Shifting timelines, complex characters and a focus on consciousness keep ‘Westworld’ compelling, says Jeffrey Wright
The actor has practical reasons (you’ll understand when you’re old enough for reading glasses). He also discusses the “dual meditation” of his scenes with Evan Rachel Wood.
Nothing is as it seems in “Westworld,” HBO’s hit series set in a fictional amusement park where mechanized hosts fulfill the whims of human guests.
No one is more aware of the deep thought and sleuthing skills the show requires of its fervent audience than Jeffrey Wright. Wright plays the park’s co-creator, Arnold, and his posthumous robotic double, Bernard.
“We really give our audience credit, especially in this time where so much messaging is designed to appeal to the lowest common denominators within us, speaking down to us and assuming the low intelligence of an audience,” said Wright on a recent visit to The Times video studio. “We don’t do that. We challenge the audience. And they challenge us.”
“Westworld,” now in its second season, explores human consciousness, the notion of free will and what happens when robots revolt. But it’s Wright and his costars, Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores), Thandie Newton (Maeve) and Ed Harris (William), who bring these stories to life in one-hour episodes that both entertain and horrify.
“I love working with Evan as Bernard or Arnold,” said Wright. “I just love the intimacy we’ve explored, and I describe [those diagnostic scenes] as kind of a dual meditation between Arnold and her. Really intimate and subtle and nuanced and very internal. … We’re almost inside of one another, which is the nature of that relationship.”
This season, it’s Bernard, not Dolores, who’s lost in shifting timelines and questions about what’s real and what’s a fragment of a malfunctioning mainframe. “He’s in a very vulnerable place, his faculties aren’t what they might have been prior to taking the bullet to the hard drive — which can have adverse effects,” said Wright.
Wright recalled shooting multiple scenes in Los Angeles that required him to drive from set to set dressed as Bernard. “It was just, make it to work, and not freak people out on the 5 [freeway] in a car piloted by what could be considered some autonomous thing leaking cortical fluid,” he joked. “Hard to find that stuff at the local gas station in L.A.”
Wright, who described the show’s cast and show creators (Lisa Joy and Jonathan “Jonah” Nolan) as A-list, explained that they all worked overtime to make the second season of “Westworld” as highly stylized, smart and compelling as last season. “Thandie made a good point the other day,” said Wright. “We spent six packed months working on this thing. Please don’t just take it all in in one pizza-filled sitting over the weekend. C’mon, we busted our back to make this thing.”
“Westworld” and the complexity of characters like Bernard and Arnold have inspired a national conversation – be it across social media or around office water coolers -- that is unique to the show.
“I like to some extent that our audience gathers around to watch this,” said Wright, who remembers the shared viewing experience of a less-fragmented era in television programming. “We used to all watch more or less the same things. We had three channels. It created a unity. It unified the conversation and our perspectives. … We don’t do that so much now that there are greater freedoms. That’s great. But at the same time, I like the idea we’re taking [“Westworld”] in together … trying to unravel the mysteries together.”
To see what else he had to say, watch the full video below:
The actor trusts the writers, whose work changed his mind about even doing TV -- which he’d worried would be boring. “We challenge the audience, and also the audience challenges us,” he says.
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