In Bernie Su’s Emmy winning Twitch series, Artificial, Steven Chang stars as Sebastian. A venture capitalist of sorts who helps fund Matt Lin’s research. Speaking to him earlier this summer, we spoke about his technical ineptitude, working with Bernie Su, and how he approached this character.
Steven Chang Chats About His Role In Artificial on Twitch:
What got you interested in being part of this show?
Steven Chang: Well, the only reason is Bernie Su, my man. He’s the genius behind all of this, and I’m fortunate enough to work with him again on another one of his projects. Because he has foresight, man; he’s always pushing the envelope.
I think he’s pushing the envelope right now, just doing Season 3 in remote locations. That’s probably unheard of. Most things probably aren’t filming right now. So, he’s the reason, man. I’d follow Bernie Su into battle anywhere.
The show overall is interesting, because not only is it scripted, but you’re taking cues from the audience in the chat and shaping the narrative going forward. With it being remote, how has that changed the way you approach doing this?
Steven Chang: I’d actually say, ironically, not too much. I feel like it’s definitely still audience-driven; I feel like the votes and the chats, those things definitely still shape how the stories happening. The only thing that’s different is we’re having to do it from our homes.
There’s technical challenges to doing that. I’ve realized my Wi-Fi ain’t up to speed, and I need to call a spectrum and yell at them. Acting is always nice to do with the person in front of you, and you’re kind of doing it just to the camera on your laptop. So, it’s a little more isolating.
I’d say there’s definitely pros and cons to it, but it’s definitely interesting. I can’t imagine anything else has ever been done like this before.
Before you came on board, how much of a tech nerd were you? Were you up on artificial intelligence, or did you have to take a crash course?
Steven Chang: I am an old fart, I’ll say that. I have zero tech experience; I barely know how to use my iPhone, so this is all been a big crash course for me. Thank God for the Artificial team to walk me through it and teach me how to set up lighting, the set design, how to use the computer and the microphone – all these things.
I was just a blissfully ignorant actor that just showed up and did my acting and went home. But this has definitely made me appreciate all the other aspects of what it takes to make something come to life.
How do you think your character Sebastian, other than obviously the difference in the technical knowledge, and you Steven are similar and different?
Steven Chang: Well, Sebastian is a much cooler dude that I am, I’ll tell you that much. I feel like he always knows what to say; he’s always confident and very reassured of who he is and what he’s doing. It probably helps that he’s a multi-millionaire, has billions of dollars.
Those are all things that Steven Chang is not. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I don’t know what I’m going to say all the time. I go back and forth with making decisions. I feel like we’re very different people, but I’m glad and I’m honored that Bernie sees that side of me that could potentially act this way and portray this character that way. Because we’re definitely different at heart.
Watching your character progress from your first introduction, your motives are very questionable. I can’t quite peg what your endgame is. Do you know, where your character is going and what your ultimate goal is, or is that something that’s being developed on the fly?
Steven Chang: It’s definitely being developed on the fly. Yeah, I didn’t know really where my character was headed. I think, because it’s manipulated by the audience and where the story is going, the script is continuously changing and altering until we’re learning the story just as the audience is learning the story, week to week.
The thing I do like about Sebastian is that I’m glad that you don’t know where he’s at. I think it makes a more interesting character. It’s not like in a movie, “Oh, that’s a good guy and this guy’s a bad guy.” I like that he kind of dips his toe in between both realms, and he confuses you as an audience sometimes. You don’t know whether you like him or hate him, and as a fan, those are the characters that I’ve always been drawn to and like to watch.
Sophie sees everything in black and white, whereas most people see the world in shades of grey. Do you feel that that is an intrinsic problem with AI, or do you think that there’s more room for those shades of grey with artificial beings?
Steven Chang: Interesting question. The thing I always liked about Sophie looking at the world in black and white is – I have kids, and they’re young. They see the world much like Sophie sees the world. I always saw her as a child; we’re teaching a child how to how to come into the world and what the world is about.
I love that she can sometimes just cut to reality. We try to convolute things a lot as adults; we don’t always say what we mean and things like that. But I always appreciated the beauty of her innocence, I felt like. I feel like for as much as they’re learning from us, I feel like we’re learning just as much from them.
I hope that AI is… I deal with my Alexa, and sometimes I just want to strangle her because she just don’t get it, you know? So, maybe I do want her to be a little more human-like, but at the same time, I appreciate it for what it is.
You have four kids, right?
Steven Chang: I have four kids. I don’t necessarily recommend it, but yeah, I got four kids.
With an artificial intelligence, when they’re brought into existence, they’re programmed with all this information already. They have access to whatever, whatever information you’re feeding into them. Whereas with kids, when they’re born, they’re learning everything from scratch. From your experience working on the show and your experience having kids, do you think it’s easier to raise kids learning everything at the same time, or do you think it’s better to have that base knowledge and add the context in later?
Steven Chang: Tell you what, Josh. Kids are always going to be much harder, because you just want to strangle your kids sometimes; they just don’t listen to you.
It’s interesting, being a parent and comparing it to artificial intelligence. Kids are learning things, and they’re asking questions. But at the same time, they just have a personality they were born with. My son is so much different than my daughter, and I feel like I raised them the same. So, I do feel like they almost are programmed with some kind of backstory, or whatever it is in them.
Which I feel is kind of like an artificial intelligence, where you program them in a certain way, and they’re learning as they go. They might have an understanding of what it is, but until they actually experience it, they don’t really know. So, I definitely see the similarities between them. Probably more similarities than not, I guess.
Going into Season 3, where do you want your character to go?
Steven Chang: Well, I would like to be kept around, so I hope I don’t get killed off somehow. I don’t know. I love that he’s behind the scenes, kind of like a puppet master, influencing where things will lead.
I feel like in most movies and things, the multi-millionaire backer or whatever, he’s always got some evil bullshit that is for weaponizing artificial intelligence. Some evil plot. And I sincerely hope that the character is in it for the right reason, and that he’s trying to push the evolution of technology. Sometimes I watch these docs on COVID-19, and I listen to Bill Gates talk. Bill Gates seems very much into how to better the future for humanity. And I’m hoping it’s not because he’s trying to make more money somehow. I hope that’s who Sebastian is.
But I don’t control that, so he could be trying to build a mega weapon of artificial intelligences. But we’ll see. Like I said, I’m an actor, but I’m also a fan of the show. I’m learning as we go week-to-week as well.
Something that’s interesting for me is the clip show format that you had going on up to this point. How hard was it for you to navigate moving into a position where you were hosting a show as a character, then also having other motivations that were coming in as the audience decided where the plot was going?
Steven Chang: Yeah, I think as an actor, it’s challenging because you’re learning different scripts and what’s going to happen here and what’s going to go this way. But oddly enough, as much as I get nervous when we have to do these live shows – you don’t want to fuck up or anything like that. It is remarkably seamless, how they do it. They make it as easy as they possibly can for the actors to just be in the moment and do the scene, but at the same time incorporating this technology on the side to propel the story along. I can’t complain.
When you’re doing those live sections and you’re responding to the audience, are you improv-ing those moments? Or do you have someone off camera feeding you lines and telling you what to say?
Steven Chang: They do have people that will help you with lines. I know some actors will improv certain things. Thank God I don’t have to, because I’d probably say the wrong thing or something. I’d probably dropped an F-bomb here, and then I’d be fired.
But there’s definitely a team helping you out, which I think is good. Because it keeps you on point; it keeps the character in line, so it’s not too much Steven coming into it. I can still focus on the story.
Artificial airs on Twitch with new episodes every Thursday at 5 PDT.