I first heard of Oscar Isaac when he played a schlubby, loser musician in 2013’s “Inside Llewyn Davis.” He seemed much more likable as a conman in “The Two Faces of January.” Then came another powerful performance in “A Most Violent Year” with Jessica Chastain. Next up are “Star Wars: Episode VII” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.” For each role, Isaac transformed himself drastically, and now, in “Ex Machina,” he plays Nathan, the CEO of a Google-sized Internet company.
For “Ex Machina,” the first thing you’ll need to know is what the “Turing test” is. It’s when a human interacts with a computer and doesn’t know that they’re interacting with a computer. It’s a way to prove that the machine has artificial intelligence (AI).
Nathan invented an IA machine and named it Ava. The robot is played by Alicia Vikander, and Domhnall Gleeson (“Frank”) plays Caleb — the human in Nathan’s AI experiment. The audience sees through Caleb’s perspective while writer-director Alex Garland makes you stare at the disgusting objectification of women. Right on, Garland! I’m proud of you.
Vikander was the perfect choice for Ava. She won me over years ago playing opposite Mads Mikkelsen (“Hannibal”) in the five-star foreign film “A Royal Affair.” Her other movies have included “Anna Karenina” and “Seventh Son.”
I don’t get starstruck anymore, but it was a thrill to sit down with Vikander and Isaac in a SoHo hotel to talk about this soon-to-be sci-fi cult classic.
Dorri Olds: How did they handle the amazing makeup and effects for your character?
Alicia Vikander: Each day I spent four and a half hours. My call time was 3:50 in the morning to be on set by 8 a.m. They just did a mold of my body. A lot of people assume that it’s done with green screen, but you don’t need that anymore, apparently. The silver mesh that you see is a full-body suit, so I looked like Spider-Man. Then they split my hair and pulled it back and did a bald cap on the top of my head. Then they built my forehead on the top of the skull. The form that you see of Ava is actually me, and then they’d taken away some of the parts. I didn’t diet that hard. [Laughs]
What do you think about the continued fascination with artificial intelligence?
Oscar Isaac: You can trace it all the way back to us creating Frankenstein — something that we can’t control. We know we are the top dogs on the planet, and we also know how shitty we are. [Laughs] It’s the idea that we could create something we cannot control that would be imbued with some of our worst qualities.
AV: I think it was a question of consciousness and AIs, but it came down to talking about human beings and fears and about making something that has its own will.
OI: I think it also forces us to ask questions about the nature of our self-awareness, our consciousness. Every religion is trying to figure out what that’s about. This is just another way of talking about it. If your job is to basically reconstruct a human mind, where do you start? What is necessary? Is sexuality necessary? What kind of interaction is necessary? Is there a sense of some kind of organic material? All of these things make us who we are. Is consciousness just a byproduct of something else?
AV: Yeah, reading about a human brain and realizing that it all comes down to signals and hormones. You can try to ascribe a chemical form to whatever a feeling is and then try to duplicate that. Suddenly I started seeing my whole body as machinery. In your head, you try to fantasize. If it just comes down to those parts, could we then just create the parts and put them all together?
What inspired director Alex Garland to write this story?
OI: There were so many different elements that he drew from. For me, it was very important to sit and talk with him about things like Tennyson’s opinion on consciousness and Noam Chomsky’s opinion on language. I like the idea that some people believe that language is just inherent in them, and it’s just about unlocking the tools to get it out. All of that was interesting, even though I can’t completely understand it.
What about the Turing test?
OI: It’s not a real Turing test. That’s actually a ruse. The idea is you’re going to do a Turing test to see if she’s conscious, but you can see she’s conscious the second you meet her. There’s actually another test that’s happening.
“Ex Machina” opens in theaters Friday, April 10.
Sci-fi drama. Rated R. 108 min.
Watch the trailer:
Watch excerpts from this interview:
Watch Oscar Isaac’s amazing dance scene:
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.