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Simu Liu says he tried not to make his evil AI robot role in ‘Atlas’ too ‘menacing’

The “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” star says the film tackles the consequences of human overreliance on AI.
Simu Liu on set
Simu Liu as Harlan in “Atlas.”  Ana Carballosa / Netflix

If he was going to play an artificial intelligent villain, he didn’t want it to be too evil — just threatening enough, said actor Simu Liu.

In his new role in Netflix’s “Atlas,” Liu plays a rogue murderous robot named Harlan who is being hunted by a disillusioned analyst Atlas Shepherd, played by Jennifer Lopez — with whom he shares a chilling past.

Jennifer Lopez and Simu Liu on set
Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd and Simu Liu as Harlan on the set of “Atlas.” Ana Carballosa / Netflix

Liu, known for his heroic role in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” told NBC News that playing a robot villain with an AI consciousness required unique prep work. 

“I didn’t want Harlan to sound overtly menacing,” said Liu. “Harlan is supposed to be the first AI android ever built, and I just kind of feel like his programming is such that they would have wanted his voice to have sounded very soothing and very friendly.”

“I also think it’s maybe more creepy when he’s saying some of his more evil lines, like, ‘I want to rid the world of humanity, I want to cleanse the earth with nuclear fire,’ almost with a smile,” he added.

To make Harlan “disembodied and not human,” Liu wore blue contact lenses and donned a futuristic haircut. The actor joked his girlfriend had a different reaction upon viewing the film.

“She was like, ‘You look like you could be on ‘Jersey Shore.’”

Liu added the film warns of the potential dangers of placing too much trust in machines, especially during an age where AI advancement seems exponential. 

“I think when you become overreliant on AI, it really kind of takes away the magic of humanity and human innovation and engineering,” Liu told NBC News. “It’s weird thinking that in 20 years’ time, maybe there are people that will be born that will not know how to drive cars anymore.”