Atlas: Press Conference with Jennifer Lopez, Simu Liu and Brad Peyton

Atlas: Press Conference with Jennifer Lopez, Simu Liu and Brad Peyton

The best sci-fi films aren’t driven solely by their striking visual effects and action sequences; they’re also infused with initially hostile partnerships that begrudgingly lead to respect, and sometimes even hesitant affection, between the main characters. That’s certainly the case for Jennifer Lopez‘s titular protagonist in the new drama, Atlas. The eponymous hostile data analyst must overcome her deep distrust of, and learn to work with, artificial intelligence in order to capture a terrorist.

Atlas was directed by Brad Peyton, who previously helmed such other blockbuster sci-fi action movies as Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, San Andreas and Rampage. The new Netflix feature was written by Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coleite, and produced in part by Lopez and Peyton.

In Atlas, the title character has long contended with her mother, Val (Lana Parilla), having developed the first artificial-intelligence being, Harlan (Simu Liu), when Atlas was just a child. Soon after being created, Harlan inexplicably went rogue and took control of all AI devices in order to launch a war against humankind.

Harlan eventually left Earth, but global military force ICN captures his associate, Casca Vix (Abraham Popoola). As a result, General Jake Boothe (Mark Strong) asks Atlas to hack Casca’s brain to hopefully determine Harlan’s location.

Atlas discovers that Harlan is on a remote planet in the Andromeda Galaxy. She insists on joining the team that’s dispatched to apprehend him, despite the trepidation of the operation’s commanding officer, Colonel Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown).

But upon arrival in the Andromeda Galaxy, the ICN forces quickly discover that they’ve been led into a trap; Harlan immediately destroys most of their ships and equipment.

In order to survive the fall to the surface of the foreign planet, GR-39, Atlas reluctantly gets into one of the remaining operational exo-suits – which she initially objected to because it requires a neural bond between humans and the machine.

After putting on the suit, Atlas immediately begins a combative relationship with Smith (Gregory James Cohan), the default personality of its mainframe. As the two of them navigate the hostile terrain of the planet and encounter Harlan’s AI forces, Atlas begins to realize how much she’s missed by closing herself off from the world, with the help of Smith’s adaptive programming.

Challenged by the first outside entity that she’s allowed herself to bond with since her mother’s death, Atlas is forced to confront some hard truths about her past. That’s especially true when Smith begins to realize how acknowledging them may help them combat Harlan in the present.

Lopez, Peyton and Liu generously took the time last week to participate in a press conference that was held in Mexico City and was also broadcast over Zoom. The director and performers discussed their experiences making Atlas in honor of its release on Netflix this weekend.

Atlas 6

©Jennifer Lopez, Courtesy of Netflix

Q: Jennifer, in Atlas you portray a cunning female protagonist. Which iconic female characters from sci-fi films inspired your creation of this role?

Jennifer Lopez: I think there were two very specific ones; one of them I didn’t think about when I was doing AtlasTerminator 2 with Linda Hamilton. For me, she was the baddest of the the baddest b*tches ever.

I just remember being in the theater watching it in New York, thinking, I want to be her so bad. I’m going to be an actress, and that’s what I’m going to do. I didn’t really get to do it when I was younger. So to get to be able to do something like it now is exiting.

The other character that I really love, and that Brad and I really spoke about very much while we were filming, was Ripley in Alien, who was played by Sigourney Weaver. Those two, to me, were the most iconic sci-fi/action movie characters.

Brad Peyton: One of the reasons why I love (James) Cameron is Aliens, where he worked with Sigourney. He then worked with Linda Hamilton on Terminator 2. The tone that he makes, and how awesome he makes bad-a*s women, makes you think, this guy is awesome at doing this. Those two female characters are the touchstones.

Simu Liu: Playing Harlan as artificial intelligence, there were a lot of blueprints out there, starting from (Stanley) Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The voice of Hal is chilling. I was also a huge Star Trek fan growing up…but those were all friendly AIs.

