We’ve covered the ways in which HBO’s Westworld is incredible. The writing is tight, the world is expansive, the cast are spot on in their performances, and everything down to the finest detail is carefully thought about. This is a show that will lend itself well to repeat viewings, each time picking up something new, whether a nuance you never noticed before, a song cue, or throwaway moment that turned out to be not so throwaway after all. At New York Comic Con, the creators and cast discussed their feeling about this incredible and unique show.
A Mystery — Even For the Cast
By now, episode two will have aired, but beyond that, the creators — husband and wife team Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy — were extremely reluctant to reveal anything more. Nolan, in particular, is quite strict with what is said about future episodes of the show, to the point where Joy didn’t want to say anything, deferring answering certain questions to Nolan for fear she’d say too much. Even the cast were kept in the dark. Ben Barnes, who plays Logan, said, “They wouldn’t tell us anything, ever.”
Jimmi Simpson, who plays William, a newcomer to the park, added, “As the performers, you really only know exactly what they let you know. It was always the perfect amount to play the scene or the episode with absolute clarity that you didn’t even know you were bringing to it.”
During the Q and A portion of the panel, an audience question possibly got the most out of Nolan. He said there would definitely not be any reference specifically to the Roman World, or Medieval World mentioned in the original 1973 film, implying that there was the possibility of exploring other theme park worlds — perhaps Futureworld?
Much Love For the Creators
The cast only had high praise for the creators, at times almost bringing the pregnant Lisa Joy to tears. “They knew so much, they have the story, it’s so clear, it’s so brilliant and articulate,” said Simpson.
Jeffrey Wright, who plays Bernard, Westworld’s Head of Programming, said, “What specifically I’ve been floored by in working on [Westworld] and actually reading the pilot and now seeing it come together is the way they’ve woven the threads of this tapestry of all of our storylines and all of our characters together with mathematical precision.”
Is Westworld a Theme Park or Game?
Is Westworld a theme park or is it a giant immersive game that allows people to step inside to play? When the original film came out, video games didn’t yet exist, so the closest that writer, Crichton, could liken his concept to was a theme park. But with the advancement in immersive big-world video games, it’s hard not to make the comparisons. It turns out that co-creators Nolan and Joy both researched by playing a lot of video games.
“I played some (video games) for research for making the show,” said Nolan. “I think [Bioshock] is amongst the most literate and thoughtful pieces of entertainment I’ve seen in the last 10 years. I heard the director’s commentary talking about the non-playable characters, Elizabeth specifically, in Bioshock Infinite. In a scene that I think I just ran through and shot everyone and killed everyone, [the director] was talking about how much craft had gone into all of the conversations that the non-playable characters are having and all their dreams and aspirations. I just thought ‘oh isn’t that tragic and sad that the player just ignores them.’”
This is Westworld. It’s the chance for those non-playable characters to have a voice, for their stories and lives and aspirations and dreams to be heard. “When JJ [Abrams] brought this to us,” said Joy, “he said you could do this and approach it from the robots, from the host’s perspective. And immediately that opened so many possibilities.”
What holds this enormous, immersive world together are the expertly crafted characters on both sides of the Westworld park/game. “For me playing the role, it’s just pulling back all these layers that can just go on and on forever,” said Thandie Newton, whose character, Maeve, went through some intense moments in episode two.
Wright described Anthony Hopkins’ character, Ford, as “the Walt Disney slash Colonel Kurtz grandfather of the park and of the science.” Talking about the complexities of his own character, he said “Bernard I think is a little more… sensitive, more empathetic perhaps to the hosts and, I think, also curious about the possibilities of what the science represents in terms of consciousness.”
Finding Personal Meaning
During the audience portion of the Q and A, one fan asked the cast why they decided to be actors. Thandie Newton took the opportunity to open up about her personal struggles with her profession and how she fell into acting by accident. “I always associated working hard with getting results of what you want to do. So suddenly I found myself in this career which I hadn’t done anything, so to validate myself in that place took me years. I kept wondering to myself ‘why am I doing this, why am I doing this?’”
So, when faced with a personal crisis and wondering how she was contributing to making the world a better place, Newton really struggled. “As I got older it’s bothered me more and more and more… and it almost got to the point where I kinda want to retire and do something else… In terms of satisfying a good contribution to the world, it’s difficult; until Westworld… Here, I was able to actually challenge and deal with the objectification of women; here, I was able to really question that and question the behavior that leads to the desire to do that. Why act? I know now; because I’m in Westworld.”
Westworld airs on Sundays on HBO.