Today, we interview Tohoru Masamune, who plays Dr. Matt Lin in Artificial, Twitch's interactive Science Fiction webseries, which ended its third season recently. Created by Bernie Su and Evan Mandery, Artificial 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. Tohoru Masamune has played Shredder in Michael Bay's 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and appeared in Inception, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and American Dad! He is an MIT grad and his father was a top research professor at MIT. His grandfather too was a world-renown scientist in Japan, so computers and Science are part of his background. He brings a unique insight to the show.
How did you come to play Dr. Matt Lin on "Artificial"?
I first met Bernie at some outdoor party years prior hosted by the creator of on this very funny web-series I was working on at the time which involved several of Bernie's and my mutual friends/colleagues. The producer of this web-series also happened to be Bernie's producing partner, Years later, this producer asked me to audition for a project called the 'Mobile Oval', a fun political series created by Bernie which experimented with a state-of-the-art 360-degree camera. I got to play this very fun, wacky character. Great innovative show with witty fast-paced dialogue. A few years later, Bernie reached out and asked me to audition for the role of Matt Lin. The role felt like such a comfortable fit. The audition dialogue just rolled so naturally off my tongue to the point that my friend who was helping me shoot the video asked, "Did they write this for you?" A few days later, Bernie offered me the role. Jeez, I had no idea what I was getting into at the time!
As one of the few characters who has been in all three seasons, Matt Lin probably goes through the most changes. He's also the most tragic character. His grief over his daughter is what drives his creation of the AI that was original Sophie and set off the chain of events that led to the end of Season 3. What has it been like playing him?
Simply amazing. Such a blessing. I can honestly say that this role has been one of the great creative journeys of my career. As I said, the character already was so close to me. Like Matt, I went to MIT. There, I remember having to go to Marvin Minsky, the legendary grandfather of AI to get a signature for some college credit related thing. I remember sitting down with him and seeing all these robots moving around his lab and office. Very trippy. Also, my late father was a professor at MIT leading on cutting-edge research group there. In many ways, I feel like I am channeling him through this role of Dr. Matt Lin. My dad, like Matt, was extremely direct, single-minded, and principled, so my performance was a bit of an homage to him. It has been a privilege to speak the profoundly beautiful words that have been written for over all the years. I will say that the wild, singular acting experience of going through "The Trial of Dr. Matt Lin" is something I will never forget.
The Arc of Dr. Matt Lin
Actually, Matt and the now dormant Sophie backup are the only two characters left from Season 1 which started with just the two of us sitting in front of our respective cameras in a living room. Since then we have had 3 different locations (remotely from everyone's respective homes being the latest), not to mention the return of my estranged wife Mei (followed by her death), the 'murder' of Nathan Kean, the re-activation and deactivation of Ada (Sophie Version 1), the deactivation of Sophie and countless other significant moments.
I definitely felt the progression from my optimistic beginnings of raising Sophie to one day become a truly good, independent-thinking, positive, educated daughter to the intense darkness which surrounded my life in Season 3. Even with all the tragedy, the good times for Matt of the early seasons were really good. I was surrounded by family and friends. Of course, that all changed by season 3.
I do remember at times in season 3 that, in a sense, it wasn't fun being Matt. But the challenge of going to that dark, profoundly sad place every week was the kind of task that, as an actor, I live for.
It's been interesting to still be on the show, but have everything around me completely different. There is something poignant in the fact that a majority of the current cast has no actual experience any of all that went down in prior profoundly different seasons. The funny thing is that while I personally embrace change by nature and absolutely love all the cool, talented new people and the insanely innovative new elements, there is always that tiny part of all of us I suppose that can be quietly resistant to change. Matt, of course, has no compunction about stating his blatant disapproval of the new situation, so it's funny to given the dialogue to express this latent sense of resistance. There are only 4 or 5 cast and crew on the 'set' who have actually gone through all 3 seasons.
What's amazing out of all this is that it's no longer clear to me where I end and Matt begins and visa-versa. I must say that this crazy show always managed to blur all sorts of lines. It has become a true alternate reality/life I have given. The feelings and experiences seem quite real, much like in a dream. That is a true gift for an actor.
On Shooting "Artificial" Season 3 During Lockdown
I'm asking all the cast members this: how did you find the adjustment to filming under lockdown where you're on your own and forced to interact with the other actors through the computer without even getting to see their faces?
It was definitely one of the many technical challenges created by the situation. However, at the end of the day, as actors we all work from our imaginations, and often have to work around all sorts of technical limitations on any set, so it somehow became quite natural after a while. I was always shocked how in tune we were physically only by listening to the sound of each other's voices, often later discovering we had perfectly timed physical reactions to each other live on camera. I suppose we do it all the time when we talk with people over the phone, so I guess it's really not that surprising.
The Trial and Alternate Paths
The writers and you had expected Dr. Lin to be found guilty of murder in the online trial. Bernie said that outcome was actually scripted and rehearsed, but the viewers actually voted to find him innocent, which keeps him on the show rather than going away to prison. What was the "guilty" path like?
For me, the only unfortunate thing that came out of the innocent verdict was that had I been found guilty I would have made the epically beautiful 'goodbye' speech to the show and the Twitch audience written by one of the original writers Jen Enfield-Kane (She is currently one of a small handful people on the creative team, who have been on the project from the very beginning) To me it read like a moving, deeply personal ending of an epic 3-hour feature film. It's truly wonderful to perform it in our rehearsal. The kind of scene/speech that was a true gift for an actor. If I had to go, it would have been an amazing way to do it (Not a dry eye in the Twitch chat haha) It would have been a most emotionally cathartic, satisfying end to a remarkable 3-season journey. That being said it sure feels great to still be free, man!
Dr. Matt Lin has not been having a good time of it, has he? By season 3, he's a father in mourning, an angry, bitter shell of a man. He might be the most tragic and broken character in the cast. Do you see him returning in Season 4? Where do you think he can go from here?
From even before the very first episode, Matt has been haunted by an unfathomable tragedy (The shooting of his 8-year-old daughter Michelle) Everything he's ever done since then including building Sophie and going on Twitch has been an attempt to repair his shattered family life and save his tortured soul from falling hopelessly into the void. The survival of Sophie's backup as a result of the innocent verdict marks a spark of hope.
One thing Matt is not, though, is a quitter… and he is highly motivated to save Sophie from her prison of sensory deprivation and has that formidable Matt Lin prefrontal cortex that can somehow make it happen.
As far as Matt returning in season 4? As with all things on this crazy show, I have absolutely no idea! The existence of Sophie's dormant backup however allows for a resurgence of his storyline. I also feel that in the evolution of the show, Dr. Lin is sort of become a form of anti-matter within this current universe of the show. I would think that dynamic would be intriguing to re-introduce at some point in future seasons.
All three seasons of Artificial can be streamed on Twitch.