Westworld: Details Emerge on New HBO Drama

The network has a buzzy new fall drama, a sci-fi Western which chronicles a futuristic theme park.

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Westworld: Details Emerge on New HBO Drama
Image: HBO
HBO is known for generating rivetting quality content like True Blood, Rome, and Game of Thrones (just to name a few). Every time they produce a TV show, it tends to deliver its signature dark, gritty, and generally R-rated content. What is the latest addition to the HBO family? Westworld is HBO’s solid replacement lined up for the future after hit series Game of Thrones is set to end after two more seasons (Say it isn't so!).
Image: HBO
The new series, Westworld, is based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name and the series was created by Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest) and Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies). Westworld did go through some delays but is set to debut this October on HBO.

It takes place in a revolutionary theme park, where guests can interact with life-like androids. The series appeal is enhanced by its prominent cast and the trailers have highlighted Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford, the founder of the futuristic world and Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy, an occupant of Westworld and a “host” who begins to unravel that her life isn’t all it seems to be.
Anthony Hopkins’ character who runs the park also has an eerie face-wall behind his desk and apparently according to producers initially described his role as a cross between Walt Disney and Dr. Frankenstein.

What can you tell us about your character Dr Ford?
AH: I get to play these very strange characters who are always in control. Which is completely against my nature. I just go with the flow of it all now, and I love being out here. I can’t take anything too seriously. With Dr Ford, it is on a massive scale - he controls everything and he wants to perfect everything. Which means he’s mad. All I do is talk a lot – a lot of very highfalutin stuff about the bicameral mind.

What do you think it is about you that means you are cast in these very controlled roles?
AH: I have no idea. Maybe it’s coldness. I think maybe it’s the blank stare. But I don’t relish that - I’ve never been interested in control. I think most of our pain comes from trying to control everything. Or dominate - dominate other people and dominate ourselves, terrorizing ourselves. I started giving that up some time ago. I just said, oh, I don’t know.The best piece of wisdom I can come up with is: I know nothing. I don’t know. I can have opinions, but I really don’t know.

What aspects of getting into Ford’s character did you enjoy the most?
AH: I had a good time with it, I was very relaxed during it. I had to learn a lot of dialogue, a lot of text, but I enjoy that. It keeps my brain cells active. I don’t want to overdo it, but I love learning long text – I just love it.
Image: HBO
How do you feel about the rapid advancement of technology – are ‘thinking robots’ part of our inevitable future?
AH: This is Jonathan Nolan’s baby - he’s fascinated by the advent and development of human intelligence and artificial intelligence. I was talking to a guy the other day from Boston. I was up in Ojai. I went there for a holiday, and there was a guy there, in the hotel, he was having breakfast and lunch. We got chatting. And he’s from MIT. He was saying, there’s no such thing – you can never really create artificial intelligence. You cannot create life, you cannot create a thinking being…but then he said: ‘But I could be wrong.’

Dolores played by Evan Rachel Wood is a naïve prairie girl “host” who gradually begins to realize her reality might not be as honest as she thought. For the actors playing androids, it can be particularly challenging because everything a host does must have logical purpose.
Image: HBO
What can you tell us about her (Dolores), and her storyline?
ERW: It’s so hard - we just can’t tell you anything. Everyone’s asks me, “Are you like a central character in this?” All I can say is, “mmm, mmm.” That’s the only answer I can give.

Well, let’s see what we can talk about. What appealed to you about the show, and about Dolores?
ERW: Everything. I went in and I met with Jonathan [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] and I didn’t really know anything about the story.

They pitched it to me and they told me, yes it’s based on Michael Crichton’s film from the 1970s, but it’s really just the premise – this is a complete reimagining. Instead of focusing on the humans being terrorized by robots gone haywire, it’s flipping that on its head and it focuses more on the hosts, as we like to call them, and what would that be like if they were trapped in a world they thought was real? What would happen if these hosts could remember what had been done to them?

And what if there were no rules, and it was lawless, and there were no consequences? If humans were given the key to that city and that power, that curiosity and bloodlust, and these inner demons would all come out to play? That’s the blessing and the curse of Westworld - it brings out who you really are, whether that be good or bad.

