You don’t have to be an avid sci-fi fan to enjoy Alex Garland’s Ex Machina—a captivating thriller that preys on our anxieties over artificial intelligence and its seemingly unstoppable evolution towards something sinister. Garland’s directorial debut—a suprise hit at the box-office—follows Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer who gets an invite by his reclusive and brilliant boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to participate in a mysterious experiment at his secluded compound. It is there that Caleb discovers Ava, a lifelike robot created by Nathan with the potential to think, feel, and act like a human being. Through the Turing test, it is Caleb’s job to determine if Ava can pass for a real person.
The film, which is packed with questions about gender roles and humanity’s place in an increasingly digital age, might not have worked were not for Alicia Vikander’s breakout performance. As Ava, the 26-year-old Swedish actress gives an uncanny performance that exists in a space between innonence and menace, machine and human. Vikander, who is also the new face of Louis Vuitton and can next be seen in this summer’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E, has quickly become one of the Hollywood’s most sought-after young actresses. And rightfully so.
Ex Machina is a truly enticing film. What did you think when you first read the script?
I’m a fan of this genre—intelligent sci-fi. In Ex Machina, there is so much action to it but it’s not physical, it’s led by the actual dialogue. Having opportunities to do such long scenes and play out this very intense, small drama in such a tiny space is something that really interests me. Also, I was very drawn to taking on a challenge to portray an AI.
Even though Ava is a robot, she was portrayed very romantically.
I think I wanted to do something very pure. There’s also reasons for her to act certain parts of it out—she’s been developing and searching for her sexuality in the movie. I wanted to find a certain physicality and voice to Ava to create this very special being.
What kind of direction did Alex Garland give you for the role?
He always let us find our ways to play certain things. He helped me focus on playing a girl instead of a robot and that really helped, because in one way, that’s what Ava aims for.
How did you get ready for the role?
It’s a small indie so we didn’t have much time for pre-production. I read a lot during the time, but then it was mostly rehearsals with trying to find a way to make things exciting even though it’s mostly me and Domhnall, just two people sitting in a room. Between Domhnall, me, Oscar, and Alex, we also had a lot of close conversations not only trying to figure out our own characters’ journeys, but also play the beats of the thriller. We had to know together what beats we were playing for the audience, to force them to go on the journey that they need to.
Ava almost comes across as a socially awkward human. What was your psychology like when you were filming? Could you just peel that whole emotional spectrum off when you left the set?
Of course you get physically drained playing things like this, but then, after work I try to go back home and watch MasterChef or something for twenty minutes before I go to bed and read my lines.
You mentioned you are a sci-fi fan. What are your favorite sci-fi films?
I think it’s so funny that Oscar and Domhall are both in Star Wars! I was brought up with those films and they’re really one of my favorites. I also love Moon, which is the same kind of intelligent life film set with only a few characters.
The version of future that’s presented in Ex Machina doesn’t feel out of reason. What freaks you out the most about the future?
We are becoming so dependent on technology without not really knowing to what extent. Also, thinking about privacy and technology, and where all that will take us is also scary.