Tomorrow marks the worldwide release of Steven Spielberg’s new VR romp Ready Player One. With Tye Sheridan taking the lead, we revisit our HERO 15 with the actor – you know, just before he became Hollywood’s most wanted.
Tye Sheridan is the real deal. Pausing to think as he talks, there is no bullshit; just honesty. No pretence or gushing darling talk about the industry. He is driven, passionate and energetic. His eyes light up with a genuine and humbling enthusiasm that’s impossible to fake. When we met for this interview in a cafe, he held the door open for about six people who all walked in thanklessly. You already know he does this everywhere. Even as our cash was literally touching the inside of the register he still somehow managed to buy us lunch, flatly refusing any other option.
Sheridan’s career so far contains that perfectly curated clutch of roles, co-stars, genres and critical reception that most young actors would kill for. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, alongside Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, Mud with Matthew McConaughey, Joe with Nicholas Cage, cult hit The Stanford Prison Experiment to name four. Dipping his big toe into blockbuster territory, last year Sheridan starred as the young Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse, and now he takes the lead in Spielberg’s VR heavy-hitter Ready Player One – a major vote of approval from one of cinema’s ultimate legends.
James West: Back to the beginning, before you started thinking about acting at all, what was life like?
Tye Sheridan Well I grew up in the middle of Texas, basically the middle of nowhere.
JW: Is it really hot?
TS: Yeah really hot and humid. During the summers it gets up to like 100–110°F, it’s awful, it’s not like dry heat, it’s really suffocating. So I’m basically immune to heat because of that. I grew up playing sports. My mum had a few jobs, she was a massage therapist and did permanent cosmetics, and then in my early teen years she got her own salon and now she rents out the booths, and part of the salon is a clothing boutique.
JW: So you grew up around the idea of image and looking good?
TS: Kinda, but my mum was never really into that, like she had a salon, but she’s so business savvy, she’s like, “This is one business and now I’m working on another…”
JW: I feel like it’s a Southern thing to have quite an entrepreneurial spirit.
TS: I think there’s just a work ethic that exists in people in the South where they just have a lot of drive, and I think it all tracks back to the essential moral standard that they just want to provide for their families. My dad is a UPS driver; he’s worked there since he was my age.
Fabien Kruszelnicki: They’ve got a good uniform.
TS: Oh yeah, what can brown do for you?!
JW: Doesn’t show the dirt I guess, it’s quite practical. So what kind of sport were you into?
TS: I did baseball, football, basketball, recently in the past year or so I’ve started to play soccer. I wanted to be a baseball player when I was growing up, and quickly realised I wasn’t good enough to play and be paid for it. So then I wanted to work on the grounds crew of major league baseball team, basically trim the field and make sure everything is in order.
JW: Were you not good enough for that either? [laughs]
TS: [laughs] Well, and then this whole thing kind of happened.
JW: So you came from this small town, not like LA where everyone already wants to be an actor.
TS: It’s funny, people always ask me if I always knew if I wanted to be an actor and the truth is, I didn’t really know at all, I was just so young at the time when it all happened that I hadn’t really had time to think about it. I remember my dad would come home from work when I was a kid – and this is before I was eleven or twelve so when I was really young – he’d come home and and while the sun was still up, we would practice baseball. Every day.
JW: So you have nice memories of back in Texas.
TS: Oh yeah, absolutely.
JW: And you still go back?
TS: Yeah I do, it’s tougher for me to go back now, just because… it’s so good to see friends and family, but there’s really nothing left there for me, you know? It’s like you go back to visit your parents in your hometown and you’re there for like a day or two, you’re like. “Ahh this is so nice to just relax and see my family,” but then it starts to drive you mental because you can’t get any Wi-Fi, you can’t send emails.
JW: Is your bedroom still there? I remember I moved out and my dad turned the bedroom into a guest bedroom.
FK: I’ve still got my bedroom. My sister’s just gone to university, it’s her first year and she came back for the break and she said it’s so weird just going back home, and it being the same.
TS: Yeah I know the feeling.
JW: What are the people in your town like about what you’re doing?
TS: I don’t know, I don’t think people really care because, you know, I went to a public high school, simultaneously while I was beginning my acting career and I would go off and shoot a movie, come back, then go and shoot a movie, come back. Sophomore year was the last year I was ever in a public school, I was probably sixteen at the time, and before that I think I’d done three films, they were Tree of Life, Mud and Joe. And I remember Mud came out around the time I left school, it was the first time people actually saw me in something,
JW: Because you film so far in advance, that no one had actually seen it yet?
