Humans actress Katherine Parkinson could do with a robot to help out at home

In Humans, Katherine Parkinson plays lawyer Laura Hawkins, who is threatened at first by the robotic Synths, but later tries to help their cause.
In Humans, Katherine Parkinson plays lawyer Laura Hawkins, who is threatened at first by the robotic Synths, but later tries to help their cause.PHOTO: AMC
Anthony Hopkins.
Anthony Hopkins.PHOTO: HBO
Alicia Vikander.
Alicia Vikander.PHOTO: STARHUB
Johnny Depp.
Johnny Depp.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Chrissie Chau and Ekin Cheng (both above).
Chrissie Chau and Ekin Cheng (both above).PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Katherine Parkinson was resistant to using the iPad, but now wants robots to do her cooking, washing and ironing

British actress Katherine Parkinson is not surprised that robot- themed television shows and films are all the rage now: They are a lot closer to reality than one would think, she says.

The 38-year-old, who stars in the acclaimed British sci-fi TV series Humans, says "futuristic storylines are becoming quite relevant".

"I heard a story about how there will be robot nannies. I thought that that would be an alternate future, but now, it's so tangible. Every other day, I hear something on the radio that sounds like it's straight out of Humans," she says of the show, whose world is one where humans and anthropomorphic robots known as Synths co-exist.

In the hit series, which is in its second season, Synths are designed to serve humans, but chaos ensues when some of them gain consciousness.

Parkinson plays the role of human lawyer Laura Hawkins, who feels threatened at first by the presence of a Synth helper (played by Gemma Chan) in her home. Gradually, she grows to understand the Synths and later attempts to help their cause.

In real life, the actress is also coming around to the notion that Synth-like robots are a good idea.

"I was scared in the beginning at the prospect because it always takes a while for you to get used to something in technology. I mean, I was resistant even to the iPad," she says.

"And then, you realise the huge advantages that technology can give you and how it's changing our lives for the better. It's easy to be sceptical at first, but the advantages of having robot technology like this would greatly outweigh the disadvantages, I think."

Off the top of her head, she can already think of a number of chores that a Synth could do in her home.

The actress, who has two children aged two and four with actor husband Harry Peacock, says: "I definitely want someone to do the cooking, you know, like a proper gourmet meal. My children won't have to eat what I make, which I think would be great."

She adds: "I'd also want someone to do the washing and ironing - all those chores that are numbingly dull. They could also help me with my administrative stuff and file my taxes. Oh, there'll be plenty of things a Synth could do in my house."

Humans, which was nominated for a Bafta for Best TV Drama Series last year, is her most high-profile work to date.

However, fans will best remember her for playing the clueless Jen in the cult hit office sitcom, The IT Crowd (2006-2013), which earned her a Bafta for Best Female Performance in a Comedic Role in 2014.

Ever since the series ended four years ago, eager fans have been clamouring for its return.

Parkinson says: "Well, never say never. It might return. The cast - we all still love one another and I enjoy doing comedy so much, so I think it would be possible to do the show again if the opportunity is there.

"But it's a young person's job because that show was so hectic and crazy. We've all got kids now, so we'd probably want our scripts earlier in the week to work with."

Her co-stars on The IT Crowd were Chris O'Dowd, 37, who has a two-year-old son; and Richard Ayoade, 39, who has two daughters.

For now, Parkinson balances work and family life by splitting babycare duty with her husband.

She says: "We have a rule where one of us always has to be at home with the children. So, he'll do a film and then I'll do something and, so far, it has managed to work out quite nicely.

"We love to work, but maybe we're not as driven as we might be. So you make sacrifices, but you don't mind."

There is no official word on whether Humans will get a third season, but it is likely, going by how it has received critical and popular acclaim.

If possible, the actress would love to attempt playing a Synth in a future episode, she says.

All actors who play Synths on the show go through a specialised form of training known as Synth school, where they learn to walk and talk in a specific way.

She says with a laugh: "I practised it in my trailer, but I'm not very good at it.

"I told the producers they should have a Laura Synth and I showed them my Synth acting, but on the basis of that, I think they have decided not to go that route."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Humans Season 2 airs on AMC (Singtel TV Channel 322) on Tuesdays at 10pm.


Robot movies through the years

Robot themes have always been a fixture of sci-fi television dramas and films, but they have been popping up even more frequently of late.

As British actress Katherine Parkinson says, it could have to do with the fact that robots are increasingly a part of people's daily lives. Some are built to serve food in restaurants and others are designed to handle customer service.

The Straits Times looks at some of the most memorable robot-themed films and television shows in recent years.

WESTWORLD (2016-present)

Stars: Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Ben Barnes and Ed Harris

What it is about: Based on the 1973 film of the same name, this star-studded HBO TV series takes place in a Wild West-themed park where high-paying human visitors known as "guests" can interact with humanoid robots known as "hosts" in any way they wish without fear of retaliation. That is, until some hosts gain consciousness and rebuff the guests' advances.

The show, which has been renewed for a second season, has won the Critics' Choice Television Awards for Best Drama, as well as Best Actress for Wood and Best Supporting Actress for Newton.

EX MACHINA (2015)

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander

What it is about: This critically acclaimed film tells the story of a young programmer (Gleeson), who is handpicked by his company's chief executive (Isaac) to test if a highly intelligent humanoid robot (Vikander) possesses human qualities.

Vikander's moving performance in the film swept acting nominations at most of the major awards shows, including at the Baftas and the Golden Globes. The film also took home an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

TRANSCENDENCE (2014)

Stars: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara and Cillian Murphy

What it is about: Depp plays Will, a scientist who creates a computer. When he gets infected with a virus that gives him only one month to live, his wife (Hall) uploads his consciousness to the computer.

Things go awry when the uploaded version of Will gets power-hungry and starts infiltrating networked computer technology around the world.

IGIRL (2016)

Stars: Chrissie Chau and Ekin Cheng

What it is about: This Hong Kong movie is a romantic comedy, in which three jilted male friends buy female-looking humanoid robots known as iGirls to satisfy their sexual and emotional needs.

Evan (Cheng) starts feeling confused over how to treat his iGirl (Chau) when they develop an emotional bond.

Yip Wai Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Humans star wants robots to do her chores'. Print Edition | Subscribe