Jeffrey Wright is no stranger to strange lands.
He’s spent the last few years playing Beetee in “The Hunger Games” in the dystopian future of Panem and occasionally giving voice to a TV show-writing hamster named Cuddlywhiskers in the special alternate L.A. universe in which Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” takes place.
The Emmy- and Tony-winning actor has also ventured into the past in projects as varied as HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and “Confirmation.” Wright is currently making a mark on another wild frontier as Bernard Lowe, head of programming for the android “hosts” of HBO’s “Westworld.”
We recently chatted with the Washington, D.C. native, who broke through in the early ‘90s with his stunning performance onstage and later television, in Tony Kushner’s acclaimed “Angels in America,” and has worked steadily since in film, television and onstage. Wright recalled his and his castmates’ first reactions to the futuristic material.
“We were just tripping, pupils dilated in reading these scripts,” he said with a laugh. “We just couldn’t wait to throw ourselves into all of it.”
How did you come to “Westworld”?
There was a very bright beacon that attracted me initially: that [show runners] Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] were writing and that Anthony Hopkins was involved and [executive producer] J.J. Abrams and HBO. That was all that I knew at the start. And that was all I needed to know.
Reading the script was really a keyhole for me onto what was one of the great satisfactions of the process of making this, and that was just to be a part of the weaving together of these many multiple narratives in such a masterful way.
There was a gorgeous balance to the script and yet this very controlled, efficient complexity to it. And then talking to Jonah about where we might be headed with this, it was obvious that he was going for something comprehensive. He had a very clear vision on it. It was a very easy invitation to accept.
And you are in the fortunate position of getting to work with Anthony Hopkins — who plays “Westworld’s” mysterious progenitor, Dr. Robert Ford — most closely.
He’s something else. He’s pretty much moving at full speed at 6 o’clock in the morning. (Laughs.) It’s a great wake-up call to step out there with him. I think as much as I enjoyed working with him in front of the camera, I enjoyed talking with him off camera.
He seems delightful and full of great stories.
There’s all that and the relationship that our characters have is, as you can imagine, a very layered one — and there’s no better partner to dig down through the archaeology of these two men than him.
There is a warmth to your character, at least initially, but there also appears to be a hidden agenda. Without spoiling anything, is it fair to say that the first impression of Bernard as benevolent may not tell the whole story?
Absolutely. What’s interesting about Bernard is that he’s very much for the audience a Sherlock Holmes in all of this, in trying to discern all of the drivers behind the mystery of the unraveling of this place. He serves as a window for the audience onto these discoveries, but as we make this journey with him, what’s fascinating is that we discover the history of the place and these relationships and perhaps we’re given a hint as to where we might all be headed. It’s a very difficult show to talk about. (Laughs.)
But the relationship between Ford and Bernard, they’re a pair professionally, to an extent. However, Ford is kind of the Walt Disney/Dr. Moreau creator of this place and Bernard is his protégé, if you will.
Did you ever envy the actors who play the hosts, since they get to go through this wide spectrum of emotions in a short time frame and Bernard is more reserved and analytical?
For me, what I enjoy about him is that he gets to traverse through all of these worlds. On the western side, there are characters who never see the futuristic-tech side of things and vice versa. But I enjoyed that he was kind of riding all of these narrative flows. The really exciting, crescendo moments of the script are when they all flow together: guests versus hosts versus creators. So I’m excited that Bernard exists at the confluence of those things. I wasn’t envious of anybody else’s thing. I was really happy in my little lane.
Would you want to go to Westworld if it existed?
Hey, why not? (Laughs.)