TS: Yeah, I’d leave for weeks at a time and I’d say I was going off to shoot a movie with Matthew McConaughey or Nicolas Cage, I didn’t really talk about it much because I think people often didn’t believe me.
JW: [laughs] They thought you were just dossing off.
TS: Yeah like, “This can’t be true.” We screened Mud in my home town and I’d been going to festivals before with Jeff Nichols our director, and I was constantly watching him introduce the film, over and over. So I was going to introduce the film and I thought, “Ok I’ll make a little speech, it will be fun.” I put no preparation into it and I get there and all of my friends are there, but it’s weird because I’m not used to seeing people I know in this type of environment, I’m like, “Oh I know all these people, there’s my aunt Helen in the front row with her camera.” So I said, “Yeah so, this film is called Mud and it stars Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, and we shot it in Arkansas and it was a lot of fun to make, and er, I hope you enjoy it.”
TS: And that was it. And so Mud comes out, it’s playing at my home town theatre. People didn’t make a big deal about it, some people mentioned it was kinda cool, and other people I would catch looking at me in the hall and they wouldn’t talk to me, it was strange. But I didn’t have a ton of friends that I went to school with anyway.
JW: Because you were never there!
TS: Yeah, and also it was hard for me to relate to anyone in high school because you know everyone is super conservative – blue collar, like, “I’m gonna get married by the time I’m twenty three and go to school to be an engineer and work the oil field.” So people couldn’t see the desire behind what I wanted to do, they didn’t understand that kind of thing.
JW: So Mud was a great film, I know it wasn’t your first film but it’s kind of a dream kind of first-ish role for a young actor.
TS: In a way it kinda was my first… I don’t want to say ‘movie’ because I did Tree of Life, but I was so young at the time I couldn’t begin to comprehend everything that I was surrounded by. Mud was still a bit of the same thing but I understood the process a bit more.
FK: Before The Tree of Life, were you already aware of Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt?
TS: Not at all man, it’s so weird because I didn’t grow up watching movies, you know we would catch whatever was on TV late at night like in the middle of some movie and then we’d fall asleep. Occasionally my Grandpa would take me to the movie theatre and we’d watch some animations or some crazy comedy with Will Farrell, but outside of that, I think there were a few Spielberg movies that stick out like The Goonies, but I didn’t have a ton of knowledge about the world of cinema. And so when I got to set and started doing The Tree of Life, I didn’t really know who Brad Pitt was, I knew people made a big deal about him but I didn’t know why [laughs]. That made the experience so pure because, everyone, in my mind, is only equal, we’re all working together as equals making one thing.
JW: You just do it.
TS: Yeah, you just have to step up.
JW: And did the environment on The Tree of Life and Mud feel quite independent? Although these guys are big stars, they’re in that environment of a more artistically-driven narrative.
TS: Yeah, in both of those films we had a lot of freedom to be creative, and the experience was very different from The Tree of Life to Mud. In Mud, Jeff Nichols heavily relied on the scripted dialogue and the structure of the film, whereas Terrence Malick… we never saw a script.
FK: Oh really?
TS: Yeah, none of the boys did.
FK: How did you do it? Did he just tell you what kind of thing he wanted?
TS: Well, we’d just come to set and he’d be like, “Alright, this scene is about this, get in there and make it happen.” But we didn’t know any other way to work, that was normal for us.
JW: So you must have taken that process somehow onto other films?
TS: Absolutely, well I just recently worked with a director called AJ Edwards, and AJ was working under Terry Malick for ten to twelve years as his editor. I actually met AJ when I was ten years old, he was the one who came into a classroom and discovered me, it’s so weird how you go full circle, I’ve known AJ for almost a decade now, if it wasn’t for that moment man I wouldn’t be here at all.
JW: But to have those kind of foundations must put you in a great place, a lot of young actors maybe start in quite a commercial TV environment that’s regimented, then they have to build from there. But if you start with experimental filmmaking when you’re on set, even with a film that does have a script and quite a structure, you must be thinking in a different way.
