Maria Schrader's I'm Your Man: Dan Stevens on Being a Robot
I’M YOUR MAN is the new film written and directed German actress, writer, and director Maria Schrader (UNORTHODOX, DEUTSCHLAND 83). Maren Eggert stars as a scientist tasked with living for three weeks with a robotically engineered life partner named Tom (Dan Stevens) to evaluate the ethics of robots as romantic partners. Funny and profound, the film made its world premiere at the Berlinale where Maren Eggert won Best Leading Performance and played in the Special Presentations section of the Toronto International Film Festival. We interviewed co-star Dan Stevens (DOWNTON ABBEY) from TIFF about playing an android. I’M YOUR MAN will be released into theaters by Bleecker Street on September 24.
Warning: this interview contains some minor spoilers.
Science & Film: Did you do any technical research about what it would be like to be an A.I. robot?
Dan Stevens: What I liked about the film’s premise is that it doesn’t actually go too deeply into the technical ins and outs. We see the institute in which [my character has] been created, but in this modern building they have a traditional dance hall and bar—they’re trying to make everything as human as possible for their clients. The idea is that this technology slips quite easily into our world. I think you briefly see Tom uploading, downloading, and recharging in his room, but other than that, the technical details are not of great interest to the writers. They just want to get into the human reaction and interaction.
With A.I. and android characters, you have a blank slate, and it was quite fun to strip everything away and to play with Maren, who gives a wonderful and very human, naturalistic performance. To spar off that in an unusual way that was tricky for both of us, because the usual call and response you get with a scene partner, we had to deliberately erase. We looked at: what would be the human response here and what’s Tom’s response?
I like that near-future science fiction where it’s not 1,000 years in the future, it’s like two weeks in the future and one thing is different about our world.
Dan Stevens. Copyright Christine Fenzl, Courtesy of Bleecker Street.
S&F: Yes, it allows this film to get to the root of some of the more philosophical or moral questions about what counts as life. Can you say a little more about working with Maren and the dynamic between your characters?
DS: It is one of the charms of the film and of the screenplay, how wittily it dealt with big philosophical questions. It doesn’t get too bogged down in them, yet they are the bedrock of the film. That’s a peculiarly German thing to me; the ability to tackle those questions but in a very fluent way. Maren’s character Alma, her mind and preoccupation is thousands of years in the past [because she researches ancient forms of expression]. She’s researching cuneiform. She’s thinking about lyric and metaphor and poetry from then. Then there’s Tom, who has literally just arrived on planet Earth and is trying to figure out what the hell is going on. They couldn’t be further opposed. We talked a lot about screwball comedy and those odd-couple stories: Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant kind of stories. The process those films take is almost like machine learning: these two things don’t work, put them together and that’s not working, then you keep going until they’re together. Taking that pattern and playing with that a bit was what Maria [Schrader] was going for in this film.
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S&F: It’s also distinct that in the case of your movie, there’s a caretaking element to the relationship because one character has responsibility for the other.
DS: Tom feels like he’s there for that. Eventually, Alma is there for that too. The sexual element is different than a traditional romantic comedy in that Tom’s desire is not really a factor. It’s much more focused on Alma and the female gaze. That for me was a refreshing perspective.
S&F: What drew you to the project?
DS: I got to read this very much in isolation. I normally have a couple of people who would have read it and have their opinions. This was a German script that very few people I knew had read. I got to sit with it and its themes on my own. It’s always nice when you see a film in its final state that it approximates what you imagined it to be, and I was so happy that the playfulness and wit, but also the themes and big questions, seem to have been preserved. The sweetness and the weirdness are very much my thing.
Dan Stevens (left), Maren Eggert (right). Courtesy of Bleecker Street.
S&F: The film doesn’t try to wrap up those big questions too neatly either, which I appreciated.
DS: For Maren, her theory is that [Tom] is not actually there [at the end of the film]. It had never really occurred to me because I was there [laughs], and then I saw the film and I think that’s an amazing question to be left with at the end. Is the ending just a construct of her romantic fantasy?
S&F: Or does he have his own will?
DS: Has he found someone else?! [laughs]
I’M YOUR MAN is directed by Maria Schrader and written by Schrader and Jan Schomberg, It is produced by Lisa Blumenberg, edited by Hansjörg Weißbrich, filmed by Benedict Neuenfels, and scored by Tobias Wagner. The film stars Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw, Wolfgang Hübsch, and Annika Meier. It is being released theatrically by Bleecker Street and opens September 24.
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