Guy Burnet’s new series, The Feed, explores the evolution of the human race in a future that seems all too near.
The term "we're all connected" has always been figurative, a metaphor for society.
But what happens when we are really all connected, that is, when we have chips implanted and can go online and "visit" with each other at will, wherever we are? What happens when we can be on or off at will, and no one can tell the difference for sure? And then what happens if the connection is suddenly cut? Or if we suddenly realize we cannot opt out? And, the ultimate question, are we still human?
These are some of the questions posed by the new Amazon series The Feed. Set in London in the near future, the series explores a fully-connected world and the family that created The Feed.
David Thewlis plays patriarch and creator Lawrence Hatfield, who with his wife Meredith (Michelle Fairley), and son Ben (Jeremy Neumark Jones) run the Feed.
Hatfield's other son, Tom, played by Guy Burnet, has chosen a different path as a psychologist helping people who have adverse experiences with the Feed, including one young patient who goes into convulsions whenever he disconnects. Tom also has a pregnant American wife when the viewer first meets him. Played by Nina Toussaint-White, Kate Hatfield is also leery of the ubiquitous Feed.
The young couple is horrified when they discover their newborn's has been connected to the Feed.
Guy Burnet shares some of his character's concern over how connected to technology the world is at present. In fact, that was one of the things that drew him to the project.
He says, "I think that was really the whole point of [the show]. When I read it, or when I was speaking to [writer] Channing [Powell] or the producers, or even other actors about how we would approach acting when we're in the Feed, what do we look like when we're doing it? Do we kind of look like zombies, looking ahead? Do we stare in a certain direction and not move?
"The funny thing that I was wanting to bring to it, which I think most people shared, was, look at how we are today. Our devices in our hands, so we're looking down when we're walking across the street, or wherever we might be, in an airplane, in a terminal somewhere on the train, or just wandering about the neighborhood walking our dog. A lot of the time we're not staring up, we're looking down at the device.
"What if we had the device in our head? We wouldn't just be staring ahead, we'd kind of be acting normal, but seeing all of these things act through our vision of the world. It's just to try and ground it, and make it natural as possible, because we're already there, pretty much. It's just the next step."
The similarity of the world of The Feed to the world in which we live was deliberate on the part of the creators of the series. Burnet says, "I think the closer that we can make it to today's world, then I think the scarier it actually is, to an extent.
"It's interesting, the show has occasionally this horror feel, the jumpy elements and stuff like that, but to me at least, when I'm watching it, those aren't the scary elements to me.
"Okay, somebody's stabbing, that's horrible, or those jumps that occur, who's in the house, fine, but I think the scarier element of the show is anytime we see something that reflects our own reality, and something that is a potential that can happen in our lives. I think those parts are the interesting elements of the show, is when it's just grounded in, 'wow, this could happen.'"
The reliance on technology is not all bad, according to Burnet, "There's some elements of it which are incredible, medical advancements with technology where you can save so many lives, and so many ailments and diseases and something like that, by replacing a cell in your body with a nanobot, or any kind of technology going in there to save you. It's interesting, the balance.
"Where does the scale outweigh each other, does it go towards the good or does it go towards the evil, in a way? That's the exploration, at least, that interests me more than anything. Okay, why did we get to a place of having this technology?
The notion of implanting technology into the human body is also in question. Burnet says, "The majority of people that I meet today would say to me, no, no way, that's crazy, that's too far. I think what's more interesting to ask is, hold on a moment here, would you place this technology in your body if you could save your life, or save the life of your family? I think a lot of people would say yes.
"I don't think people are wanting to put this technology in them just so they can Skype call somebody in their mind, or to purely just go on Instagram. I'm sure there are a lot of people who would at some point, and I think people will, but I think the way that technology ever goes into our bodies is for us as a human being to evolve to the next place, and survive as human beings.
"I think there's smarter people, way smarter people than me, Elon Musk, Yuval Harari, and all these kind of people who are popular now. They're suggesting that it's an inevitability, that technology has to advance to that stage for us to survive as a species."
Human evolution is an integral idea to The Feed. "Homo deus, homo sapiens, and then the next, what are we? We have to evolve, we've constantly evolved throughout history. Whatever religion you believe, whatever theological background, it doesn't matter really, because all human beings have evolved.
"It's just, what is the next place that we go? What happens when technology is as advanced as we are? Which is not far away at all. You can process things at a quicker rate than we can. It's just, what happens when it surpasses us, which is something that ... it shouldn't be too scary for us,it's just something that we should explore and go, okay, this is going to happen, so what do we do about it?
"I don't know really the full answers, but I think that there's an evolutionary step that we'll inevitably have to face for us to survive, in some way.
"It almost sounds pessimistic, but in reality, I think love and kindness to one another, stuff like that, will always be the most ... without sounding too sappy or cliché, I think will always be the most important element to us as human beings. Most animals are like that too. Whatever it might be, I think those are the two things that ... maybe technology will have love and kindness too one day, I don't know."
