William Hurt: ‘My competition these days isn’t another actor. It’s a computer-generated image at Pixar’

Luxo Jr.

Are you a gadget fiend or a technophobe?

I’ve been interested in technology and computers since I was 17. I always figured that science fiction is mostly science probability. The ideas in people’s imaginations become fact pretty quickly these days.

In your Channel 4 drama Humans, the latest gadget is a domestic robo-servant called a “synth”. Would you want one?

Hmm, that’s questionable. Maybe if they were as emotive as some of the robots in the show. In Humans, some synths are given a crucial piece of software that gives them the capacity to suffer, which changes everything. Will that ever happen in reality? Are humans brave enough to build machines as true projections of themselves? I don’t know, but it’s fascinating.

Does the series show the dark side of technology?

It’s about elements that cross the line and blur moral boundaries. My character George’s memory fades after a stroke, so his synth Odi provides a link to his dead wife. Odi becomes part of George’s own memory system. It’s a metaphor for how robotics are an extension of ourselves. Is Odi sentient? Well, sentience is a projection anyway. A lot of people don’t seem very sentient to me! (Laughs)

How has technology changed the work of an actor?

Well, it’s a challenge. My competition these days isn’t another actor, it’s a computer-generated image over at Pixar, you know?

You starred in Challenger, the drama about the 1986 space shuttle disaster – are you interested in space travel?

I’m interested in all horizons and what’s on the other side of them. We know less about the ocean than we do about space. I like to swim, float and fly.

Are you a phone junkie?

I try not to be, although I do have two mobile phones. I prefer the tactile keys of my Blackberry. I also have an iPhone but I hate being autocorrected. I try to use them on speaker because I don’t like having an electromagnetic pulse in my ear, but then your voice sounds like you’re wrapped in cotton wool. Soon our phones will be installed under our skin. I’m not looking forward to that. Then again, the NSA could already have a chip in me!

What’s your beef with autocorrect?

Oh Lord, it’s got a mind of its own. Screw up with autocorrect and it can screw up your relationships! (Laughs.) It gets me into trouble all the time. I call it the SBG – the Son of a Bitch God. It’s me versus autocorrect in an endless battle, trying to duck constant shrapnel.

Are you an Apple addict?

I don’t want to be but I’m trending that way. I have an iPad, which is great for travelling, plus a laptop. I don’t want to go anywhere near the cloud, though. On the news the other day – I listen to nothing but the BBC, it’s the only station where people speak the English that I know – they announced that 14 million federal employees had their personal records hacked. That’s scary stuff.It’s hard to use technology without getting tangled up in all its wires, so to speak. But as far as a man of my age goes, I’m pretty up to date.

Is keeping up to date a struggle?

It can be but I’m determined. A few years ago, I went back to Columbia and took courses in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and computer science, which was taught by a 26-year-old PhD candidate from China. He had to learn a second Chinese language to learn English so he could come to America and teach us, so he could finish his doctorate in AI – so that put my determination in perspective! I loved that course and we still have a great relationship. I’m 63 and nobody else in that class was older than 20. I’d just sit on the back row and try to keep up.

Do you turn your devices off sometimes to give yourself a break?

Yep, I’ve even taken to turning the TV off. If I want to watch something, I try to go out to a movie theatre. Old skool, huh? One of the best things I do is go back to my original computer and that’s the one in my body. I truly believe that the human organism is the greatest computer that ever existed. I trust it and try to listen to it. The human heart is the most valuable thinker we have.

Do you have flash gadgetry in the kitchen?

Just mixers and juicers. I won’t go near a microwave. Those EMPs again.

What social media do you use?

I use Facebook in private groups but I use all social networks as sparingly as I can. It can be such a black hole. The internet can be so judgmental and marginalising too. Google’s freakin’ awful. It means people can’t escape their past, get stuck with reputations and it wrecks lives very casually.

Have you tried Google Glass?

No, I was a private pilot for 25 years so I don’t want to go anywhere near head-top displays again – not unless I’m landing on an aircraft carrier.

If you had a time machine, where would you go?

I’d go to one of those horizons I mentioned earlier. The edge-of-the-event horizon, like in that movie Interstellar. I just want a peek at the near-future.

Humans is on Channel 4 at 9pm Sundays

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Michael Hogan, for The Observer on Sunday 12th July 2015 10.59 Europe/London

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