RAISED BY WOLVES, created by Aaron Guzikowski, is in its first season on HBO Max, and renewed for a second. In the science-fiction series, which premieres new episodes on Thursdays, Earth has died due to religious warfare. A group of atheists have sent human embryos to be developed and raised by androids on the planet Kepler-22. The children’s surrogate parents are androids Mother, played by Amanda Collin, and Father, played by Abubakar Salim, who are programmed to make sure the young humans do not believe in the supernatural. Kepler-22 is dangerous. Twelve years on, only one child, Campion (Winta McGrath) has survived. Then a spacecraft bearing the last remnants of religious humanity arrives …
Creator/show runner/executive producer Guzikowski, actors Collin and Salim, and executive producer/writer David W. Zucker all discuss RAISED BY WOLVES in a virtual press session, set up as part of HBO Max’s portion of the Summer 2020 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour. While executive producer Ridley Scott, who directed the first two episodes, does not participate in the panel, he comes up frequently in the conversation.
For starters, how did Scott become involved with the project?
“I wrote the pilot on spec,” Guzikowski says. “I’ve been working on this story for quite some time, and I had hooked up with the Scott Free [Scott’s production company] folks. It was hugely exciting to me to be working with them. But then Ridley himself had read the script and he responded to it. Apparently, soon after he had read it, he just started drawing pictures, storyboarding. That it was beyond exciting to me. I have right here on my desk this Xenomorph toy that I’ve had since I was five. He has no arms; he’s been through a lot. But in any case, before I was even interested in making movies or TV or anything, I was obsessed with the stories that Ridley was telling. So it is a dream. And he hasn’t disappointed in terms of his generosity, in terms of being a mentor, he’s been great.
Zucker adds, “We actually had a relationship with the folks at Warner Media and we were looking for a flagship science-fiction program. Aaron’s material came in as a spec and, as Ridley always says, if it’s there on the page and he responds to it, which he did with this, it just begins to gestate in his mind. The first time Aaron and Ridley came together, both of them being fine artists, Ridley was working on some of his visual inspiration for the piece, and started sharing it with Aaron. Before we knew it, the two of them were drawing right next to each other and evolving their ideas. So, it was a very exciting collaboration, from start to finish.”
What inspired Guzikowski to write RAISED BY WOLVES? “Well,” Guzikowski replies, “at the very beginning, me and my little brother used to come up with stuff when we were kids, and there were little aspects of worlds we created that are kind of peppered inside of this story. I think -the big spark that really helped me find my way into this world, was the idea of the androids. It was when I had kids of my own, and seeing technology encroaching on them, you know, for better or for worse. And also myself, carrying this phone around all the time and wondering like someday maybe this phone is going carry me around, who knows where this is all going? And what does this mean for my kids? And then I starting thinking about, well what about that, what about the phone, thinking about it from the phone’s point of view, raising humans and thinking about that as a character, as a machine who has to try to be a parent, has to present all of the attitudes and expressions that a child needs to see in order to develop properly. And to put that on a machine, and to try and experience all of that through a machine’s eyes, as it starts to learn, observing these kids as they develop. And then it starts to think about itself differently.”
Guzikowski elaborates, “I really like this idea that these androids, they’re not really changing these kids that much. These kids kind of are going to be who they’re going be. Obviously, they’re helping them make good choices and stuff like that, but really, it’s that the kids are changing the androids, and that that’s what’s really happening there. And the androids are learning more and more, and their algorithms are becoming more and more complex as they’re starting to mirror these emotions, this humanity. So, it came a lot out of just my own experience, trying to raise kids in this crazy world.”
Is there any connection between the RAISED BY WOLVES androids and the androids Scott has presented previously in a number of his films?
Guzikowski replies, “Ridley has been working with these sorts of themes for a good long time now, starting with ALIEN and then BLADE RUNNER. So I think there’s a thematic connection, perhaps not a direct connection in terms of the mythology, but this is of Ridley Scott. He directed the first two episodes. He was intimately involved in the entire production. So there was a lot of sort of exchange of DNA between a lot of the mythologies that Ridley has established in the past and this new story. But I think a lot of the rules that apply to these androids and a lot of the questions that they bring up, are similar to [Scott’s androids], going as far back as Ash [played by Ian Holm] from ALIEN in 1979. But I wouldn’t say this is part of a direct mythology-type connection.
