Michael Ealy isn't a robot, he just plays one on TV.
And playing a robot on the new Fox drama "Almost Human" has been an acting challenge.
"As an actor, you tend to draw on your human instincts and your background what you've gone through as an individual," Ealy said. "And the hardest thing in terms of playing Dorian is to act like I don't have that."
"Almost Human" stars Karl Urban as John Kennex, a tough cop working the mean streets of a big city in 2048. The series opens with Kennex being badly injured in an ambush that puts him in a coma for 17 months. When he wakes up, he learns that it's now policy for every cop to have a robot partner.
The future in this show is by no means apocalyptic, but technology has created a lot of bad to go with the good. According to executive producer J.H. Wyman, the show's backstory is that "crime becomes out of control" and police officers "are dying at a rate that is just unacceptable" so the decision is made to use "the incredible androids" as "cannon fodder."
"We play characters who are really at the frontline of protecting the society against the misapplication of genetics or robotics or anything like that," said Urban ("Star Trek," "Lord of the Rings"). "And the wonderful thing that I think the show does is it really sort of questions us. It makes us, as an audience, ask 'what does it mean to be human?' And if I was in that situation, how I would react? And I think that's a key of all good shows."
The paradox is that Kennex is a robotlike human and Dorian is a humanlike robot. Which offers up one of the more interesting police partnerships we've seen on TV in quite some time.
Kennex sees Dorian as "like having a great gun," Wyman said, "and shut up and don't speak until you're spoken to. And the problem is the gun feels very differently."
"Almost Human" is not, however, the latest in a long line of sci-fi shows about a robot who wants to be more human.
"We felt that, to tell the story we wanted to tell, it was probably better for us to have a robot that was more human than he could handle," Weyman said, "and sort of trying to understand what he is versus wanting and longing to be something he's not."
Which presents the acting challenge for Ealy, whose credits include "Barbershop," "Barbershop 2," "Underworld: Awakening," "Think Like a Man" and TV series ranging from "Sleeper Cell" to "The Good Wife" to "Californication."
"I hate to simplify it, but I tend to try and reduce Dorian sometimes to make him somewhat childlike in that he's just innocent in terms of observing what's going on around him." Ealy said. "It's interesting to play someone who's constantly trying to grasp something that he'll never have."
He admits he was "concerned" about the character when he first read the pilot script. "But the more I read the script, and the more I embraced the characters, the more I realized that's actually a good thing. Stretch yourself. Don't go the way that you've gone before, and play something different. And so, yes, I am having a ball.
"It's making me more observant as a person. I think I observe human behavior now a lot more than when I did in the past."
"Almost Human" debuts Sunday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13. A second episode airs Monday at 7 p.m. the series' regular time slot.