In spite of the science fiction element of the concept, what is most important to Burnet, both in his consumption of entertainment and in his portrayal of Tom, is that it be grounded in reality.
He says, "Whenever I watch something that's considered in the science fiction realm, I think a lot of these things which become grounded in more science fact than anything, but I think whether it's Westworld, or Black Mirror, or Electric Dreams, whatever it might be, I think the most interesting element of these things are what is due to reality, what is kept grounded?
"I know that they're entertainment, first and foremost, but I think the closer that they're kept to honesty, then the more interesting they are. I always wanted that with The Feed, We don't need to go farfetched, we don't need to, we can ground ourselves.
"The reality is just as scary as trying to frighten somebody, or trying to encompass some ludicrous element of something that might not be believable to the audience, but might be entertaining in a fictional way. I think the grounded element is the most interesting element.
"I think when people watch it, we have enough crazy shit in our lives, we have enough crazy shit to watch, that let's offer something that drives a philosophical conversation in some kind of way. I think people would still be entertained by that, as they would be by zombies killing the world."
"That's where The Feed is interesting. What intrigued me, was my connection to that character, Tom. Okay, who is this guy? Oh, okay, he's separating himself from technology. Oh, I have as well in my life, so I relate to this guy. Okay, he's got this family dynamic, he's trying to start a family, he's bringing a child into this world that, he's going, okay, what does the future exist for this child?
"All of these things that we can all relate to is what attracted me initially to the script. Any time we got new scripts or anything like that, I could have gone more dramatic with it, with the character.
"I could have gone more emotional with the character, but I kind of forced myself consistently, as crazy as the story might get, that whatever happens, I wanted this linchpin, a character that wasn't going to go absolutely apeshit at every turn, but just be grounded. What I'd do, Guy, if I was in that situation. How would I react? I would probably internalize a lot of it.
"That was kind of my challenge to myself throughout. There were opportunities for me to play the drama of the situation, but I never wanted to do that. I forced myself to go, no no no, just calculate this moment. What would I do, as me? Let it build over time. Then by the time it gets to the 10th episode, you can go back to the first one and see the arc of where that person has come from.
"I deal with a smaller arc, of course, in the first episode, or each individual episode, but I thought the more interesting arc would be to see what would develop in this man from episode one, and who the man is in episode 10. It's not an anthology, it's a long form, 10-hour format. That was kind of the challenge.
"Sometimes I didn't know if it worked. That was the challenge I set myself from when I first began. That's really the challenge of it all. I think from the get go, I think there was always a balance of the creative understanding."
The challenge Burnet sees in his own performance and approach is similarly one of the challenges facing television and entertainment generally, and Burnet finds the process fascinating.
"I try and see it in a way as, how is this, the evolution of television happening? How is the evolution of acting happening? How is the evolution of creativity within the television medium happening? The same way as, what is the evolution of this technology that is advancing, and what is going to happen to humanity, and stuff like this.
"I try and see it in the same way to an extent, and I think a lot of people, there's so much content now, there's so many TV shows, and there's a huge fear as well. You managed to get your TV show made, okay, so now we've got to cast it. Okay, now we have these people, and what are they going to bring to the table? Oh my God, what if it's not entertaining enough? What if people are not going to watch it?
"There's so much that is fear-driven and fear-based. I'm just a cog in the machine. I'm a character to try and drive the plot that they've written, and kind of a pawn in the chess game.
"If I bring my own choices, if I'm going to go, listen guys, it might seem like I'm underplaying it at times, but trust me, in the long run of things, I have a plan here to get these people to entrust me with doing that, rather than giving a showy, showy performance.
"That's the fine balance that exists. Somebody is going to trust you and go, okay, I trust that person. Okay, they're underplaying it in this element because they want to be grounded, they want the audience to see a parallel to their own lives. It's very tricky for people to come on board with that.
"It would be very easy for me, within the first two episodes, to give a very theatrical, entertaining performance, so that they can see it and go, oh my god, look at him acting! The whole point of it is that I'm trying to not act, I'm trying to take that away, and try and be just honest, just be real, and sometimes allow the world to take place and let me just place myself here.
"At least that was kind of the evolution of, in terms of what I wanted to bring to a protagonist in these things.
"I think the most generous thing that you can do is give the audience something that they can relate to, and go, hey, that would be me in that situation.
"Going into The Feed, what I always wanted and my challenge that always existed there was ... I was always saying to the creators, and the people, guys, television, there's an evolution that's happening now. Let's try and ground this, because people will be interested if we don't go too mad with things."
"That's also part of the magic trick, I think, as well. You're there, and you don't want to pull the curtain back and for them to see the machine behind it. You want people to escape into another world, and believe what they're seeing.
"To achieve that requires a multitude of factors, and a numerous amount of people working on the same page, for that to occur, for something to seem like, wow, I've completely escaped into that world. The hours that you put into something, we make something seem like it's easy."
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