How did Collin and Salim develop the physicality for their android characters? Salim says, “I think to begin with a lot of it was workshopping the voice and the cadence with Ridley. We had at least a good two or three weeks of rehearsing, and working the characters, and making sure that we felt grounded with them. A lot of that evolution of the paternal instincts came from – I guess for me the way of seeing it as, no one really knows how to be a parent the first time, right? So that was what was quite exciting. It’s like, how does an android, even though they have all this information, know to be a parent, even though they have to work off the cuff? That was the way we approached it, finding the self, the movement, the cadence, the voice, letting that affect the whole piece, but then also knowing that you had to work off the cuff.
Collin agrees. “There was also so much given in the suit and the way we look, and I think that helped us a lot with posture and the way we walked and ran, just lean into and be as little android as possible because we looked so android. I think the incredible thing about being an android is that you can justify a lot of things, and you can have so much fun with the character while building it. Also, we had the luxury of shooting very chronologically, and so there were many gifts along the way. The first day Abu and I looked at each other and we’re like, ‘How do we walk as androids?’ And we just walked. So little by little, stuff came along. Not looking at each other [when fighting], it just came up. I think there was a key moment for me when I was like ‘Oh, I have super-hearing, because I’m an android. So I can hear things and sense things without [seeing them].’ And then you start to incorporate the whole animalistic way of moving, and it was a great joy to just keep discovering the senses of an android, if that makes sense.”
Salim says, “Yeah. Also, me and Amanda really enjoyed the fact that we had so much room to play on set. It felt like a space where of course there was a lot riding on it, but there was space to make mistakes, or to discover, or to learn, because these two androids are learning also. And that was what was really fun to dive into. You rarely get the chance to play in a world like that on set. Ridley, and the whole team really, and also Amanda, creates such a safe space for me to screw up, because we both were like, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing.’ So it all naturally came through, when it came to the idea of finding the way that we move. And I think because of that safety, we were able to be bold about it.”
Collin relates, “Yeah, I think working with Ridley is such a gift in this sense, because you trust him one hundred percent, so like Abu said, you’re bold, and then when you’re not bold, you’re like, ‘Do you want my hand like this, or like this?’ And he has the answer, he takes responsibility completely for you and your character and everything that’s going on, and it has been so wonderful.”
Zucker adds, “The search for Abu and Amanda was extraordinarily stressful, because how does one cast two androids? And we didn’t have a lot of time; we had a couple of months to look for them. I think our casting director, Kate Rhodes James, did an extraordinary job with this cast. She had seen Abu in a BBC piece and was familiar with him. He had qualities – his wit, his charm – that she already responded to, and had an opportunity to work with Abu with Ridley in the room.”
Zucker continues, “The search for Mother was far more arduous. [It] resulted in one of those quintessential Hollywood casting moments. [James] went to the Kilkenny Film Festival, which screens just European films in native languages. So, there were no English-speaking films. I think she was quite despondent, because we were supposed to test with the network in the next couple of weeks, and we still didn’t feel like we had nailed it. It’s a very intimate festival, where they screen in the back of pubs and in car parks, and I think she was sitting on couch and happened to see Amanda’s film A HORRIBLE WOMAN, and sat up and said, ‘I think that’s her.’ It just so happened the actors were in the pub. [to Collin] I think she tracked you down sitting at the bar, and descended upon you there.”
Collin picks up the tale, at Zucker’s urging. “It was of course overwhelming, but also a little bit stressful. [James] was like, ‘I want to chat to you. It’s about this and this and this. I can send you the script, and can we do a casting tomorrow?” Collin laughs. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ She’s like, ‘We have to.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do it’.”
Zucker says, “I think she saw the movie maybe on a Friday, descended upon you that day, gave you an overnight to think about whether you even wanted to look at the script, gave you a day to work on it. I think you tested on Sunday, we saw it Monday, and then went into the network that week. The thing with Amanda, it was just something that was very natural in the sense that, a lot of actors were trying to play an android, where [they] got very preoccupied with Ridley, or with the futurism of it, and the character was eluding us. There was just something very natural and organic the way Amanda was able to personalize Mother, without putting the android elements front and center, that made her both relatable and, at the same time, slightly unnerving. Everybody responded, hands down, to the test, and it all proceeded from there. It was both daunting and thrilling, especially once we landed on her.”
