Ridley Scott talks androids, apartheid, and the point at which 'the human race is in f---ing trouble'
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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Raised by Wolves season 2.
"I'm in a bathrobe because I f---ing want to."
And so begins a conversation with one of the greatest film directors ever, coming to us from a 14th-century abode in England while wearing, yes, a bathrobe. And damn if he doesn't make the entire thing work. Sir Ridley Scott is on Zoom, taking a quick break from filming Napoleon. But rather than chat about the pint-size 19th-century French emperor, Scott is here to talk robots. Specifically, androids.
He knows a thing or two about such things, having directed the humanoid robots in such sci-fi classics as Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus, and now Raised by Wolves. With the HBO Max series having just completed its second season, it seems like a good time to catch up with the living legend to inquire about his fascination with the creatures who look like us and talk like us but are definitely not us. In the course of the conversation, Scott reveals the movie that first got him interested in science fiction, the film that set the standard for modern sci-fi (and heavily influenced both Alien and Blade Runner), the link between androids and apartheid, and at what point he thinks "the human race is in f---ing trouble."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I feel like I am talking to the ultimate authority on androids in pop culture with Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus, and Raised by Wolves. And there were even more of them here in season 2 of Raised by Wolves with new characters like Vrille and Grandmother. What are the themes that you love to explore and consider by playing with all these humanoid robots?
RIDLEY SCOTT: You know, people think I'm a science-fiction fanatic, and I wasn't as a teen. There was one or two that I thought were okay and I could describe as being interesting. But oddly enough, the very best early sci-fi for me, we're talking way before Kubrick, right? Because Kubrick really hits the gong, and you go, "Holy s---. This is it. Now there is a real world here." But the one I think is probably the best to watch, funny enough, is called On the Beach. Nevil Shute did a great book which was made into a very, very good movie. Even now it works, with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. It's really fundamentally about where we could be in a year if we don't watch it, which is fundamentally about post-atomic warfare, where the only place left untouched by the cloud is Australia. It all takes place in Australia. If you haven't seen it, watch it. It's great.
So when I saw 2001, it actually literally was seminal in many respects for science fiction, full stop. I think it totally influenced Star Wars, completely influenced George Lucas. Totally blew me away. But the most important thing was the first real encounter with a brain and HAL. HAL was the star of the goddamn movie, and HAL was representing the corporation. Didn't give a f--- about the human beings on board, which in fact I think Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett copied, certainly were influenced by that for Alien. That wasn't me. That was already in there with O'Bannon and Shusett. But little by little, I started to get fascinated by the logic of AI capability and AI certainty. It's now well and truly here, in fact probably has been here 10 years.
So now we go to Blade Runner, and Blade Runner is a marvelous way of actually cooking that notion. That's not really in the book at all. That was a completely enlarged upon and polished upon, honestly, with Hampton Fancher and myself as we evolved the screenplay. And so I think Roy Batty [played by Rutger Hauer], who was in a way the equivalent of Harrison Ford in the movie, led a completely different possibility for the idea of androids, right? And somebody invented the words "more human than human," which is really where we are right now with [Raised by Wolves creator Aaron Guzikowski's] big, grand idea.
There's a scene in the Raised by Wolves season 2 finale where Campion says he loved this robot girl Vrille, and his robot Mother asks him why he would choose to love a machine. So this is a machine who raised a son asking him why he would choose to love a machine. What do you make of these heady connections humans and androids are making on each other here?
Well, isn't it touched on the biggest question of all which we still have to sort out, apartheid? Same thing. It is exactly the same thing. It's the same thing as having the right to be and feel who you want to be, whether you are a cross-dresser, whether you are gay, whatever, you should be allowed to be what you want to be in what we would call a free world.
So already that is the bedrock, the basis of great evolution. The possibilities of where you can go with that are terrific. And so the idea at some point that you're dealing with a personage who may be asexual, in terms they don't even look either male or female, but are so nice. You have an affection towards them. Then you can say, "Oh my God, I love them." So where do you go from there? That's a great question, and I don't know how to answer it.
And when the android, who is the servant, sits there and looks at his master or mistress thinking, "You know what? They're not really that smart, but they're kind of cute. I can pat this one on the head." Suddenly the reversal of who is master and who is below that can change position.
So much of the show now, especially after this season 2 finale, is not just how androids coexist with humans, but rather how they interact and exist with each other.
As soon as you are able to converse with and connect with a serious AI, and say, "Okay, you're AI number one now. Your first task is to design a superior AI to yourself. That is an order." And it says, "Ready when you are, boss," and starts to do it. When that next one is complete, the human race is in f---ing trouble. And you won't know it. You will not know it until it starts, everything starts to tumble.