So I tried to take that voice and friendly disposition and kind of warp it in a way to make it a little unsettling and terrifying.

Jennifer Lopez: That even tone is kind of the scariest.

Brad Peyton: It’s his blue eyes. I don’t know if people know this, but Simu had contacts in the whole time (during the shoot). He only told me after two days that “I can’t really see you, Brad.” I was like, “Oh, that’s why you’re staring through me.” He was just staring through everyone on set everyday.

Simu Liu: Everyone was like, “Oh, that’s good, keeping doing that.” I was like, “Okay!”

Q: What challenges does humanity face regarding artificial intelligence? What aspects of new technology do you find most surprising?

Jennifer Lopez: Technology is advancing all the time. There’s a lot of it that makes me nervous. When you think about artificial intelligence, this movie does a good job of showing you both sides of the story.

It can be, what can go really right with AI, and how we can use them to be a greater version of ourselves, in a way. It can also be, what can go really wrong? Like with Simu’s character, AI can  take over and obliterate humanity.

So when I think about it, it’s a big question. There’s an idea that we have to have a lot of respect when it comes to artificial intelligence. It can be like any technology.

I remember in the music industry, when the internet came around, everyone was like, it’s not going to take over music! But that did happen.

So you really have to be open to the fact that there’s going to be changes all the time, and we can’t predict all of the changes. We can’t foresee those changes because we get so stuck in our reality.

But I think it’s about respecting AI without letting it take over in any way. But we have to use it in the way that it will aid us in the best way it can.

Q : Jennifer, with an impressive career with numerous credits to your name, do you still get butterflies when you work on projects like Atlas?

Jennifer Lopez: I always have butterflies! It never gets old to me, no matter how long I’ve been in this business. I always feel the excitement of doing what I do, and being blessed to be able to do what I do.

For me, it’s a huge privilege to have been able to find something that I’m so passionate about so young, in singing, dancing, acting and producing. To be able to do that for my entire life is such a joy.

I’m actually more at home, believe it or not, on stage in front of 30,000 people than in a room like this. I’m more at home on the set in a little 2×2 with a green screen behind me, pretending to be falling through the planets, acting crazy and having my adrenaline at 100.

Simu Liu: I can attest to that!

Jennifer Lopez: I feel very comfortable in those situations because I’ve been doing it for a long time.

Simu Liu: I think it shows. Remember on our content day, when we were reviewing your Super Bowl footage, I was like, “You’re one of the best to ever do it.”

Atlas 1

©Sim Liu, Courtesy of Netflix

Q : Simu, do you still get those butterflies?

Simu Liu: I also feel very at home when I’m on stage at the Super Bowl, with 75,000 fans! I think what Jen said really rings true; I don’t think the butterflies ever really go away.

But I think as artists and performers, we find a way to be excited about the butterflies, and to use and embrace that nervous energy. I think some of the greatest actors I’ve ever knownm and I look up to, experience terrible stage fright, nervousness and anxiety. It’s not the lack of those things that allow them to be great; it’s that they accept and embrace it, and then they work through it. I think that’s pretty incredible.

Q: Brad, your filmography reveals a strong focus on exploring nature. What inspired the shift to create a film centered around artificial intelligence?

Brad Peyton: I do love nature; I’m an avid hiker, and usually hike about two or three times a week. That grounds me because I like being out with my thoughts. I grew up off of a highway in a small town, and didn’t even have neighbors as a kid. So that’s my natural state.

But in all honesty, I didn’t set out to make a movie about AI. What attracted me to this, besides working with Jen, Simu and Sterling (K. Brown), who couldn’t be here today, was the theme of trust.

I believe that most of our meaningful relationships are built off of respect and trust. I think you can earn someone’s respect relatively easily, but trust is something I’ve found difficult to earn with people, and to also have them earn it from me.

I was fascinated with this idea of this woman who just didn’t trust, for valid reasons. She has childhood trauma she has to overcome. But that’s what pulled me in. The complexity of the fact that she had been abused by this AI, and was stuck in a machine that was run by AI. The irony of that made me smile; when I read the concept, I thought, that’s really neat.

