HBO’s robo-drama “Westworld” premiered this week, and with its big debut came a whole heap of questions. Which actor is secretly playing a robot, or host (as the park has officially coined its android creations)? What kind of human spends their time inside this elaborate pleasure island frontier town? And what’s really going on beneath the silicone skin of the robot civilians?
We asked actress Evan Rachel Wood, who plays host Dolores Abernathy, what was really going on behind closed doors in “Westworld,” and what’s the deal with all the flies? Wood had a few ideas, and a few more reveals to share now that viewers have finally had a look at this one-robot-horse town (yes, even the horses in “Westworld” are robots).
Your character, Dolores, is the oldest host in the park. Does that have a lot of significance?
Evan Rachel Wood: I would say so, absolutely. On the surface and in character [Dolores] is a very pure, innocent prairie girl and is sort of a Disney princess. But if you really think about what that means, if she’s the oldest host in the park, she quite possibly could be the most advanced [host] and have the most history. We don’t know what’s happened to her in those 30 years. What different lives she’s led, how many people she’s fallen in love with, that she can even remember. Her memory is wiped every day.
There are endless possibilities, even with her creators. If Anthony [Hopkins] is the mad genius behind all this, then they’ve had a relationship for at least 30 years. I’m curious to watch the show and see how all that unfolds.
You described working on “Westworld” as the “acting Olympics.” What was it like the first time you read what you would actually be doing?
It didn’t even really dawn on me until the day. I sat there with Jonah [Nolan, “Westworld’s” co-show runner] and went, “Right, I know you’ve written this but we have no idea what this looks like?”
It just takes extreme focus. It’s almost like meditating. Whenever I had to be in “analysis mode” —which is just a kind of core computer mode — [and] I had to look at somebody, I would try to do that shift in depth perception and look in their eye, but past them. It used to freak people out on set so much. Just little things like that were really fun to play with.
I feel like to be an actor you have to be pretty brave already.
You can’t have any embarrassment.
But this, sitting naked on a chair alone in a room with just a monologue. You have no props but your body.
We talked a lot about it beforehand. What’s interesting about this show is there is a lot of nudity, obviously, but it doesn’t feel like that. And it’s not in a sexual way. It was always explained to me as it’s a very sterile environment and you’re more like a doll, you’re a mannequin. I didn’t feel naked doing those scenes. You’re not even being treated like a real human, so you don’t feel objectified. You are a prop in that moment. So sure, it’s weird at first, but by the end, I would be talking to people on the stool and forget that I was naked. It was just old news.
It made me look at humanity in the way that the hosts would, in this very objective way. And it made me scared.
What do you think “Westworld” is going to make people talk about? What did it make you think and talk about?
The more I dove into the research the more I realized that everything that we’re exploring on the show — it’s not science fiction, it’s science now. The things that Michael Crichton wrote about years ago are actually becoming real. It made me look at humanity in the way that the hosts would, in this very objective way. And it made me scared. It seems that humans are a bit broken and so flawed, and so limited.
Do you think “Westworld” will make people feel better about humanity or worse?
It’s going to be a hard look in the mirror. But I think you will also see the potential that we possess. We’re not at “Westworld” yet. It could be a cautionary tale.
I think some members of the “Westworld” audience were upset about the rape scene in the pilot, it was more rape on HBO.
But that’s exactly what we want people to think. I think that’s what we’re setting up, that’s the commentary of the show. Watch humanity, watch what we do, look what we find entertaining. What would happen if [Dolores] woke up? I say stick with it, there’s a reason. It’s so heavy-handed in the beginning to give these hosts a place to go and a reason why they would not want to be like human beings. And a choice they would be forced to make if they did, in fact, wake up.
The layers of “Westworld’s” various and repeating timelines create all these different narratives for your character to juggle. As a viewer it’s exciting, but as the actor, it must be very tedious and difficult.
Dropping that can over and over again. I dropped the can 2,000 times.
What’s going to be cool for the audience is being so familiar with those loops that you know them by heart and then seeing the slight variations on them. If one little thing gets thrown, then the whole story changes.
That’s part of the fun, but as an actor, it’s weird because you’re doing the same scene over and over with slight variations. So learning lines was weird, remembering which episode you were in was weird, which loop and which day. Especially because you’re playing a scene that you genuinely have to be in and be feeling but you know in the back of your head is completely scripted, twice. It’s a script of a script. It’s just a rabbit hole of confusion.
The last scene in the pilot where you kill the fly, it’s chilling.
When I got to that point [reading] the pilot, I was like, “OK.”
We weren’t even allowed to harm a fly on set. I think that was a dead fly. But the one crawling on my face, not the one in my eye, obviously, but the fly on my face [was real]. They have fly wranglers. This is someone’s job.
They freeze them so they’re still alive. They take them out and stick them on your face and wait for them to thaw. Then they can walk but not fly, just crawling all over my face for like 10 minutes until it flew away. This is my job, I’m naked on a stool and there’s a fly crawling on my face and people are filming it. That’s my job. (Laughs.)