TS: Yeah for sure, I think what it teaches you is just to be open to other people’s ideas, and a collaboration amongst a set. From anyone, you know? From the lead actor standing next to you to the director, to the producer, to the grip guy, it doesn’t matter; if someone’s got a good idea, use it, embrace it. I remember working with a director once, and I was so young at the time, I didn’t know whether to speak up about it, but we’d just shoot everything the same way. I thought, “This is strange, I’ve never done something like this, because we’ve got this so why would would we shoot it four more times?” All that transitions to the screen and the movie can be really flat.
JW: So you worked on Joe as well, which is – I don’t want to say similar to Mud – but it has that same kind of pace.
TS: Well it’s a Southern Gothic.
JW: It’s one of my favourite genres, I love that kind of tempo and style of storytelling.
TS: Yeah I do too, I was so thankful for those first two films, well first three films really. Each of these steps has been the perfect step up, I was so lucky working with all these great directors.
JW: As an actor do you actually get to that point where you watch the final thing and you’re like, “Fuck that’s good?” Or because it’s a gradual process have you seen it so many times in various stages that you can’t see it objectively any more?
TS: I don’t think it really hits you until the first time you premiere a film at a festival. Seeing a film with an audience is really where it happens for me, and a lot of it depends on the audience. Probably the best screening I’ve ever had was the world premiere of Mud at Cannes. and I was fifteen years old, I didn’t know how much of a big deal it was to be in Cannes… I was just there at this festival in France and I knew there was all these fancy films there and all these fancy people on their yachts and really successful filmmakers. I’d seen Mud once with my family, it was with my mum and my dad and my little sister, we drove down to Austin, it’s a three hour drive from where my parents live, and Jeff Nichols showed us the film in our producer’s house. It was like, you know, on a 40 inch flat-screen TV and it was a rough cut, the quality in the image and resolution wasn’t there. I remember seeing it and thinking, “This is pretty good.” But seeing it in a theatre and having that sound you can feel inside your body, you can feel the energy and the connection with what’s happening on screen with the audience that surrounds you, it was so different and I think it took me by surprise. I didn’t know the film was that good, and then seeing it, I just remember finishing it and the cast stood up and everyone had teary eyes, and my parents are crying – one of the only times I’ve seen my dad cry was at this festival. And people are giving us a standing ovation for, I can’t remember how long it was, like fifteen minutes.
JW: If you can achieve that with a movie, then that’s what it’s about really isn’t it?
TS: Yeah. I remember Alec Baldwin was sitting in a row right in front of me. It was just such a crazy experience and I couldn’t take everything in in the moment, and Alec Baldwin turns around and he sticks his hand out and I shook it. So the Mud premiere was probably the best experience I’ve ever had watching one of my own films. A lot of times it’s hard for me to judge how good something is, it’s like reading your own writing or watching something that you’ve edited. You’ve seen it, like you were there, you’ve experienced it the way no one else has and you know it so well that you can’t watch it like a stranger would, like a typical audience member.
FK: You can’t appreciate it because you’re too close to it. It’s when you start to forget making it that you can start to appreciate it.
TS: That’s exactly it. I used to get really excited when I’d finished something, and I would wait wait wait to see it, but I think sometimes it’s better to forget it and move on to the next thing and when it resurfaces and someone emails you saying, “Hey we’re going to this festival and the screening’s on this day,” then you’re like, “Ok cool, well I’ll experience the film fresh then.”
JW: Let’s talk about X-Men, that must be quite a different to the other films we have talked about. Didn’t Bryan Singer direct this one? I’m a big X-Men fan.
TS: Oh yeah me too. But actually I’d never seen an X-Men film until right before I found out I was doing this audition. It was funny, I was sitting around with my cousin Haley, who’s a year older than me, we are really close and she was babysitting for my aunt. So we were sitting around with the kids and they were taking a nap, and she was like, “Let’s watch a movie, have you seen the latest X-Men?” and I’d never seen an X-Men film. So we watched X-Men: Days of Future Past.
JW: You started there? You can’t start there.
TS: No no… but I did and it was fine because they go back in time.
FK: Ah yeah, that’s ok then.
TS: And I remember seeing it and I was so surprised that a movie so big could still have such great characters and be so relatable, even with these mutant powers.
JW: When they did the first X-Men films there hadn’t really been a lot of that superhero Marvel stuff yet.
TS: Bryan Singer started that, he created the whole X-Men universe, everyone was like, “Ah comic book movies, that’s silly.”