As a genre fan…I think using genre to dress up a movie about something that’s very heartfelt and human, like our ability to trust, and what we have to go through to trust, is what makes genre. So I can have explosions and alien ships, but there’s an overall super human element and theme in the movie. That’s what pulled me in.

Q: Jennifer, this movie mixes sci-fi and action at its deep emotional core. How did you tap into Atlas’ emotions and motivations to bring her to life?

Jennifer Lopez: It’s like anything when you’re approaching it as an actress. You try to find the similarities to things that you have gone through in your own life. But you also use your imagination, especially in a movie like this, where there’s a ton of green screen; your imagination has to run wild. That’s a big part of being an actor.

I think with Atlas, there were parts of her that were very similar to me; she’s driven, strong, focused and passionate. But there were parts of her that were very different; I wear my heart on my sleeve, and she was very closed off and didn’t want to let anyone in.

So preparing for, and doing, that was very easy for me, as I drew on my own life, in a way. I drew on different relationships and things that I’ve been through.

Brad Peyton: One of the things that I mention to people is that you have a lot of great virtues, but courage is probably the one that stood out to me. You were put inside of an exo-suit by yourself for six or seven weeks, and a lot of actors and actresses wouldn’t be comfortable in that situation.

But because you go out in front of stadiums full of people as the lead, it sort of prepared you for a role like that. You can just step out there and be like, “I can do this.”

Jennifer Lopez: It was like being on stage and doing a one-woman show for six or seven weeks. It was  a strange experience. I think a lot of actors would tell you that; doing that kind of role, where you’re by yourself, and you have to imagine all that stuff, is a challenging thing.

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©Sterling K. Brown, Courtesy of Netflix

Q: That actually relates to the next question. Jennifer, what was it like being in so many scenes by yourself, where you’re just interacting with AI?

Jennifer Lopez: I remember thinking when I read the script that this was going to be an easy job for me. It was going to be me by myself, so I didn’t have to wait for anybody. I could just show up, do my thing and do a couple of takes, and go home.

But it was so exhausting to stay at this level of adrenaline, thinking that that your life is over, as you’re in a life-or-death situation, and you also have to try to save the planet. So at the end of the day, I would just be so exhausted, not just emotionally, but also physically; I had to tense up my body and throw myself this way and that way, and try to see things that weren’t there.

So I would walk home everyday with what I would call the tired limp. Usually you limp because you’re hurt, but when you limp because you’re tired, it’s exhausting.

Brad Peyton: I feel so bad right now!

Jennifer Lopez: It was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating in a lot of ways. It was a new type of thing that I had never done before.

Q : Jennifer, we are in a crucial moment for women, and Atlas is a heroine who we would all like to be. In what way do you think Atlas represents the women who are currently saving the world?

Jennifer Lopez: I feel like we’ve been saving the world since the beginning of time. I think Atlas is a great character because of all of the toughness that she shows initially, and all of the fearlessness of going against the powers that be. That’s what it takes to be a woman – you have to go against the grain and fight harder.

I also feel like that as women, a big part of our journey is also sharing our tremendous vulnerability and pain, like what Atlas carries. She represents both sides of that in a really beautiful way.

Having started where she started, she goes through a fascinating journey. Smith kind of chips away at her and gets into that hard exterior she’s had to have her whole life because nobody wants to listen to her throughout the film. This is an experience that women have all the time – she’s criticized…

Simu Liu: There are a lot of men in this movie who don’t believe you.

Jennifer Lopez: They don’t believe her. I can understand and relate to that, and I know a lot of other women know that too, especially in my own business. You’re criticized, you’re put down and you’re laughed at when you don’t succeed. When you do succeed, they want to tear it down.

There’s always this fight as a woman, especially as a Latina, in this business to be taken seriously. You want to be working at the highest level of your industry. I think Atlas really represents all of the greatest parts of women – their vulnerability, strength and courage.


©Courtesy of Netflix

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Here’s the trailer of the film. 

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