December 19, 2014
Person of Interest just ended its fall season with a hell of a cliffhanger. What happens next? We won’t know until January 6, when the next episode airs. But Amy Acker, who plays Root, tells us that episode was their most challenging to film. And she also tells us the big question that lies beneath the show’s fourth season.
Warning: Spoilers for last Tuesday’s Person of Interest ahead…
We were lucky enough to have a phone conversation with Acker yesterday, and here’s what she told us.
That scene in Tuesday’s episode, where you’re speaking for the Machine and interacting with the little kid who’s speaking for Samaritan, was intense. What was it like filming that?
[That actor] was so good. He was just incredible! The first time he read the scene — everyone had been talking about it leading up, like “You won’t believe this kid we saw. We thought we would have to probably cast like a 14 or 16 year old just to be able to do all the dialogue, and to get you know the intention of what was happening, and they said this nine year old boy came in and just like nailed it and so we got to that scene and he was super creepy and wonderful and then delightful in real life.”
It was a challenging scene for me because I had [only] had one other scene where the Machine spoke through me, and that wasn’t a dialogue with someone. I was just kind of telling Control what the Machine was saying. It was a little more challenging having to hear Samaritan speak to me as Root and then as the Machine, and then not responding as Root, but trying to respond as the Machine. It was challenging. But I mean he was so great, and the whole episode was really fun and definitely one of my favorites to film.
People have noticed you act differently when you’re speaking for the Machine, versus when you’re speaking as Root. In your mind, is she hearing words in her head and then repeating what the Machine says? And how do you try to convey that it’s not her talking?
Well, that was that we’re trying to explore a little bit, as we did that scene. We talked about almost like being in a trance. And then we kind of came around to the fact that, you know, whether it was Root or the Machine, but whoever, or both, they were both angry at Samaritan, so that there was an animosity in the delivery of these lines, but also trying not to let Root’s personality and what Root might add to the conversation [come through.] Root wasn’t adding anything of her own, other than maybe a potential look that she couldn’t help but snap out of being the Machine to respond to.
There’s a moment where Samaritan says “you know, you’re not like them,” and you sort of look down and there’s this sort of facial expression that comes over you and I was wondering if that’s Root or the machine and what you felt like that meant in the moment.
I was trying to make it seem like that that was something — that Root was like, “Why are you letting Samaritan talk to you like this?” But then having to refrain from sharing anything she wanted to, and then really just getting back into responding as the Machine wanted her to come across to Samaritan. So I think a lot of it was like trying to put up a front [as if] the Machine’s [telling her] “This is the plan, this is what we’re doing, and don’t mess it up.”
In Tuesday’s episode, Harold actually calls you Root instead of Ms. Groves. Do you think that that’s significant, and do you think that that signifies a change in their relationship, maybe, that he’s finally calling her what she wants to be called?
That’s interesting. Someone else said that I called Shaw “Sam” for the first time. I felt like I may have called her that before, but it did seem like this is kind of the time when we’re all really coming together. And I mean, I think Harold and I have had moments that we — I mean, I feel like they have almost this like brother-sister relationship even, where they’re allowed to torture each other, they still love each other. [Laughs]
But yeah, I feel bad. I didn’t realize that was the first time he had called me Root.
I haven’t picked up on this at all, but some people feel like there’s like hints of a romance between Harold and Root. Everybody hopes this doesn’t happen, because we all want Root to be with Shaw. Do you think that there’s any of that going on, like romantic tension, or sexual tension with Harold?
Huh. You know, I feel like at the beginning, when I had kidnapped him, and I was trying to get information about the Machine from him, that you could [feel that] I loved him in a way that was more like an obsession, like I just thought he was so great [because] he had made this thing. And I feel like she really, really cares about Harold and sees him as an extension of the Machine at the beginning and that was why she cared about him. And now she has just come to care about him as a person. [But] no, I’ve never really read anything that hinted there would be a romantic [interest.] I don’t think that that seems to be the vibe. It seems more like a family to me.
Going back to that scene between the Machine and Samaritan, Samaritan says, “You know you can’t win,” and the Machine says “Yes.” So, what do you think the Machine is doing, it’s just kind of fighting a losing battle because it doesn’t know what else to do, or what?