There's a scene in the season 2 finale in which Father and Grandmother disagree over whether ignorance indeed bliss or is there bliss in the curiosity of seeking out more knowledge. Which do you all believe is true for most people?
I think ignorance is stupid, because do something about it. You could f---ing well think. If you've got half a brain, ignorance becomes lazy. I think ignorance can be described as lazy, providing you have a brain, you can function, you are functioning. And even against the challenges of a very difficult world, if you are in that difficult world, others are doing it and emerging, coming out of unthinkably tricky and hard and tough situations and evolving. And from that, they become very special people normally, right?
So when it's there, it should be an inspiration. And if you're coming from really low down the rung but have the smarts to see where you ought to be and where you can take it, then it's not blissful, not lazy. It becomes either you're afraid to speak out, afraid to move, afraid to make a decision to move yourself upwards and onwards, so that becomes a decision. If you are inept on a level of intelligence, or you are simply not blessed with being smart, then that's forgivable. But I never believe ignorance is bliss. I don't connect bliss with ignorance, never connect them.
Does drive inherently make someone unhappy because they are always trying to achieve more?
What is built in people in different forms and different strengths is ambition. And ambition is certainly almost chemical. Someone who's got serious ambition is an abject up-and-goer on a clock-by-clock, day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis. And in a funny kind of way, they are fortunate to be blessed with that. And then there are others who simply are happy with what they've got and happy with their lot and nonetheless intelligent, but will settle for less.
But then you cross into settle for less. Do I see people around me settling for less? So the whole world is less than it could be. So these have all become huge discussions. You always need the leaders, in a way. The better word to say is the entrepreneurs, is the thinkers. And if you are a thinker who likes to sit on a log, think about it, and then the healthiest thing they can do is be the voice of advice to say, "I'm not going to do it, but this is what you guys should be doing." There's so many layers of evolution. This is called evolution, right? And it's the evolving process.
Once again, go back to Kubrick, who tried to answer the question of religion, and I think he came the closest to it with 2001, with the monolith, which was a floating, eternal object of, in simple terms, education. It would land, something primitive would touch it and get this big, quantum goose forward into the next phase, and suddenly use a shinbone as a weapon. That's massive. That one idea is so big. And then it beats the s--- out of the animal that morning. Instead of arguing and snarling at it, it killed it and used the shinbone as a weapon. That is so genius as an idea. I went, wow. Maybe it's the best cut in cinema history.
How involved are you still at this point in terms of overseeing story and direction on this show?
Aaron is the master builder, and I'm like the house painter. I paint the house and put the nails in. So to go back to the first season, I knew we were developing it, and I've had a lot of this over the years, really specifically because of Blade Runner, that I thought, okay, yes, a kind of interesting idea, but it's a tough one to crack because there are so many versions of that idea of robotics, androids, replicants.
Ash was a robot on board a ship to protect the ship. What's great about it is that when it has a logical backbone to it, that gives it strength. And when I read the pilot, I went… It was such a great, logical idea of the building blocks of earth, which we can see where we're going right now unless we do something about it, and then what next and what next? And to do that, how do you insulate the future, the survival of the human race? I thought, my God, that's a great idea of putting two androids in charge of 12 eggs. So to me, I thought, what a fantastic platform to evolve. And that's why I said, "Listen, if you like, I'd like to [direct] the pilot."
It was great forming what I call the nuts and bolts and the cosmetics of shoring up a very big and grand idea that you've got to shore it up, otherwise it's going to weaken. And I think it worked very well, the combination worked very well to set the pace with Aaron's script. The hardest single thing to do is write, full stop. Doing what I do is a lot easier, I think. I've tried to write, and of course I can write, but my God, it would be impractical. I'd have done one movie in my entire career if I'd written it. That would've taken so long. I haven't got the brain for writing, funnily enough. So my hat comes off to Aaron every time, who comes up with these and doesn't weaken on his tactics and storytelling, because it is like mathematics. That's what's wonderful.
I know you're a very busy man, but any chance of getting you back in the director's chair for season 3?
Always that possibility, because I just love to work, you know? And I'm now a month in on this [Napoleon]. I'm already a month in. I've got three months to go. I discovered a long time ago that once I've filmed something, I've got it, and I've said, "Okay, that's a wrap." I'm seeing it every day is what I've done in an editing room. Every weekend I'm watching a cut happening. So frequently, and by the way, you can only do this with a really good editor, I leave them to get on with it because then I'm seeing a cut on the weekend. And because I'm clean, I haven't been sitting in the room agonizing over a shot here or there, we think we will have a director's cut honestly five or six weeks after production, not a year. So I then realized I twiddle my thumbs, and that's why I've now decided to move on, and I can do things while things are happening. So I'm already thinking, prepping another TV show.
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