JW: Some of those other movies have got pretty bland, but because he was the first one to do it there was still a lot of character and storyline in there.
TS: Exactly. I think X-Men is one of the rare ones that people actually care about not only as a superhero movie, but about the incredible characters too.
JW: And actors as well, top rate.
TS: Exactly. So I was just so happy and grateful to find myself involved. The timing was weird – I saw Days of Future Past, and then my agent calls me like a few days later and he goes, “Have you seen the X-Men movies?” And I was like, “Yeah, of course.” And he was like, “I think I’m going to get you an audition for the younger version of James Marsden.” And so I start watching all the X-Men films. I have to tell you this story, I always tell it in interviews.
JW: Tell us and then we’ll just delete it after.
TS: So on my way to my first X-Men audition, I hadn’t ever auditioned for anything this big. So I’m a little nervous, like, it’s a lot of dialogue, and I’m driving, I was in LA, I flew to LA for the audition. I didn’t have a car, my buddy Jeff had just broken his neck three months prior to this, and he goes, “Mate I can’t drive my car why don’t you just take it to your audition tomorrow?” And I was like, “No no, I don’t want to take your car, my parents taught me never to use someone else’s car.” And he’s like, “Just take it, you’re being so silly, it’s going to be an hour-long drive in the morning.” Because I was staying in Studio City and I had to get down to Fox, which is like ten miles – far for LA.
JW: Ten miles for LA is like two days driving.
TS: Exactly. So I go down to his garage, and I knew he had a fancy car but I forgot what kind of car it was. It was this Porsche 911 convertible and I was like, “Ok, I’ll drive your car.” [laughs] And so the next morning, I’m on the 405 going south, there’s just so much traffic, bumper to bumper, and I’m thinking I’m going to be late, I’ve been in the car an hour, running the lines in my head, I’m kinda out of it. I’m going really slow, but because I’m unfamiliar with the car I start thinking, unconsciously, “I’m starting to get close to that car in front I need to hit my brakes,” so I start to hit my brakes, but I didn’t do it hard enough and I just bumped the guy. I’m like, “Holy shit!” I snap back into reality, I just fucking rear-ended someone. And so I step out of the car and this guy is driving a Jaguar, he gets out and he’s like, “What the fuck?!” I thought, “This is so bad, I’m going to miss my audition, I just blew X-Men, it’s gone.” And so I get out of the car, and the guy is wearing a San Francisco Giants wind jacket, and this is during the World Series, and he’s going towards the airport and immediately I realised he’s flying to the world series right now and I made him late for it. I said, “Oh no man, I’m so sorry, I’m a huge baseball fan, I know that must suck.” The guy ended up being super cool, eventually I got back in the car and my brain is just racked, all these nerves. So I go in, finish the audition, I can’t remember what it was like, what I did, how I did, and I walk out going, “Dude, I just blew that.” And then I get a call about the audition, like, “Hey they want you to read again. I’m like, “No way”.
JW: “I’ll take your car again next time, thanks.”
TS: Yeah I’ll take you car again man, lucky charm, I’ll just crash it and rear end someone else.
FK: So did you get much freedom to be able to decide how to play your character, or did Bryan Singer give a lot of input? I’m asking because Cyclops was one of my favourite characters.
JW: So I hope you didn’t fuck it up!
TS: Me too, I hope I don’t disappoint you. Well when we meet the character he hasn’t discovered his super powers yet, and you see the first time he shoots his lasers and he’s like, “Oh my god I’m a freak.” It’s not until later when he meets Charles Xavier, and he helps him really navigate his powers for good, and then… yeah I mean I guess I don’t want to give too much away.
FK: No no no…
JW: I want to watch it.
JW:So when did you start taking pictures?
