What an A.I. Wants: Tamsen McDonough of Syfy's KILLJOYS

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of CriticalBlast.com or its management.

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
StumbleUpon icon
Del.icio.us icon
Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Tamsen McDonough (LUCY) on Syfy's KILLJOYS

Science fiction has no shortage of Artificially Intelligent spacecraft. Coincidentally, it also doesn't have a shortage of A.I.s that enjoy the name Lucy (see HOMEWRECKER, HACKERS, and RED PLANET).

On Syfy's KILLJOYS, Tamsen McDonough provides the voice for the ship's computer, Lucy, providing personable (and smartass) dialogue to interact with the crew of the show's bounty hunters, earning her the unofficial title of the show's Fourth Killjoy. We spoke with McDonough about her role, and the role of A.I. in science fiction -- and modern life -- to get her perspective on things from the inside.

On KILLJOYS, you provide the voice of Lucy, the ship's computer. You have such a chemistry with the cast and your vocal interactions with them, I have to wonder -- even though you're not on screen, do you work physically with the other actors, or are you working solely out of a recording studio sound booth?

The first season, I came in long after the entire season had been wrapped. So I wasn't even cast until -- I think they wrapped in November, and I wasn't cast until January. So I hadn't met anybody. I flew out to Toronto -- I was in Vancouver at the time -- and I was in the sound booth and hanging with Michelle Lovretta and all the producers and wonderful people, which was a lot of fun.

One of the goals of an actor is to show an emotion on screen for an audience. How do you go about accomplishing that when your character is restricted to this more subdued tone, and you have to communicate tension and suspense and other emotions?

I think partly it's, yes, to convey emotion, but for me a lot of the time it's to tell a story, which I think Lucy does very well, but also to...to me it's how people respond to a character and how they respond to a situation. So sometimes somebody could be holding back emotion, and not wanting to show emotion. And that will elicit a response: "Oh, that person is holding back!" So for me, sometimes with Lucy I think people can feel she wants to be more than she is, that she's an AI and she's aware that she's AI, and -- I'm really putting a lot on her, because she's my baby, and this is probably more than the writers ever thought, but of course I romanticize the whole idea of my character now. But I think she wants to be human, she wants to be with Johnny or hang out with Clara or swashbuckle with Dutch. So I think people can feel there's a little bit of yearning trying to break out of this voice that...she's constrained by the fact that she's a computer, but I think people can feel the yearning that she wants to be more, that she wants to be involved, she wants to be a part of it. So I think that that, for me, is a bit of an easier thing to play in that she's held back but there is that emotion there; she wants to be more.

Do you have a favorite Lucy moment in KILLJOYS, either from a past episode or one that's coming up soon?

Yeah, there's a few really great moments coming up for Lucy in an episode. I thinks she's had a lot of really great things with all three of the main cast, even with Fancy and with Pree; they've got some really cool moments with Clara. Even with Olan in this last scene where this little punk kid is trying to take her over! So I think she's got some really lovely moments with everybody. So I think she's got some really cool stuff coming up in future episodes that people are really going to like.

Computer AI in science fiction for the past few decades has been predominantly cast as female, despite that they're machines. From STAR TREK's USS Enterprise computer voiced by Majel Barrett to the computer on FIREFLY to Gideon on DC'S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW voiced by Amy Pemberton -- and even our real-life tools like Siri, Cortana and Echo are all female. Is this a new form of casting females in subservient roles, or is it a tacit admission that we trust females more than we trust males?

It' funny, because I have been noticing on the subway systems there is a female voice, and now I am a little more aware of these things. Granted, some of my influences for Lucy have been C-3PO...my mom suggested watching a show called KNIGHT RIDER, so I'm also looking at the male counterparts as well as the female. And there's HAL and so on. But you're right, those were a little bit earlier.

When I was sitting in the subway one time, I was thinking I wonder if it's exactly what you were saying, or is it simply a matter of...it can be a more soothing voice. And unless you're going to get Morgan Freeman, women can have a bit more of a soothing voice. And I don't think you're ever going to get a very high female voice, I think it's usually going to be possibly a voice a little bit more like mine, almost which is a deeper voice that almost kind of bridges the gap between male and female a little bit. You get the strength of a deeper voice, but yet the maternal caring of a female. I don't know. It was something I was curious about as well, and that's the best I can come up with.

So we're looking for mom.

I think so a little bit. That was originally what Lucy was supposed to be, was a maternal figure. And then by the time they got to casting me, they went with more of a forced character in the show. So I have the feeling, and again I'm probably putting words in people's mouths, that they were balancing off the male/female energy, since you've got Dutch and the two guys. It balances things out a little bit, because she's definitely not a maternal figure. She's almost come in as trying to be a romantic figure sometimes. So I've just killed my own theory, saying it's a maternal thing, because Lucy is not maternal.

What should we be looking for from Lucy in the future?

There's not a lot I can tell you, to be honest. There's going to be something really fun -- these clever writers always have little tricks up their sleeves, and they've done something really fun in one of the episodes. There's something fun in every episode, but selfishly -- because we're always fighting for our characters -- they've got some really neat things coming up. And you'll know it when you see it!

Photo credit: LV Imagery