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True love, untimely death and robotics

Archive is a sci-fi film about love and death. Georgia Humphreys chats to writer/director Gavin Rothery, plus stars Theo James and Stacy Martin


Thriller: Theo James as George Almore, and Stacy Martin as Jules Almore in Archive

Thriller: Theo James as George Almore, and Stacy Martin as Jules Almore in Archive

Press Association Images

Thriller: Theo James as George Almore, and Stacy Martin as Jules Almore in Archive

Playing a robot is no mean feat. Imagine wearing a rigid suit that covers everything other than your eyes and nostrils, affecting your breathing and leaving you with very narrow vision and unable to hear very well.

Then there's the four-and-a-half hours spent in make-up every morning.

That was English-French actress Stacy Martin's experience on the set of new sci-fi thriller Archive, written and directed by Gavin Rothery - and she confides she "had moments where I was definitely quite moody".

But the costume was also helpful for the 30-year-old, whose breakthrough role was in 2013 film drama Nymphomaniac.

"Having this sort of armour, that was also quite restricting, was something that was actually really helpful for the character, because she struggles with her identity and who she is, and learning how to move in a different way - or learning how to breathe - was part of that character's journey, for me," she says.

Archive, which is set in the future (the year 2049) also stars Theo James - known for the Divergent film series and ITV drama Sanditon - as a roboticist named George Almore.

He has been working on a model that is a true, human equivalent android, and his latest prototype, J3 (Martin) - which has been achieved through two earlier prototypes, J1 and J2 - is almost complete.

What soon becomes clear is that George has secretly skewed the focus of his work: developing the robots towards the goal of creating a simulacra of Jules, his wife who died in a car crash (also played by Martin).

Jules is still present in George's life via a new form of life-extension technology - the Archive. But the Archive unit is under threat, and if George isn't to lose his wife completely, he urgently needs to complete the construction of J3.

The detail that Rothery has put into the world he has built within the film is seriously impressive; it really immerses you.

What also struck James (36) about the script was that it was a "really interesting conceptual piece of work".

"It had something interesting to say about the quality of human life- and what it means to be human," muses the actor.

"Beyond that, the idea of trying to recreate love - or a piece of someone's soul, however you want to define it -in something that was mechanical, essentially, and how far you can go to create that."

So, how did James try to understand his character's motives?

"You have to bring a piece of yourself to every character you play, so you try and see parallels in your own life and imagine how far you would go if you had lost the most important person to you, so you find some mutual ground there," he suggests.

"Also, I think I was drawn, personally, to the idea of the existential question of, 'If you imbue something with enough quality and characteristics of humanity, at what point does it become human?'"

Martin joined the cast quite late - just three weeks before shooting. But she was drawn to the role because she "needed something a bit different" at the time - and she also liked "how much love there was in the project".

"I don't know much about sci-fi and I was just very naive about that genre and, just by talking with Gavin, you really felt his passion for that genre, for film-making, and for this story," she says.

Rothery, who originally worked as an illustrator and comic artist, came up with the idea for Archive after he "had a really bad weekend".

"As a freelancer, both my computers died," recalls the film-maker, who also worked on sci-fi drama Moon. "It was a Sunday afternoon and I couldn't do anything to fix them. I lost a load of data - some kind of power surge, I never really found what happened.

"It cost me a couple of thousand pounds getting data recovered from hard drives, it was awful.

"I felt like my computers had killed themselves, basically, to spite me. It felt like a personal attack. So that kind of idea of a computer killing itself to spite somebody really lodged in my brain.

"That then led me into the story arc of what if there was somebody creating a human equivalent machine intelligence, and as soon as he turned it on, it just killed itself? So, it was kinda dark. I was in a bit of a funk - losing all my data was bad."

And so out of one "really bad weekend", the idea was born for one really good movie plot.

Archive will be released on digital download on 18 January

Belfast Telegraph