Diversifying your varying experiences in your life, from your work to your relationships and views on the world around you, including how technology influences people’s interactions and connections, is a powerful goal that many people strive to achieve throughout their lives. But often times it isn’t until they start achieving some of their objectives that they fully start to realize how their efforts have truly impacted not only their friends, families and colleagues, but people around the world. The new sci-fi thriller ‘Uncanny,’ which is now available on DVD and Digital Video, stars multifacted actor and filmmaker Mark Webber as a scientist who’s determined to have his work on artificial intelligence improve life. However, he ultimately discovers that his seemingly beneficial discoveries may actually leave an adverse effect on the people around him.
‘Uncanny,’ which was directed by Matthew Leutwyler, follows inventor David Kressen (Webber), who has has lived in seclusion for 10 years with his inventions, including Adam (David Clayton Rogers), a robot with incredible lifelike human qualities. When reporter Joy Andrews (Lucy Griffiths) is given access to their unconventional facility, she is alternately repelled and attracted to the scientist and his creation. But as Adam exhibits emergent behavior of anger and jealousy towards her, she finds herself increasingly entangled in a web of deception where no one’s motives are easily decipherable.
Webber generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Uncanny’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was intrigued to play an intimate character in a sci-fi film that explores how having the ultimate technology and artificial intelligence can both advance and impede society; and how he enjoyed working with Leutwyler as the movie’s director, and Rogers and Griffiths as his sole co-stars, as they all embraced the independent nature of the thriller’s preparation and filming processes.
ShockYa (SY): You star as scientist David Kressen, the scientist who created the world’s first perfect artificial intelligence, in the new sci-fi thriller, ‘Uncanny.’ What was it about the character of David, as well as the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Mark Webber (MW): Well, this is a type of character that I have never played before. I loved the idea of making a really intimate character in a sci-fi film. But there were a lot of challenges and uphill battles that we faced as we were making the movie, as we shot in only 12 days with very little money. But I love the risk element that’s involved, and it ultimately paid off.
SY: Speaking of filming the movie independently, what was that process like, especially since it’s a sci-fi thriller? Did shooting the movie independently help with the creative process?
MW: Yes, it did. It felt like we were doing a play, as we were in the same location for those 12 days. We basically didn’t leave these two rooms in this loft in downtown Los Angeles. So it was really contained, but I think that added to this magic that happened between us all. Of course, when funds and time are limited, and you get the right group of people together, creativity really excels.
SY: For the majority of ‘Uncanny,’ David, Joy and Adam are conducting the interview she’s doing for the magazine she writers for in the scientist’s facility, as he shows her his experiments. What was the experience of shooting the movie in the one central location in the loft, like you just mentioned? Did it help you connect with your character’s feelings of isolation?
MW: Yes, we really made it work. It’s really a story about this guy who had been contained and isolated in his own environment, and hadn’t really interacted with the outside world for some time. So being in one place the entire shoot really lent to the sense of realism that that type of situation would feel like.
SY: What was your experience of collaborating with ‘Uncanny’s director, Matthew Leutwyler, as you developed David’s backstory and motivations?
MW: Matthew’s great; he’s a really energetic guy who has a great sense of humor. He would make us all crack up all the time. Some directors who are in such high-stress situations lose their sense of humor. But Matthew had a really cool way about himself. The movie was really fun to make; we were laughing all the time. The process felt nice and easy between us as collaborators, and we were also able to dig deep when it counted.
SY: The sci-fi film features a small cast; besides you, the only other actors who are seen throughout the majority of the story are Lucy Griffiths, who plays Joy Andrews, and David Clayton Rogers, who portrays Adam. How did having such a small, contained cast influence the way the three of you rehearsed and ultimately shot the thriller together?
MW: I liked working with the two of them; it was cool and intimate, and it felt like we were doing a play. We just got in there and started working, which I think is a testament to Joy and David’s abilities. We all just jumped right in and found these characters as we were going.
But we all did our own extensive preparation, so that we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We really needed to be prepared, because we didn’t have time to rehearse, or talk much about what we were going to do.
But in the end, when it’s only three of you in a room during those 12 shooting days, it becomes a really intimate process. You start to get to know how to rely on each other. I think the process made the work really interesting.
SY: Since the dialogue in the thriller is so scientifically technical, what kind of research did you do into artificial intelligence before you began filming?
MW: Well, our writer (Shahin Chandrasoma) is amazing. He’s a doctor and a really incredible person. He has an incredible mind, so he was like our walking encyclopedia for all things A.I. and robotic. He was constantly a resource that we could refer to whenever we needed.
Matthew also sent us some articles about real-life situations. He gave us these articles in particular about these robots being made, and what they’ll look like in the future. So we had these really brilliant resources.
SY: The movie shows how people have become so dependent on technology that they’ll readily embrace the latest advancements, like artificial intelligence, but won’t know how to respond when technology no longer works the way they want. Why do you feel it’s important to showcase that continuously growing dependence on technology in films?
MW: I think that topic is a reason why the majority of all these films in this genre explore having the ultimate technology. Like in this film, what appears to be a human being is actually a computer and robot. I think that’s a metaphor for people being so reliant on their phones and computers that that technology has become a double-edged sword. I think films like ‘Uncanny’ are exploring what is on a lot of people’s minds about technology.
SY: ‘Uncanny’ is currently available on DVD and Digital Video. How do you feel the home release market, particularly the VOD platform, has aided independent films like this one?
MW: I think it’s actually becoming old news, quite frankly, as this is the way that most independent films are being released now. I watch movies on my iPhone all the time now, but a few years ago, that wouldn’t have been the top choice for the filmmakers to have their work viewed.
But I think the beautiful thing about the iPhone and internet streaming services is that they’ve taken movies like ‘Uncanny,’ which you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get into a wide theatrical release, and show them in smaller cities. So I think it’s awesome that platforms like Amazon, Netflix and self-distribution, in which you’re able to stream your content on your own website, can put these smaller movies into people’s living rooms.
I’m happy that ‘Uncanny’ has been released digitally. It actually pre-dated ‘Ex Machina’ by a couple of years, and it’s finally seeing the light of day. It’s great that it’s finding its way right now.
SY: The sci-fi thriller has played at several film festivals, including the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Boston Sci-Fi Festivla, where it won the Best Film Award. Were you able to attend any of the festivals? What does it mean to you that viewers are embracing the movie?
MW: I actually saw the movie for the first time at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It was great to watch it with an audience; they were pretty riveted, which was pretty exciting for me. The festival actually added a second screening, because the first screening performed so well, and the word-of-mouth was so strong. I was actually surprised how well it turned out.
I think the success of many sci-fi films is reliant on effects. But in our film, we were able to achieve some things quite nicely with a simple story between two people who have strong characterizations.
SY: Besides acting in movies, you also write, direct and produce your own films, such as ‘The Ever After,’ ‘The End of Love’ and ‘Explicit Ills.’ Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re set to work on behind the camera that you can discuss?
MW: I’m actually gearing up to direct my fourth feature film, ‘Flesh and Blood,’ which I also wrote and will be starring in. It’s going to start filming in January. Being a filmmaker is really my main passion nowadays, but I balance it out by continuing to act in other people’s projects, and supporting other great filmmakers who I admire.
Written by: Karen Benardello