TS: I think I always had an eye for taking photos but I never actually had a legit camera until I was seventeen years old. A stills photographer on this movie called The Forger I was shooting in Boston gave me this Canon AE-1 Program, and he goes, “Tye, you’ve been amazing to work with, I want to give this to you because I think you’ll like it.” Shooting on a film camera just feels so classic and cinematic, and I fell in love with it. At first I had my ISO setting wrong and I was shooting on this 3200 black and white film and it just looked super shady, then someone was like, “Yeah, you gotta set that.” So you start going through a few rolls of film, getting them developed. I’ve always loved to document and take photos of people, like that’s just something that comes naturally with me, if I see something, I want to try and capture it in the moment before it’s too late. I was just in Montreal and I was walking around shooting this roll of black and white, and I came up to this guy. Sometimes I ask if I can take a photo, sometimes I just snap it. It depends on the person, whether I think they’re going to kick my ass or not. So I came up to this guy standing outside of his business smoking, and he just had this amazing face and I said, “Hey man, do you mind if I take a photo of you, and he goes, “Yeah, but I’m not going to look into the camera.” I was like, “Perfect, because everyone always wants to pose.” There was this other guy walking down the street who looked really interesting and I was shooting on a 17mm lens. So I’m looking through my camera, and I’m like, “Oh my god this guy is amazing,” and I wait for him to get close enough to take a picture but with the 17mm it’s really wide angle so I had to wait for him to get really close, and as soon as he hears my shutter he stops. I keep walking, and he goes “Hey, hey, did you take a photo of me?! You better not have taken a photo of me,” and I was like, “No, no,” he says “I fucking heard the shutter go off…” I was like, “No man, it’s just for my personal collection” He was like, “I want that photo, I’ll fucking bash your head in, I’ll bash your head in,” and he starts running after me, and I’m like “Holy shit!” So I take off running down the street, and he’s chasing me for a block, and finally he stops. I remember thinking, “I hope that photo was worth it.”
JW: And just the other day it was announced that you are going to be the lead in the next Spielberg movie which is kind of massive. How did that happen?
TS: I was shooting X-Men, my agent sends me a script and I typically don’t like to read things while I’m working on something else. Sometimes I think it can conflict with what your intentions are for one project when you start reading other things. But then he said, “This is a Spielberg film.”
JW: You should read that.
TS: And I had a lot of time off on the X-Men movie because it was like a five month shoot. So I read the script and thought, “This movie is going to be massive and I think it’s going to be a huge milestone in cinema.” Half the film takes place in this virtual realm and with all the advancements in VR [virtual reality] today, he’s going to use the most upgraded and advanced technology for it. I told myself, “I’m going to do this audition, I’m never getting casted for this, but you know, I’m going to do it.” So I get my buddy to help me on the audition, and I didn’t have any camera to shoot it on and it was time-sensitive. I had to send it in and I was going to work the next day. I had all these cardboard boxes and I stacked them all up in my apartment in Montreal to my eye line, and I put my laptop on top of the boxes and propped my phone up against the laptop and filmed myself on the phone. My friend was off to the the side reading the lines, and we had like a lamp that he was holding for light. So it was like…
JW: Super hi-tech.
TS: Yeah super hi-tech. A few weeks later I hear back from my agent, “Hey I think they’re going to pass, I think they want someone that looks a bit different, this and that…” – yeah cool I expected that. A few more weeks go by then my agent calls me and goes, “Hey that Spielberg thing resurfaced, someone said he saw you in this trailer for a zombie film.” The trailer he was talking about was for a was a comedy, then he said, “He thought you were playing the whole thing a little too heavy and he wants you to lighten it up a bit and try again.” So I give it another shot and I tried to be funny.
JW: In a room by yourself with your phone.
TS: Yeah. [laughs] So I send it in and a few weeks later they asked me to come to LA for a screen test. I was so nervous, I think there were three people left…
JW: Do you all sit outside waiting?
TS: No I didn’t know who they were, and I didn’t ask. I approached the whole situation thinking, “If I don’t get this that’s ok, at least I’ve made it this far.”
JW: Spielberg is like the dream right?
TS: In the world of cinema, it’s like, he’s the one. And so I go in and he’s in there and I’m super nervous and I’m chemistry-ing with Olivia Cooke, she plays my love interest in the film. It was really fun, he was super curious and asking me all these questions about what I’d been working on. I think it was like a month or two later I found out, I got a call from my agent, and when something big like this happens they always try and make a joke about it.
JW: I was going to ask – what do they actually say to you?
TS: I can’t remember exactly but something like, “Hey we just got an offer from this movie that’s…’ and it’s a really bad film they’re pitching it to me, they know it’s not me, it sounds awful… and then they said, “Just kidding you’re going to be working with Steven Spielberg this summer.”
JW: What do you say, what do you do?
TS: Well you can’t even begin to comprehend what that even means.
JW: Do you scream like a little girl?
