Today, we interview Stephen A. Chang, who plays Sebastian in Artificial, Twitch's interactive Science Fiction webseries, which ended its third season last week. The series follows a group of scientists as they create artificial intelligence in the form of a robot and try to guide its education and evolution towards sentience. The Twitch audience is invited to vote and ask questions that can influence the course of the story, the decisions the characters make, and the decisions the AI makes as well, often changing the direction of the story. They even helped create two supporting characters from scratch during the course of the third season. It is a unique and massively ambitious show that was streamed live every Thursday with sometimes tens of thousands of viewers watching and voting. The show has won the Primetime Emmy and a Peabody award.
Chang is a producer and actor who has appeared in Shameless, Captain Marvel, and a major role in the Playstation 4 video game The Last of Us Part 2. He has played Sebastian the slightly mysterious tech CEO in Artificial since its second season. Sebastian is a major player in the story, responsible for the tech used to create the new AI in the season where the stakes are raised even higher than ever. His performance is a balancing act between humor and occasional menace.
How did you come to join Artificial?
I have worked with Bernie Su on previous projects, including Vanity and the Emmy Award-winning Emma Approved. He invited me to come audition for the role of Sebastian on season 2 of Artificial.
Sebastian in Season 3 becomes a lot more of a manipulative tech-bro CEO. How did you adjust to the evolution of the character from Season 2 to Season 3?
Haha, well it's funny because I always viewed myself as the hero of the show. A mediator. A supportive friend. A passionate leader who would always try and get the best out of people. BUT…then things got a little manipulative at the end of season 3.
I was very inspired by Jennifer Field's performance as Dr. Ruby. I started off the season very serious because the show got dark last season. But Jennifer was really having fun exploring her character and I wanted to do the same. Bernie was a great leader because he would allow me to try things and reel me in when it got too much.
However, the character evolved I would attribute to the writers and Bernie's direction. I was merely the vessel.
How did you adjust to shooting in lockdown where you weren't in the same room with the other actors and even didn't even get to see them sometimes?
It was definitely an adjustment. The actors had to become their own set designers, lighting, sound, camera operators and as you may have seen this season, their own WiFi troubleshooting department (we won't name names).
On top of that, you're acting as well as answering questions from the audience and having to shift on a dime if an audience poll takes the scene one way or another. AND it's live! Gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it.
I did miss the human interaction with the other actors though. It can get lonely sitting alone in my soundproof room :-)
Sebastian also gets a kind of mirror image in the form of Zander Cruz (Dante Blasco). Watching the two of them spar is kind of like watching two guys who are very much alike – even if they have opposing beliefs – messing with each other. What was that like playing that side of Sebastian and reacting to Zander?
I mean, I loved acting with Dante. BUT…why he gotta make me look bad! Plus he just naturally more suave a person than I am so my ego was hurting.
It was a blast. The Dante scenes were always fun and playful but like playing chess. He'd make a move then I would. Actually, I ain't that smart a guy so not chess, checkers. Maybe Pong. The writers did such a great job making those scenes so antagonistic but through a smile.
But if Z-man ever comes messin' around in my business again…IT'S ON!
Sebastian seems to enjoy pulling the strings and being in control but seems to be hiding that he's not as in control as he lets on. He doesn't seem to realize until too late that he'd been completely played by Dr. Ruby. It seems to complete his arc as he evolves to full-blown desperation undone by his hubris. He goes full-on villain mode even if he feels justified. How do you feel about his arc in season 3?
Again. I'm the hero so I don't know what you're talking about.
The arc was awesome. I don't know if audiences know this but the actors are getting the scenes week by week as the stories and polls unfold, so where a season is headed is as big a surprise to me as it is to them.
I didn't expect the season to end this way at all. But I loved that I got the opportunity to show a more desperate side to my character at the end since Sebastian is always so cool and has a response for everything.
BUT…in my defense, come on man! My AI is on the loose and could destroy humanity while I'm being backstabbed by Elle and Ruby. You'd go full villain mode too.
Where do you think he goes from here after Season 3, considering he's now responsible for a potentially dangerous AI being loose in the world?
Dude. I don't know. And I'm glad I don't have to figure it out.
Actually, my dad (who is single-handedly keeping Steven Segal's career alive) said that Lilith needs to go straight Neo meets Taken and get a s*** ton of weapons and break Elle out of captivity.
He also said Elle had to be locked up naked, so like Sebastian, he might've had one too many glasses of wine that night when I called him so take it with a grain of salt.
Wherever season 4 goes, I'm just as excited as everyone else to find out. But I do hope that I get to keep my underwear on.
Artificial can be streamed on Twitch.