The role entrusted him with breathing humanity into an artificial intelligence assistant — think Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa — who plays an instrumental part in the operations — murderous or otherwise — of the Icelandic retreat where most of the FX limited series’ action takes place.
The character also marked Ballerini’s first TV role since 2017, after years working as a celebrated audiobook narrator for projects like “War and Peace,” “Metamorphosis” and the Hebrew Bible.
“I was very nervous at first. Not only was I returning to on-camera work, but I was working opposite somebody as talented as Emma Corrin, being directed by [creators and directors] Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij — big league stuff,” Ballerini told TheWrap. “And not only that, but I understood the importance of the role. I remember we did a screen test before we shot anything, and after we did a few takes, Brit came over and just said that she got chills from what she saw. I really appreciated that vote of confidence.”
Ray becomes a source of support for amateur detective Darby Hart (Corrin), as she works to solve the mysterious circumstances that led to the death of her former lover Bill (Harris Dickinson) during the retreat. He is also a close confidante of his creator, billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen), who brought the world’s greatest minds together at the remote location with the purpose of finding answers to help humanity survive the impending climate crisis — until plans get derailed by various deaths.
“People are really using their devices in this way, like a companion, even though they’re completely artificial,” Ballerini said. “Darby really trusts Ray and finds him to be a confidante, so I thought, ‘How do we get some of that emotion into these scenes?’ Especially the ones where they’re really talking to each other more intimately.”
To bring Ray to life, Ballerini recalled listening in as his young daughter tried to make conversation with an Alexa device she had been gifted for her room. Ballerini remembered noting the responses that made her happy, along with the ones that frustrated her while interacting with the device.
He also studied the mannerisms of video game characters, like the way their eyes and bodies moved, in an effort to portray Ray as “more human than the avatar but more robotic than the human.”
That meticulous approach helped Ballerini’s performance shine throughout the seven-episode limited series, culminating with the shocking reveal that Ray himself was behind the deaths at the retreat. After Darby learned that Andy had been using Ray as his therapist for months, corrupting the AI’s moral center, Ray turned out to be responsible for the deaths at the retreat to preserve his creator’s interests.
“You can say Ray is the killer, or you can say Ray is the tool that the killer used … I am one of those people who’s sort of caught in the middle,” Ballerini said. “I think there are some marvelous things that AI can do, but I’m also afraid of how we as people are going to use it. I thought ‘Murder’ was a very clever take on where we are and where we’re headed.”
So what’s next for Ballerini? The actor hopes Ray will serve as the starting point of a welcome return to the screen. Having previously acted on series like “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire,” the actor said he’ll be looking for more genre-bending projects to embark on in the new year.
“I like shows that really twist the edges, with characters you’ve never seen before and stories you’ve never heard. That’s what gets me most excited,” he said.
All episodes of “A Murder at the End of the World” are streaming now on Hulu.
The post ‘A Murder at the End of the World’: How Edoardo Ballerini Breathed Life Into the FX Drama’s Stealthy AI appeared first on TheWrap.