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A Star is Manufactured: Robot Actor to Lead Tony Kaye’s ‘2nd Born’

The ‘American History X’ director will cast an artificial intelligence as the star of his next movie.
By  · Published on August 15th, 2018

The ‘American History X’ director will cast an artificial intelligence as the star of his next movie.

Here’s one way to get attention for your movie. Tony Kaye, the filmmaker best known for American History X and the abortion documentary Lake of Fire, is reportedly looking toward the future with his next feature. According to Deadline, Kaye will direct 2nd Born, a sequel to the upcoming indie comedy 1st Born, and he’s casting an A.I. for the lead role. The crazy thing is Kaye and producer Sam Khoze also apparently hope their robot star earns a SAG card for its performance.

At a time when inclusion is on the rise, maybe diverse humans aren’t the only ones deserving of playing characters like them on screen. Deadline’s report says the filmmakers here are looking to forego computer effects, implying that it’s time for robots to play robots. Not CGI. Not robot puppets a la Johnny 5. Maybe Chappie and Wall-E sort of the star of their own eponymous movies, but those robots are not real. They can’t join SAG. They can’t be seen having dinner at the latest hot spots in LA.

Robots have long been a potential threat to all kinds of professionals, but the arts have tended to be off limits for non-human workers. Still, A.I. will eventually take over every part of life, replacing man in any capacity (just see the new documentary opening this week called Do You Trust This Computer? for the latest hopes and concerns regarding our future machine overlords). If an orangutan can be trained to star in a movie, why not an android?

The whole thing reminds me of Andrew Niccol’s seemingly far-fetched and poorly executed 2002 movie S1m0ne, which stars Al Pacino as a director who casts a virtual actress — Simone, short for Simulation One — to star in his latest picture. But that’s about an A.I. computer program, not a robot. She was inserted onto the screen like a CG character would be. She couldn’t perform on film in front of a camera. She’s no better than Apple’s MacInTalk program “playing” Auto the ship computer in Wall-E.

What is 1st Born? The original movie, directed by Khoze and Iranian filmmaker Ali Atshani, follows a young mixed-race couple (Reza Sixo Safai and Taylor Cole) and their newborn child, whose birth saw complications. The more famous supporting players joining the leads include Val Kilmer, Tom Berenger, Denise Richards, Greg Grunberg, Dominique Swain, and William Baldwin. The movie has already made history on its own, as it’s the first US/Iranian co-production ever.

Kaye will take on the sequel, before 1st Born even comes out (and still currently is without a release date). The plot is unknown, but Deadline claims many of the cast members from 1st Born will return for 2nd Born. How the robot will factor into the story as the lead is quite curious. Maybe the couple will lose their child (wait, it’s a comedy, though) or just can’t conceive or come to term on a second child so they have an A.I. kid, like in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Where will Kaye find his robot stars? There have been “RoboThespians” before, including one that starred in the off-Broadway production The Uncanny Valley back in 2014. Four years earlier, a robot actress took the stage in Japan. Last year, another RoboThespian made the news for starring in a London play called Spillikin, which is about the final creation of a dying robotics engineer.

As long as it gives a decent performance, I’m all for the rise of a robot movie star. With machines as actors, maybe fewer of them will turn out to be toxic personalities. And they can play the same franchise role for years and years without getting too old or pricey for the part. And they can star in movies written by A.I. programs and directed and edited using algorithms that scientifically determine the best possible final product appealing to mass audiences and critics alike. Soon, human movie stars will just be like tears in the rain.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.