Humanity is at the center of “Zoe,” a new romantic drama about forbidden love between a human and a synthetic robot. Starring Ewan McGregor as Cole, a robotic engineer, and Léa Seydoux as the titular android, the movie will make its world premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.
It marks the second sci-fi project — following 2016’s “Equals” starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult — for director Drake Doremus, who started kicking around ideas with screenwriter Rich Greenberg about a technology that would affect the way humans would date in the future and how they might find solutions for heartache.
“It’s a very human story,” he tells ET. “It’s more about the humanity of it and asking real questions about what do when we really need to feel whole and feel complete as a person.”
A sci-fi film rooted in human emotion, Zoe is ultimately grounded by the cast’s performances, which also includes Theo James, Miranda Otto and Rashida Jones.
Wanting to work with both McGregor and Seydoux, it was almost serendipitous the two were cast after scheduling conflicts and the actress’ pregnancy forced Doremus to move away from the project at times. “It was a dream come true to pair them together,” he says. “It’s amazing how it all lined up.”
But going beyond the two leads, Doremus has a knack for pulling out unexpected performances from his actors, much like he’s done in the past with Stewart in “Equals” and Anton Yelchin in “Like Crazy.” Here, it’s James, who plays a robot named Ash that falls in love with Zoe.
“He’s really beautiful in the film,” Doremus praises, adding that he wanted the actors playing robots to act more human than anyone else. “His and Lea’s performance reach a level of humanity and love that a lot of the humans don’t have or struggle to have.”
Though, perhaps the biggest surprise is the casting of Christina Aguilera, making a return to film in her first onscreen acting role since 2010’s “Burlesque” — though, she did have a brief recurring role on TV’s “Nashville” in 2015 — as a robotic prostitute named Jewels.
Her character’s physical appearance is what one might expect of a futuristic brothel worker, with severe bangs cut out of her long black hair, heavy makeup and a skintight latex dress. Without giving too much away, she encounters Zoe, who is more technologically evolved, in an underground brothel where Jewels works — and is confined to.
“They’re both fascinated by each other because they both see things in each other that they don’t have and that they want,” Doremus says of the interactions between the two robots, which is full of mixed emotion for Jewels in particular. “It’s really fascinating to see two different class levels observing each other.”
Doremus says that bringing the singer on board was an organic process — and not a stunt by any means. After her agent reached out about the project, she was sent the script and was completely taken with the character, feeling that she could draw parallels between her life and that of Jewels’. Aguilera understood how one could feel trapped and alone.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have people read for me over the years and for this movie,” Doremus says, revealing that the singer sent in an audition tape, which he says was so fantastic that he cast her. “I’m just trying to make the best movie I can and I try to cast the best person for the role and she was the best person. She won the role.”
Zoe will make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21.