“It’s the jaw,” Collin quips.
Guzikowski notes that RAISED BY WOLVES “in some ways continues on some aesthetics that Ridley’s established in some of his previous films. In this series, he’s evolved into transmogrifying these ideas into things people haven’t necessarily seen yet. But there is a continuity, in terms of the visuals in ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN: COVENANT, in terms of the way they’ve imagined what an alien planet could look like, to the androids and even some of the H.R. Giger type of design stuff. All of that is in there. But in addition to that, it’s evolved into a new stage of trying to look into the future. Now that we’re kind of already in a science fiction future, coming up with this stuff takes on a different sort of process. I think it has the DNA of Ridley’s previous work, but he’s evolving into some new stuff that we haven’t seen yet.”
Zucker elaborates, “There’s nothing more thrilling than watching Ridley world-create. I think, harkening back to ALIEN, it is always finding a way of rooting these stories from a character, and from a world-creation standpoint, in reality. You look back to ALIEN, and you feel the grit, you feel the texture. It’s something that you can hopefully relate to and identify with, no matter how fantastic some of the imagery may be. And I think that that sensibility that Ridley infuses in all of his work is very evident here, both from seeing the end of Earth as it is to the pioneering journey on this new planet.
How do the filmmakers think pandemic-confined parents will view the story? Will they see it as ultimately comforting, or as a cautionary tale?
Guzikowski says it’s a little bit of both. “Or maybe they’ll find it familiar in a sense. As a parent myself, I think you can give a kid an electronic device and it will serve as sort of a babysitter for a time. And there is something that’s easy and comforting about that, but then, you know, slightly disturbing and off-putting about that, as well. And I think this just kind of takes that to the next level, the idea being that it appears to be a person, but it is an android. And it can do all of these things that you may not have time to do with your child, or whatever the case might be. But again, you know, like anything else, but then you come back and you realize your kid is getting closer and closer with this android and maybe is starting to not be so close with you. And I think there’s a lot of issues there. I think in the case of our story, these kids have no choice. They only have android parents. There are no human parent options for these kids. They don’t even know what a real adult human looks like. They’re only thing to look up to is this android, which can be confusing. But it certainly raises a lot of fascinating questions, just for me as a parent that I find myself asking all the time.”
Zucker says, “The question speaks to the foundational premise of the show. To Aaron’s point, it’s not a simple response. That’s part of the wonder I think of this story which initially we described as LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE on another planet. And it speaks explicitly to Abu’s point of the complexity of parenting, not only for Mother and Father, but you see the evolution, even in the first episode, that Campion goes through, where Mother is his savior, Mother is his protector, but then he begins to have some doubt. There are certain restrictions that are put upon him, and then you’ll see the rebellion.”
Zucker continues, “What I’ve found extraordinary, through the experience of the show as Aaron’s been writing it is, you see explicitly the kinds of struggles that parents go through, in terms of how to negotiate, how to collaborate, how to align, where fissures in trust may come, where children identify with one parent over the other, may work one parent against the other. All of those dynamics are so recognizable and immediate and dynamic to the conflicts in this story, which is what I find so thrilling about it. One of the foundational themes of the show is, there are benefits to it and there are dangers. And those things get explored in all of their glory.
As far as the pace of the opening of RAISED BY WOLVES, Guzikowski says, “Ridley directed the first two [episodes], and originally we went back and forth in terms of combining the first two episodes into something more feature film length. And then we went back and forth just in terms of what’s the best way to tell the story. I think with pilots, there’s a lot of work to be done, in terms of setting everything up, and it’s a tricky sort of thing, where you want to lay the groundwork, but you want to keep the story moving, and you want to introduce the audience to this new world in the most thrilling way possible. That ended up being splitting it into these two episodes, which I think works really well in terms of, you get this big introduction, and then you get a little deeper into sort of some of the back stories, and a little bit more context as you get into the second episode. So I think that turned out to be the right way to do it.”
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Article: RAISED BY WOLVES: Creator Aaron Guzikowski, Exeutive Producer David W. Zucker and stars Amanda Collin, and Abubakar Salimchat chat new series – Interview