difficult to produce material that will make history in quite the same way?
Well, I think as society moves on and new ideas and sensibilities become apparent and as long programmes reflect that then it will be challenging, it will be new and then classic. I might be biased but I’d like to say that Humans does that, I’d like to say that it really does because it is challenging issues, which are very contemporary, very important. In the same way that those classic shows spoke to an aspiration or an idealism of a time I think this does it well but perhaps in a cautionary way. I think there is always the possibility of creating new classics. The British television and film industry as it is, is in a very good position to do that. Even with the big, more popular shows and films there is always going to be that drive to create something beautiful, something artistic, something really creative because that can never be stopped and I think that is a very human trade.
Looking at older films that have been produced ten, twenty or more years ago, do you think as a viewer we sometimes fail to translate the content or statements into our own lives?
Oh, not at all, no, I think a lot of films from fifty years ago are incredibly relevant. I think there will always be things that are relevant. I mean, as a human being we have not changed biologically since cavemen made cave paintings on the wall. We are wired exactly the same way and as much as we’d like to think we’ve progressed, I suppose we have in terms of our liberalism, but biologically we still are the same, have the same instincts. And that is something that will never change and it is the films that speak to us about these things will always speak to us.
As an actor you must reflect a lot on films that you watch. However, watching futuristic films from the 1960s for example as the ‘average viewer’, do you think people realise that we have already arrived in that particular time the film portrays as what back then was the future?
It can be quite telling. You look at something like Space Odyssey 2001 and you don’t think “that’s past”, that that is a false representation of what might happen. Even now, – apart from the computer screens and the read-out; it still seems quite futuristic. What is interesting is you look at something like 1984, and while that is not sci-fi, it speaks of many things that are happening now. Whether it was written in a cautionary way or a tongue-and-cheek way is no matter – but it’s the fact that the big brother situation is something we have now, yet we don’t think of it as such a bad thing. We read 1984 and we think “oh gosh, how terrible to be watched wherever we go” and yet it is happening now. I think that’s what I take from these things. It is more a comparison of how people used to view the future and what they’d be scared of and what they’d like to see. Place that now and ask are those still fears, or have we sort of succumbed to those situations and don’t fear them any more? Have we given away some of our liberties?
“The roles that I find most interesting are the ones which make you delve into yourself and the ones that make you challenge yourself.”
Also you have been part of the BBC miniseries The Red Tent – can you tell us something about that?
The Red Tent is an adaptation of Anita Diamant’s book. It follows Dinah who is a relatively minor character in the Bible and her character is followed throughout her life. It is a heartbreaking story and very moving. I have had a fantastic time filming in Morocco. I was lucky enough to work with some wonderful people, Debra Winger, Minnie Driver, Ian Glen and Rebecca Ferguson – who I adore, I think she is a fantastic actress and a real talent and such a lovely humble person. I think she is soon to do Mission Impossible 5 and I am so proud of her, I think she is a really spectacular actress and it is really interesting to see what she does next.
Are there any film roles that you would like to play in particular?
I don’t think I have any sort of specific role that I would love to play. I mean, there are films like the new Batman, the tone is really excellent – but I think I will stop myself there and say that actually it’s the challenge that I want. I think there is no specific part, only something that makes you think and means you really have to work to discover the depth of a character. Anyone who is an onion!
Obviously Humans, The Red Tent and Game of Thrones are quite different in terms of subject matter – so for you, would you say that these human relationships that you mentioned and that you are interested in is what connects them?
It’s something that speaks to all of us. For example, even Game of Thrones that is so separate from our society still speaks a lot to our own relationships. They just happen to be more violent (laughs) or tawdry; more direct, bigger and involve swords (laughs). But the feuds are still the same! The love is still the same.
Game of Thrones is about kingdoms, honour and about all these things that are of great importance on a large scale. But then the relationships come back to things that we can relate to and I think that’s why it’s so exciting and works so well. Things that we are worried about on a day-to-day basis are things that are made to seem tiny in the grand scheme of life.
What do you do in your private life to escape? Or does it all come together, say, when you read a book, do you think about your acting etc.?
I think it does. I think everything comes back to it because acting itself is a reflection of the self and all facets of the self, and therefore anything one does will directly be affected and experiences will directly affect what one can bring to a part. I mean in my free time I very much enjoy photography. I keep setting myself a New Years resolution to read a book every month which I kept very well for the first four months and then it tears off because of time constraints – but reading is something that I really enjoy. And I am a songwriter as well, something that I used to do a lot. I think I would like to do a lot more song-writing as I get older.
What books have you read this year so far then?
So I finished Fahrenheit 451 – I started reading that because of Humans and its futuristic take on some of the issues that were starting at the time. It was off the back of 1984, which I read a while ago but that got me interested in that kind of style. I also finished To Kill A Mockingbird which I loved, which I thought was wonderful, and I am about to start The Catcher in the Rye.
So I am trying to do all the classics. I mean, during reading English I managed to do quite a lot, and now I am catching up on a lot of the American classics. They were things we didn’t cover but there is such a wealth of creativity in those so I am excited to see how I am getting on with that list.
What songwriters or singers do you look up to?
I grew up listening to Simon Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones. The kind of music I want to write is very much Simon Garfunkel songs. I think they are poets, and to be able to tell those stories in that way is something I really admire and something that I’d love to achieve. I look back now and I used to think I’d have a wider range of influences but when I write it all comes back to that and their harmonies, the lyrical melodic tone of their songs is just extraordinary.
“I grew up listening to Simon Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones.”
Would you say you have had one role so far that you were able to incorporate all your talents in at once in a way that you would like to?
The roles that I find most interesting are the ones which make you delve into yourself and the ones that make you challenge yourself. I think if there is ever going to be one part which satisfies all your creative being as it were, Humans came incredibly close because it’s a subject matter that I am very passionate about. Again the relationship is something that everyone can relate to and it gave me the opportunity to really work at it.
Also, at drama school I had the opportunity to do Richard III, which seems like a part that I wouldn’t normally be casted, but to be able to do it was an absolute joy! I do think I was able to bring a lot to that and I wouldn’t have normally thought I could.
Are there any other projects you are working on at the moment?
I am currently working on Mr Selfridge and I play a very ….nasty piece of work (laughing). I probably can’t say too much but I’ll just say that it is a real contrast to Odi and it’s been really nice to go from one end of the scale to the other.
“I want to push the boundaries of what I think that I can do.”
Moving through many different kind of roles is very admirable … I think when one finds a part or a star that one can really connect to its very easy to want to bring that to life again. I think that is a nice thing when that does happen but as an actor I really want to push myself. I would find it difficult to become complacent and to stick in one place. I have said ‘challenge’ in this interview a lot, but I want to challenge myself, I want to push the boundaries of what I think that I can do and I think trying to do those roles which are very different than the ones before allows me to push my boundaries and to get better ultimately. I think that is how you do get better, doing various different things that challenge preconceived ideas about yourself and about what you can and can’t do.
It is essentially my desire to do better than what I have done before. It is the idea of constantly improving and therefore I like to constantly push. I just hope that is something that is going to continue and that I get the opportunities to be able to experiment.
Thank you very much for the interview.
Thank you, thank you very much.
As the afternoon sun softens we walk back from Russell Square, where we spoke with Will for quite some time. The conversation with him has sparked our interest in seeing more of him on the screen and left us hungry for watching the upcoming episodes of Humans. His philosophical and detailed answers have left a lasting impression and the way that Will embraces acting wholeheartedly makes us certain that he is set for much more in the future.