8:45am PT by Josh Wigler
How Amazon's 'The Feed' Turns a Technological Utopia Into a Primal Nightmare
"It's happening now."
The Feed star Nina Toussaint-White's warning about the core message of the Amazon series shouldn't be taken too literally, of course. The world is not yet hooked up to a single network via neural implants (emphasis on "yet"), though the interplay between modern society and smartphone technology certainly emulates the high-stakes fears at play in Channing Powell's adaptation of Nick Clark Windo's novel of the same name.
Featuring Toussaint-White and Guy Burnet as married couple Kate and Tom Hatfield, The Feed takes place in a near future where humanity becomes inextricably linked with a technological advancement called the Feed. "Think Twitter, but in your brain" doesn't quite do the trick, but it gets you close to the idea. Spanning 10 episodes, the first season (currently streaming in its entirety on Amazon Prime Video) chronicles only a small portion of Windo's novel — just 14 pages of it, according to what Toussaint-White tells The Hollywood Reporter. Without spoiling the outcome, the first series sets the stage for a much more primal and visceral second season, one that depicts a bleak world after a hard break from technological dependency.
Ahead, Toussaint-White opens up more on the premise of The Feed, the conversations it drove for her and her castmates, and what to expect should a second season come to pass.
From the perspective of someone who is about to dive into The Feed for the first time…what are they about to get into?
It's a psychological thriller, set in the not-too-distant future, and it's based on a novel by Nick Clark Windo. The idea is that society as we know it has people connected to "The Feed." They have tiny chips installed in the backs of their brains. It allows them to store and share information. It allows them to share every emotion and memory within an instant. You can look around and make your surroundings more elaborate, more tasteful. It's like having a smartphone inside your brain. The series takes a dark turn very, very quickly. You witness the horrifying consequences our reliance on technology has on humankind, if things go wrong. The great thing about it is series one only takes us through the first 14 pages of the book. There's the potential to go much deeper into the world Nick created.
Did you spend a lot of time with the novel to prepare for the show?
I didn't. I know a lot of people who have read the book, and I have it on my shelf, but for me…this was a very collaborative start. Myself, Guy Burnet and Carl Tibbetts, who directed episodes one and two, wanted to work together to create what it would look like to be inside The Feed. Nobody knew what that would look like, and we wanted to create it ourselves. For me personally, I felt that diving into the book would paint too much of a picture for me. I wanted creative hold over what my character was going to be like. Apparently, in the book, it's completely different.
Can you walk us through those conversations with Guy and Carl, designing what The Feed would look and, more important, feel like as you convey this world to the audience?
It's completely new to all of us on day one. The idea is let's say we're on the Feed, me and you. I can be in a coffee shop with you, having a cup of tea, while Skyping my mom at the same time through my brain. The viewer sees what's going on inside my character's brain. What we struggled with is this: I'm talking to you at the coffee shop, my mom calls me. How do we stay in the world we're in while also going into the Skype call? What we did a lot of times is my character is changing her baby, she's putting her to bed, but she's also talking to Guy's character Tom via the Feed. It's the same thing as being able to walk down the street with a phone in your hand. Looking at the screen, you can check your emails and do so much on your phone, while getting from A to B. It was a hard world to create at first. What we realized is I could be walking and talking to the people around me while still connecting to the Feed, and the viewers can see that through me.
What were some of your first thoughts as you started digging into the themes of the series, and your thoughts about the Feed as a technological premise?
As my career has evolved, I've hoped I would be in shows that I'd want to watch myself. When I first auditioned for this, I was completely drawn to the project. I was only given the first episode, but I read through it and fell in love with it. The script had a lot of similarities to Black Mirror, which is a series I absolutely love. This idea of a dystopian world, one that highlights people's dependency on and their addiction to technology, which I think we all need to open our eyes to a bit. Straight away, I fell in love with the project.
This kind of technology is billed as unifying us as a species, but there are arguments that it's dividing us, and that argument is certainly present within a faction of the characters in The Feed.
Working on this show has brought up a lot of these really interesting, eye-opening conversations about how much we really are so dependent on technology. It's become more integral to how we operate in our daily lives. The Feed is looking into the not-too-distant future, but what happens in the series is technically happening now. We've heard Elon Musk is creating neural implants to put into our brains so we can overcome technology, because at the moment, technology is surpassing the human brain. It's been created to connect. But then I'm watching programs like The Great Hack. Data has been weaponized, it's been used to steer votes. I'm sitting next to my phone now, and who knows what it's picking up? Next time I pick it up, it's going to mention something that I mentioned to you. So much of your privacy is taken away. Of course it does wonderful things. My character in this show is American, living in London, and she's able to connect to her family in America. She's even able to connect with her unborn child. It's not all bad. If I was told that by having an implant, I could cure myself if I had cancer, that might be a route I would want to take. But there are also so many consequences in relying too much on technology. We're losing connection. We're losing physical contact. Mental health [struggles] have risen so much, because we're so tapped into the net. We like to call it "science fact," rather than science fiction. It's happening now.
While making the series, how often did you and your co-stars dive into existential conversations about the way technology impacts our world?
I'm always one for having fun on set and not taking things too seriously. (Laughs.) Of course, I take the work seriously! But I also want to relax and have a good time with my colleagues. I don't know about everyone else, but for me, the process is you get episodes one and two, then you wait for episodes three and four, and then you wait for five and six, and so on. We didn't get all the scripts early on, so we didn't know how the story was going to evolve. I will be absolutely, brutally honest: I had so much to think with developing my character's American accent and developing my connection and chemistry with Tom that I just wanted to settle into the world, rather than try to unpack it. But what's happened is since putting the filming to bed, and now that I'm talking about it more, my eyes have been opened. I've had a rebirth as far as how damaging technology can be, social media and stuff like that. I've lessened my screen time by 50 percent. I'm just a bit more wary. That's through conversations with people like you, rather than on set, where we were creating the world.
What are your aspirations for beyond the first season?
Well, I haven't read the book, but what I know is the first 14 pages cover the first 10 episodes of series one. Well, by the end of episode 10, the shit hits the fan, excuse my French. We go from utopia to dystopia.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.