How did you, as Evan, mentally process all of these questions when you were playing Dolores?
ERW: I genuinely started questioning my own reality after working on this show. There was at least one moment I remember very specifically on set, when I was kind of scared, just thinking: I honestly don’t know anymore. My reality could be fake, I could really be a robot and not know. I wouldn’t put it past them. This is how they’re telling me. It was that meta.

The more research I did and really learned about the technology, I realised that our DNA and computer code really isn’t that different. And computer chips in our brains are not all that far away. It’s going to start happening faster and faster.

It’s been interesting talking to people that are working on this technology as we speak. We’re pretty close, it’s going to be in our lifetime, probably, and what that means for our humanity is yet to be seen.

I think we are in the era of holding a computer screen in our hands and eventually it’s going to be part of our hand. We will slowly begin to merge with machines.

What’s your own relationship like with technology? Are you quite wired?
ERW: I have a love/hate relationship with it. I was a late 80s, early 90s baby, so I remember when no one had cell phones and there wasn’t AOL or the internet -  it was right at the end of that era. And I saw the changeover - I stopped at Nintendo 64; I’ve never been able to go further, my brain just cannot comprehend modern video games, there are too many buttons.

I have a lot of music technology, but other than that, I’m just not wired for it. No pun intended. My son is three, and he already knows more than I do, because he’s just seen it and is used to it. My brain was not set up for that world.

Technology does freak me out, but I also love it at the same time, because I’m more connected with people than I’ve ever been. Everyone worries about no one communicating because we are always looking at our phones and no one talks to each other anymore. But I talk to everyone all the time. Social media makes it so I can talk to people in my family, people I went to school with in second grade at the touch of a button. I can Facetime with my kid no matter where he is in the world and say goodnight.

It’s a double-edged sword. Technological advances are always a double-edged sword.

Dolores has quite a different style to yours. How did you find being bedecked in bustles and long frocks and having all that hair?
ERW: You know, it was funny, because I’m such a tomboy. But it’s one thing I love about Dolores, which you will see more of, is that she is the quintessential beautiful, innocent prairie girl, but she’s also a farm girl. She’s a cowgirl.

She’s tough. If you’re considering the park as a game, there are different levels - If you went to the brothel, that’s easy. Dolores would be a character that’s slightly more work. She’s the one that you can fall in love with.

Westworld can give you that experience as well. It doesn’t just have to be sex and guns, you can actually be a knight in shining armor and go save the damsels from the train tracks and fall in love. Dolores can handle herself pretty well, she’s been through a lot and I think we’ll slowly start seeing that side of her more and more.

Yes you see from the beginning that she’s got a certain confidence, even just in her interactions with Teddy [James Marsden’s character].
ERW: Yes, she’s a challenge. She’s smart and witty. That’s her character build. There has to be something for everybody in the park, and that’s her model.

I’ve known Shannon Woodward, another actress on the show, since I was 15, and the first time I opened up the trailer door and she saw me she just started laughing. She was said: you look like a Disney princess. At first I was not feeling it, then by the end, I loved the blue dress – it was so comforting to me. I actually requested to wear the real corset most of the time because I just wanted it to be real. My back was killing me by the end, but I did it.

It’s amazing when the character is so different from yourself because the second you’re in costume and hair and makeup and you look in the mirror, you’re just transported there, you’re clicked in.
The show tackles such intense ideas - what did this experience mean to you?
ERW: I felt completely transformed. When we wrapped, I started weeping, because, getting to play this role changed me. It really did. It gave me a newfound strength, and without giving anything away, her arc is pretty incredible.

The strength that she finds within herself moved me so much that I felt like a different person when we were done. I feel that’s what her character’s going to do for a lot of people, and that’s why I’m really excited to share it - it’s pretty revolutionary for women.

Teddy Flood (James Marsden) is still pretty mysterious as the producers didn’t want to say much about him, but Marsden is pretty zealous about the show’s twists and turns. “You’ll constantly be off balance,” the actor promises. “You’ll think you’ll know what’s happening, and where [the story is] going, but you’ll be wrong.”

This 10-episode HBO Original drama series premieres Monday, October 3 at 9am, with a same day encore at 9pm, on HBO (Astro Ch 411/431).
Image: HBO

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