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While Zoe is a futuristic love story about the positive and negative effects technology can have on human connection, director Drake Doremus did not want the “synths,” or the synthetic people in the film, to be the point of the story.
“I didn’t want to make a genre piece,” Doremus said after the world premiere of the movie at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday night. “It’s not a story about robots. It’s a story about humans and the idea that we’re all missing something, whether we’re synthetic or not.”
In the movie, which served as the festival’s centerpiece screening, Ewan McGregor and Lea Seydoux play characters who work in a research lab, Relationist, that explores different ways technology can improve romantic connections — from a questionnaire that will determine whether someone has a future with their significant other to manufacturing synthetic companions who become increasingly indistinguishable from humans.
“It’s such a fascinating story, and by the end of the script I wanted [the characters] to be together so much that I was just very moved by it,” McGregor told The Hollywood Reporter. The actors had many opportunities to improvise on set, and while McGregor was nervous about the prospect at first, he found that he enjoyed that experience.
“I haven’t really done anything with quite so much improvisation and I really liked that,” he said. “I didn’t know if I would. I didn’t know if as an actor if you’re called to improvise if, in fact, part of your brain is spending time trying to think of something to say or if you’re still in the moment. But I found a great freedom in that, and I really enjoyed it. That was a revelation to me. I would like to do more of that.”
Seydoux was nervous for a different reason. The film marks one of the French actress’ first major roles in an American film, and she also had just given birth to her son before the film started production.
“It was very tender and deep at the same time,” she said. “I was very touched by this character and about the human condition as well.”
For Doremus, the improvisation was about finding the honesty in the story. “He always said on set, ‘Be honest,’” Seydoux recalled.
“Hopefully it’s a very modern movie about all the struggles that everyone goes through thinking about how technology can somehow fix any hole in your heart, and how at the end of the day, we’re just humans still and we’re trying to figure that out,” Doremus said.
McGregor added: “It says a lot about love and it says a lot about finding your truth and finding your truth and love. It’s an interesting time for this movie. It’s not the only movie of its kind at the moment and that happens for a reason.”
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