A Role She Was Made to Play

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Erica recently snagged a leading role in the planned $70 million sci-fi movie b. Indeed, the movie’s makers might say she’s the only one who could’ve played the part. And certainly, Erica seems to have all the qualities a driven director might want from an actor. She’ll work through lunch and never take a smoke break. She’ll never sulk in her tent or argue for more lines. Why, she might not even leave the set … ever.

See, Erica’s an “artificially intelligent actor;” a robot, in other words. And she’s the first thespian of her kind.

According to The Hollywood Reporter,  Japanese robotic scientists Hiroshi Ishiguro and Kohei Ogawa created Erica as part of their robotics studies. But they also taught her to act—using, naturally, the principals of method acting.

“In other methods of acting, actors involve their own life experiences in the role,” Khoze says. “But Erica has no life experiences. She was created from scratch to play the role. We had to simulate her motions and emotions through one-on-one sessions, such as controlling the speed of her movements, talking through her feelings and coaching character development and body language.”

You could say that Erica’s a bit typecast: She plays an artificially intelligent robot in need of rescue from her creator, who (in the words of The Hollywood Reporter) “discovers dangers associated with a program he created to perfect human DNA”. Chances are it’ll be a while—if ever—that facsimiles play actual humans.

Or will it?

The movie industry is in the business of playing with our sense of reality. From the days of the first silent films, when cardboard rocketships blasted off to cardboard moons, it always has been. But the line between reality and virtual reality has never been so fuzzy.

Sure, physical robots aren’t taking many acting jobs, but we’ve already seen plenty of instances where who plays the part and what we see on screen are quite different. Andy Serkis has garnered Oscar buzz for playing motion-capture characters, from Gollum to King Kong to Caesar the ape in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise. The title character in Alita: Battle Angel was a digital construct designed to look almost human (aside from her manga-like eyes). Netflix’s The Irishman and Avengers: Endgame both used lots of human actors, of course, but they sometimes de-aged them. In The Irishman, technology allowed the 76-year-old Robert De Niro to pass for a man in his prime.

It used to be that, to prove a point, we’d “go to the tape.” We’d seek out video of the event in question, because the video couldn’t lie. That’s no longer the case, and it hasn’t been for a while. And for parents, movies provide an odd classroom to teach their kids this important 21st-century truth: Never before have things looked so real and been so fake. And as we walk through that reality with our children, the movie industry has graciously provided tons of examples for illustration.

And hey, if you have a extras-packed Blu-ray of a movie, you might just be able to show your sons and daughters just how this movie magic is done.

Erica may be the first artificially intelligent actor. She may, for all we know, be the last. But the movie industry is in the business of making the artificial seem real. And parents should look for opportunities to teach their children the difference—even as they still enjoy that “movie magic.”

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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