From creator/writer/director/executive producer Alex Garland, the limited series Devs, which is available to stream at FX on Hulu, follows software engineer Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno), as she tries to investigate the ultra-secretive development division of the cutting-edge tech company that employers her, following the murder of her boyfriend (Karl Glusman). As Lily gets in deeper and the extent of Amaya CEO Forest’s (Nick Offerman) commitment to the Devs project is pushed to the limit, the success of the company’s covert work is threatened, which could result in dire consequences for everyone.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Nick Offerman talked about how much he knew about the story that they’d be telling prior to shooting, the layers to the character relationships, whether his character’s grief helped him to understand his actions, if he sees Forest’s ending as a happy ending, what he likes about Alex Garland’s work, and whether he’d be up for reuniting with this cast for another series from Garland.
Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: How much were told about what this would be prior to shooting it?
NICK OFFERMAN: We were told everything, so hard. First of all, it’s an incredibly rare experience in our business for somebody with a novelist’s brain, like Alex (Garland), to write eight one-hour scripts months before production is ever gonna start. He’s used to making films. And he wrote it on spec, which is crazy. It’s unbelievable. I would say to him, “You know, on TV shows, people are handing you scenes. As you’re shooting a scene, they’re handing you the next scene.” So, we all got eight scripts. Imagine reading this, and then he had the wherewithal to rehearse. We’d all get together and go through the scenes. He sent us YouTube links and book recommendations to read and learn all about quantum computing and quantum physics and the multiverse and determinism. We all consumed it. Alison Pill is a fucking annoying, brilliant genius. She already knew half of it. I hate her guts. Everybody could grasp it, but Alex would have these rehearsal sessions, and he would patiently talk us through everything. Even now, there are so many mental, weird twists and turns into loops. His ability to keep track of all that, and embroider it all into an effective, complete narrative, without having to work on it for 12 years, just blows my mind. So, we were told as much as possible, over and over again. We rehearsed in August, and by the time we’re shooting in February, we’d have to go over it again.
At the start of this series, all of the characters feel very emotionally cold. It’s not until you learn more about them and their relationship dynamics that you really start to understand them. Were you surprised that all of those layers were under these seemingly very detached people?
OFFERMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. In Lily’s relationships with Sergei and Jamie, and in Forest’s relationship with Katie, these are real people. And even the killing machine, Kenton, shows these moments of humanity that are incredibly charming. I think that’s because the show was written by a brilliant novelist. Shooting the end of the show in the sci-fi building that we built in Manchester for the last couple of weeks, Alison, Sonoya (Mizuno), Stephen (McKinley Henderson) and I couldn’t believe, now that we were at the end of six months of shooting and we were shooting the ending, it was really trippy. We would shoot a scene, and then we would go into a room and watch the scene that was shot, and we’d go do the scene again. It was so mind-bending. We were like, “How did this beautiful writer do this?” It’s unfathomable.
This is an interesting character because, especially as someone who’s lost a child, it’s hard to view him as a villain. He’s doing some villainous things, but it’s out of a lot of pain and grief. Did that give you a sense of understanding of him and his action? Did it change your perspective at all?
OFFERMAN: It’s interesting, I agree. From the get go, you’re like, “Okay, this is a scary bad guy.” But then, as the justifications unfold for his actions, the morality becomes much more murky, especially by the end when you learn that his gamble was right, and he rolled the dice and it turned out to be true. Figuratively, immortality is real in the multiverse. And so, his purported sins perhaps have no teeth in this one world because every version of them exists in every world. As an actor taking that on board, what it required of me was to just be completely whole hog and sell the whole farm into the theory of determinism, so that he’s a complete zealot. Everything that happens, whether some deaths might happen, or some other violence, or some malfeasance, it’s all just as good as anything that happens. It’s nobody’s fault. And it turns out that he’s kind of right. I personally can’t weigh in on that morality ‘cause I’m too simple-minded. I’m too stuck in this world. But to his way of thinking, none of us can help what’s happening, so it’s okay.
Do you see his ending as a happy ending for him?
OFFERMAN: Yes, absolutely. But it’s a weird question ‘cause his ending, as we perceive it in the show, is really our ending, as the audience. We’re told, “If this goes right and you end up happy, that’s just one ending.” Alex, just as easily, could have shown us some bad ones, and it would have been a horrible ending and really dissatisfying. That’s the weird thing about the perception of the multiverse theory. It all depends on your point of view. If you’re the Forest in the ending that we see, great. But we know there are an infinite number of Forests and so it’s probably a wash.
With Alex Garland saying that he wants to write another project with this same cast, are you on board with whatever it is?
OFFERMAN: Presumably. That is a little bit of a scary question I would imagine, especially given his generosity towards an ensemble. We all arguably have the best part in the show, which is another wonderful gift for a television writer. And so, with that in mind, I’m pretty besotted with him, as an artist. I’m not a marquee player, as it were, as if I can be a part of his art project and do him some good, chances are I’ll show up.
Had you been familiar with this work before doing Devs?
OFFERMAN: Only Ex Machina and Annihilation. Once I read his resumé, I realized that I’d seen a couple of the movies that he wrote. I’ve also been a big fan of Danny Boyle over the years. So once I saw Alex’s trajectory, and then I started reading his early novels and really dug in, I feel like he became fully formed as an artist with Ex Machina. When I got the word that he wanted to meet me for this, I was like, “Oh, my god, the guy who made Ex Machina wants me to do something.” In that film, I was really moved by Oscar Isaac’s role. It was the kind of thing that made me go, “Boy, if I could ever meet this guy, that’s the kind of part I think I could really do a decent job with.” And here we are. He’s so smart. His point of view has a lot of empathy, but he really sees the big picture, in an astonishing way. I’m no dummy, but he often makes me feel pretty simple. I’m good with tools because I cannot wrap my head around the things that he can.
Devs is available to stream at FX on Hulu.