The story of I’m Your Man, Germany’s submission to the International Feature Oscar race, is rife with humanity — even if one of the central characters is a humanoid robot. Inspired by a short story from Emma Braslavsky, the premise sparked for both director Maria Schrader and co-star Dan Stevens, as they told us during a Bleecker Street panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International awards-season event.
I’m Your Man, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and took the Lead Performance prize for Maren Eggert, centers on her Alma, an anthropologist who agrees to live with a humanoid robot for three weeks as part of a trial testing period. Stevens’ Thomas has been designed as Alma’s ideal partner, using algorithms based on her brain scans, her responses and research involving 17 million people.
Thomas, as manufactured as he may be, has other gifts, notably helping Alma discover a different life.
Schrader told us that she responded to the short story after being “taken by the simplicity of the setup. You know, two individuals, a love story, a man and a woman — and the man is not a man but a machine. Instantly there were so many questions in my head… What is love? Is it possible with someone who is not living? And yeah, that got me on the hook.”
Of casting Stevens, who is fluent in German, Schrader said, “We were already thinking it would be interesting to have a non-German playing this part and bringing something foreign also to the language and an accent and something which is maybe then easier for the audience to agree in this concept that this person is not a person but a machine.” But, she added, “Of course I was looking for a brilliant actor and someone who has a lot of humor and someone who is interested in these kinds of technical aspects of the character, and when I looked at Dan’s work, there’s something very precise in his acting, something very aware of what he’s doing.”
Stevens has had an interest in “this sort of human impact of technology” he told us, and shared why he sparked to the script. “It’s always delightful when through your work you’re able to explore something that interests you kind of outside of the work. When I had a literary magazine for a while it was something I would write about… It was delightful to see comedy used as a sort of playground for the philosophy of these kinds of issues… It floats my boat in any arena.”
He added, “To get to dive into those ideas was very appealing, but also the role itself presented an enormous number of challenges,” and that was “a huge part” of coming on board. Not just dusting off his German, but also “the physical challenge and the emotional, or anti-emotional, challenge of having the courage to do nothing in some of those scenes and just let everything play off Alma and the sort of stagnation of Tom in some of those moments.”
On directing her actors, Schrader said, “It was a general question how much of the robot, how much of the machine, we want to be visible in the acting. … We could have stayed completely naturalistic acting but then we thought it is interesting — specifically when you start falling in love with him too, and you start hoping for them as a couple — to disrupt that, to interfere, to remind people and also Alma, that she’s not dealing with a person, but a machine and that is an interesting thought… I think I was very, very lucky with these partners Maren and Dan.”
Have there been calls for having a Dan Stevens humanoid clone? He responded, “I could book a lot more work that way, that would be great,” while Schrader told us, “I heard that a lot from people in the audience.”
Check out the panel video above.
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