TS: No I just said, “This is such good news.” I was on the set of X-Men during reshoots and I got off the phone and I was sitting in my trailer alone, like no one to tell. The first thing I did was call my parents. I had a 5am call time the next day and I couldn’t sleep that first night I found out. I went to see a movie at this cinema I really like in Montreal called Cinema du Parc and I turned my phone off.
JW: What movie did you see?
TS: I actually watched the 2015 Oscar nomination shorts. So I’m watching all these short films and then I leave the theatre, it’s like 9 o’clock, I turn my phone on and all these texts start coming through and it started to sink in a bit. I was so tired the next day. I get to set and I’m sitting there with Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg, and they turn around and they’re like, “Congratulations.” They start asking me all these questions and I just remember getting so overwhelmed.
JW: It’s going to be a while before it comes out in 2017, and you’re going to be working on it for like six months this year.
TS: Yeah, so it’s like in the very very very beginning. James It’s kind of nice to talk about it now, we should do this again in two years and see what you say about it then.
FK: And you are really interested in virtual reality, right?
TS: For me it’s like, everyone’s trying to figure it out right now. And it’s growing at a pace that’s super rapid, it’s growing so quickly. A year-and-a-half, two years ago, people were just starting to discover it properly. I think it will be the biggest for video games, so you know like those Call of Duty games, and the first person games, can you imagine being immersed in a world where that feels real?
JW: Have you seen that trailer for…
TS: Hardcore Henry?
TS: Yeah so Hardcore Henry, exactly, point of view film, but it’s still 2D. Can you imagine being in a world where you can choose to see what you want to? I mean it’s huge for the entertainment industry. Last January was the first time I experienced Oculus Rift. They already have cameras that you can shoot 360° with for VR, cameras that are so good, they can shoot 4k and 6k, it looks incredibly cinematic. But the thing with these cameras is they have to be in a stable position, you can’t move them yet.
FK: Well they’ll work it out I guess, it won’t take long. I’m always fascinated by technology generally and how it relates back to how we live. At the moment they’re starting to grow body parts, which is really interesting for medicine, do you think VR will link up with science and medicine as well?
TS: I think so, it will be huge for learning. There’s a company making videos now of surgery and people that are studying to be doctors can wear this VR technology and see the procedure, see everything that’s happening… what kind of scalpel this guy is using. It gives you the opportunity to experience it for yourself.
JW: What I find interesting is all that haptic sensory stuff, did you see that old film with Michael Douglas called Disclosure where they go into this super 90s-looking virtual filing system?
TS: No, I haven’t seen it.
FK: It’s got Demi Moore in too.
TS: Ok, I’ll definitely watch it.
JW: It’s that idea that not only can you see a world around you but you can also receive physical feedback from what you’re doing as well. So you can see people starting to think about it 20 years ago.
TS: It’s incredible man, have you guys tried the Oculus technology?
JW: No I really want to.
TS: You should. What’s amazing about it – and what’s also really scary – is how much of a departure it is from your world, and how you can totally immerse yourself in it. That’s what’s so cool about the Spielberg film. This kid I play… people see him as this looser in real life and he has a chance to go in and create his own character and be his own avatar and do whatever he wants in this virtual world, and he’s a hero in the game; he’s the best player there.
JW: Like Second Life and World of Warcraft where you can reinvent yourself, it’s interesting how you choose to create yourself in those places.
TS: Yeah absolutely, I was talking to some people from VR and they were telling me about these concerts you can go to where they basically shoot it in 360 and stitch all the frames together. It’s a virtual world where you put the headset on and go and experience it. It’s going to be huge for social media and online dating because you’re literally going to be able to sit at home on your couch, and you can be your own self in a virtual world communicating with other people who are wearing headsets.
JW: And then it just becomes life.
FK: But do you think it’s a good thing that you don’t just go out and do things anymore?
TS: Yeah well it’s like those online dating websites you know? If it’s inconvenient for you to go out to a bar every Friday night and try and meet people, why not get on a dating website, type in people you’re into and then see who pops up? I don’t know if I agree with it, but that’s typically people’s perspective behind it.
JW: I think what’s interesting is what you were talking about just now: how quickly you can separate from reality. I was reading a piece in the New Yorker I think about an experimental VR lab in the basement of Stanford University. They’ve got a room set up where you can put a VR headset on and they present you with different environments. The first environment they showed the writer was the exact same room he was already in but with a massive pit in front of him. They asked him to jump in it, and he couldn’t do it. They said that was pretty normal. The guy offers to spot you in case you fall over, and people go to the edge and they just can’t bring themselves to jump into this fake hole. That’s what will be interesting, when you can break that link and be completely immersed, then your decision process is screwed, what happens then?
