Electric Dreams Director on Philip K. Dick: "I was introduced to him by my stepfather [Ringo Starr]'

Interview with Francesca Gregorini for Electric Dreams: Human Is

You’re directing Human Is, Bryan Cranston’s episode in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. How did you land the job?

My brilliant British agent was aware of the project and was tracking it for me. Then I interviewed with Bryan Cranston and James Degus, his producing partner over at Moon Shot [Cranston’s production company] and I got the gig. That was the final hurdle in getting the job – making sure that Bryan felt comfortable working with me.

So you knew right from the off that you were going to be directing Bryan’s episode?
Yes. And that was an extra incentive, obviously.

What was it that attracted you to the project? Were you already a fan of Philip K. Dick’s work?

I was introduced to Philip K. Dick’s work by my stepfather [Ringo Starr] who’s a big sci fi fan – probably more so than I am. And then I did Humans for Channel 4 last year, and really enjoyed that experience, so I guess you could say I’m a late bloomer as far as sci fi is concerned. My appetite for it has been steadily growing. I’m becoming a sci fi head, and falling in love with the genre, its abstract way of commenting on important human socio-political issues. That really appeals to me.

Can you explain a little bit about Human Is, and the world it takes place in?

The title of the episode really gets to the heart of the nature of that episode – what does it mean to be a human. This particular tale revolves around a married couple, but it’s really seen through the eyes of Vera. When we met them, they’re in a horrible marriage, verging on abusive, and certainly neglectful. The story takes place on earth, hundreds of years in the future, where the earth has been stripped of all its raw materials, and what we’re left with is this desert with no water, no vegetation, no nothing. So we need to go to other planets to strip them of their resources so that we can survive. But what the episode is really about is the definition of what makes us human. Bryan’s character goes to another planet to get resources and returns to Earth, which is now called Terra and is pretty much a military state, a very changed person. His wife and his work colleagues notice he’s different, so the question is what happened to him on his travels to this other galaxy.

As well as being a huge star, Bryan is one of the executive producers of the series and therefore, in a sense, your boss. Did that feel like added pressure to you, when you were doing this?

For sure! I say that laughing, but I felt the added pressure, and I remember some of the producers also telling me that Human Is was one of Dick’s seminal works. No pressure then! But Bryan is such a gentleman, and such a collaborator. We had opportunities to work together with the writer, in terms of developing the script and the characters further, so my experience of working with him had already begun prior to stepping onto set, which was really helpful, because it felt like there was already a bond there and a trust there. So by the time we got to set, we knew that we were very much aligned in terms of the story we were setting out to tell, so that really made that easier, rather than just stepping on blind to direct one of the great actors of our era.

You mentioned the writer, Jessica Mecklenburg – so I take it it wasn’t just a case of her passing you the script and you directing it?

No, luckily we had time to work together and develop it further – she was great to work with, very collaborative and open to Bryan and my input, which we were forever grateful for. You want to get handed something that you can take ownership of and feel aligned with, and she was very open to that. I think the end result is a good one specifically because we were all able to collaborate in a specific way.

The cast also includes Essie Davis, Ruth Bradley and Liam Cunningham. How was working with them?

It was amazing. I’m in love with Essie. I wasn’t as familiar with her as I was with Bryan, but my God, she really knocked it out of the park. She is the centre point of the piece, and she brings such humanity and bravery with her performance. I’m so indebted to her for doing such a phenomenal job. We really didn’t have much prep time – she was on a plane from Tasmania, and then had something else to attend, so by the time she got to us she was basically going on set a few days later. But she was very prepared and very trusting, and again, such an awesome collaborator to work with. Her performance speaks for itself – it’s very moving. And Liam is amazing in his own right. I’m such a fan of his from Game of Thrones. He is (a) amazing, and (b) such good fun to work with. He has such a great sense of humour, and is the consummate professional. And Ruth Bradley I’d worked with on Humans. I became a fan of hers then, I was intrigued by her. And she gives a stellar performance in this, and I think she’s such a great up-and-coming actress to watch.

How did you enjoy shooting in London? Had you spent much time here before?

I spent a lot of my childhood in England – I was here between 11 and 18. I’ve spent time in London, I have family there, my step-siblings are there, so I’ve visited a lot, but it’s definitely a different experience working there. I have to say that I absolutely adore it. London just has everything – so much theatre, so much beauty, I love the parks there. And, to be honest, I really loved working with the Brits. I don’t know if that’s because I spent my teens there, and my sense of humour is British, but I loved it. Everyone involved, they were straight-shooters, hard-workers, and it was a real pleasure to work with them.

Do you have a favourite Philip K. Dick story?

I guess at this point it has to be Human Is. I’m so embedded, so I’d have to say that that is now my favourite of his stories.

Has working on the series given you a new appreciation of his work?

Definitely. There’s a lot of his work which I haven’t read which is definitely now on my ‘to read’ list. I realised there’s a lot of nuance in his work and when you work on an adaptation like this that’s when you really take the time to pick it apart and to find all the different layers. It’s quite a daunting task, to bring to the screen an adaptation of his work, so I took it quite seriously and feel very lucky to have been given this opportunity. An opportunity both to adapt his work, and to work with Bryan, and to work in England again. I was just a lucky girl!

October 24, 2017 1:09pm ET by Channel 4  

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