Yeah, that was the part that scared all of us when we read that. We were like, “Wait. We have a plan, we’re not all going to die, right?” [laughs]
[But] I think that’s still being revealed in what we’re shooting now. I mean, I think we’re trying to figure out what is the Machine’s plan, and does the Machine have a plan, and is there a way to stop Samaritan, and who do we need to make that happen, and what needs to happen? Or, what do we need to do to stop Samaritan that we can do, not as the Machine but just as ourselves?
I feel like that that’s kind of the big, the big theme of this year, is “Does the Machine have a plan?”
In that same moment, like the Machine seems as though it’s willing to sacrifice its human agents, basically for nothing, and you’re forced to be the mouthpiece of that. Do you think Root is just ready to die for the machine?
I feel like [she would probably die] to stop Samaritan for the Machine. I think they all seem to have a sense that if they don’t fight to the death to stop Samaritan, then it’s not going to matter if they’re alive or not. They either stop Samaritan or die trying, because if they don’t, they’re going to be killed regardless.
So now that Shaw’s like left the lair and has gone out there to try and help the others, how far is Root going to go to try to save her?
I think everyone is worried about her, and that’s definitely where we left the end of this, but we’re [also] about to have the war of these two gods. We’ve got a lot of stuff to worry about. We need to get Shaw back, and we need to make sure she’s safe, because this other thing is going to be bigger than all of that. I think she’s definitely out to protect Shaw and that that’s her number one concern in her heart probably, but what she knows has to happen has to be to protect the Machine and stop Samaritan.
So what can you tell me about what’s next in terms of the war between these two gods? What’s that going to look like?
It’s going to be very exciting. [laughs] It’s really, really cool — it’s really different, and Denise Thé, who wrote it, came up with a super cool idea, that’s unlike any episode that we’ve shot before. It was challenging to shoot, but everyone said it’s come together really neat. And Chris Fisher, who directed it, is our on-set director/producer, so he was talking the other day, and he was like, “This might be my favorite thing I’ve ever directed.”
This show has been going into more and more abstract territory about the nature of artificial intelligence, and you’ve been the main mouthpiece for a lot of that. Do you worry about leaving viewers behind, or about how to make this stuff clearer?
I don’t know. You know, I think it’s been really interesting. Maybe it’s because I’m on the show that I’m more aware of it, but I feel like there’s been so many things in the news lately that… [I read an article today] that was all about like, it was like, “Artificial intelligence, they’re wrong, it’s not possible that it would be able to take over humankind,” or something like that. And I’m sitting there saying, “But don’t they know about Samaritan?” [laughs] Then I’m like, “Oh wait, that’s not real.”
Elon Musk had just said something like, his number one fear is about AI, and that he’s investing in all these artificial intelligence firms because he wants to be able to keep an eye on them and see what they’re doing. I mean, I think that’s the thing that’s scary about the show: When we started out, they were talking about being watched by the government, and it seemed like a science fiction idea, the government watching us and knowing everything that’s going on, and reading all our emails, and since the show’s been on the air we’ve found out that that’s not science fiction at all.
I just think we have this — a little bit of a nervous energy, like “Be careful what you write, because it’s probably going to happen.” [laughs]
The other thing that jumped out at me in this last episode that just aired was that they kept bringing back the fact that the Machine had asked them to kill a Congressman. And this proved that the Machine wasn’t really noble, or that it didn’t really have a moral code. Do you think that the Machine is going to be asking them to do some more really kind of terrible things soon? Like, do you think they’re going to be forced to keep crossing a line over and over?
I think it’s possible. I mean, that has been something they’ve brought up a bunch of times about, “If we had killed the Congressman, this would not have even been the situation we’re in now.” So I feel like you’re right, they’ve said that more than once, so it makes me think: If we got into that situation again, would we make a different choice? So far that hasn’t happened, but I feel like it’s very possible that it could.
Finally, there’s some speculation that someone else is going to die in the next few episodes. Can you tell me anything about that? Is there anybody we should be worried about?
Well, there’s a lot [to be worried about]. It is like the big war of the gods. Everyone is in danger. I mean, from the promo at the end of last week you see everyone’s having near-death experiences, so it’s really going to be exciting.
Transcription by Diana Biller.