TS: It’s amazing, because you know there’s a resistance factor to life that conflicts and restricts us from reaching our immediate desire. It could be approaching a girl at a bar, or asking someone for a promotion, it could be anything and we experience it every day. Like just now, your resistance – you were like, “Oh fuck I want some food but I don’t think I should, I’ll just get a little cake…” [laughs]
FK: You got a salad!
TS: But what’s going to be really amazing is to see this step away from reality. Even though you know that you know you’re in a virtual world and you can do anything, will it actually give people the freedom to really do what they want? Or will they still have this resistance factor to life? Does it totally disintegrate?
JW: What would society be like though if everyone just did what they wanted? That would be bad.
TS: Yeah, it would be strange.
FK: I wonder if it would start getting policed? They’d see you doing whatever in the virtual world, they would probably start saying, “Oh that person looks like a little bit weird, maybe we should just keep an eye on them.”
JW: I think if you could strip away all of the resistance you’re taking about, everyone would be a bit fucked up. And that’s probably the most scary thing for people if their inhibitions are removed, then who are they?
TS: I think there are moments in this film that explore similar scenarios, I just think it will be such an amazing way to study human psychology. VR will be huge in so many fields. It’s probably the next technological advancement in history.
JW: Well if you can selectively take away all of the parameters of life, not just culturally but all of the laws of space and time and physics and rebuild them…
FK: It’s like starting again.
TS: Well I grew up in a very conservative environment in a very conservative part of the country where people typically only see one way and they have trouble opening their mind to something else, or something different. They think it’s strange that I travel as much as I do, and that I’m open to something like eating Sushi [laughs]. I think it’s interesting to think about how an environment shapes you, and you kind of have no control over that. So because it’s not part of their everyday experience, it’s alienating. I think virtual reality could give someone a huge opportunity to experience new things, walk the streets of Barcelona, or stand under the Eiffel tower.
JW: I like to think that you still get a sense of humanity from technology, even though the internet is built from computers, it’s still a bunch of real people talking to each other, and the internet’s brought together all these different communities from all over the world who wouldn’t normally have met each other but can online.
TS: It’s like with Skype – people were making long distance calls and being charged so much money and then Skype is invented and you can literally talk to someone who’s on the other side of the world and see their face.
JW: Someone was telling me you used to have to book a long distance telephone call.
JW: So if you wanted to call LA from London, you’d have to book the slot with the phone company.
TS: Isn’t that amazing? And soon if you want to meet someone who’s in LA and you’re in London, you’ll both be able to log into this virtual world where you can literally sit in an office across from each other. I did this thing over at ILM [Industrial Light and Magic] called a ‘Medusa’ scan. They scanned my face and they videoed me doing all these movements, so basically like [opening mouth, grinning, closing eyes…] or like me going [mouth movements] “Beh beh, teh teh.” And with that they’ll be able to reconstruct my face virtually doing something. I mean they couldn’t do it without me probably…
TS: Legally, but they could if they wanted to. There’s going to be technology one day where you’re able to scan your entire body, and you’ll be able to create an account on a piece of software like FaceTime but for meetings, and you’ll be able to virtually be in someone else’s presence. Can you imagine what that would mean for long distance relationships?
JW: Did you see that Johnny Depp film? It begins with C. Basically a guy downloads his brain into a computer. I won’t give it away but it investigates lots of the things we’re talking about. It was called something that wasn’t very catchy, something like Coalescence. But it wasn’t that.
TS: Oh [looking on his phone] Transcendence, yes I’ve heard of that it sounds interesting.
FK: Have you watched Ex Machina [pronounced “Ex- ma-sheen-a”] yet?
JW: Isn’t it supposed to be “Ex-mak-ina”?
TS: Yeah I thought it was “Ex-ma-sheen-a” but Oscar Issac [who was in the film] calls it “Ex-mak-ina” and he’s probably right [laughs]. But that was incredible man, what, what a cool story, so original.
FK: What ultimate technology do you want to see in the future? I want to go into space.
TS: Space travel for sure. That and teleportation, I guess it’s not really a technology? Maybe it is. No… we’ll figure it out.
Ready Player One is out 28th March.