Ahead of the eagerly awaited return of Westworld, the Tribeca Film Festival treated its audience to the New York premiere of the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday 19th April, followed by an on stage discussion with creators and cast.
Westworld co-creators, showrunners, and directors Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were joined on the Tribeca TV stage by leading cast members Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and James Marsden.
Thandie Newton revealed that she’d wanted her character Maeve to stay on the train and leave the park at the end of the first season: “I was in complete denial about the fact that Maeve goes back into the park to be honest. I wanted her to get out of there so desperately and I was wedded to that belief. We don’t know what’s going to happen episode to episode. I knew the arc of the character of course, but I didn’t know that she was going to make that decision to turn around. I didn’t think about ‘of course she’s not going to leave the park because it’s a nightmare out there. She’s done everything she can to escape these human beings, as if she’s going to go into a world where it’s completely populated by them!’ Maeve responded to the betrayal of what happened to her in such a profound way and I think that’s what audiences related to.”
Evan Rachel Wood shared that she was still discovering her character: “I really didn’t know who my character was in Season 2. We kind of just built her from the ground up. We really found this new version of her just by doing. I remember showing up to the first day of work going ‘I actually have no idea what I’m supposed to do or who I’m playing anymore!’ We would just try different things when we could, played around with different levels, you know, how much of the old Dolores should be there, how much of Wyatt should be there, how much the accent should be there, when should the accent drop, when should it come back. We kind of made these rules for her.”
James Marsden told the Tribeca audience about his experience of playing a character that’s evolved so suddenly: “Poor Teddy was a walking bag of bullets in the first season. He’s got to be careful because it might be more difficult to get stitched up this time around. He was discovering who he was and seeing the world through a new set of eyes right as the first season ended…and it was happening in the middle of absolute chaos! The little ranch girl that he felt like he needed to protect all of a sudden doesn’t need so much protection. I think he was sent spinning. In this season it’s a really interesting and rich journey as an actor to go down because this is somebody who is basically being born into his consciousness and gaining sentience and for the first he has the power of choice and it’s going to be interesting to see who he decides to be without that programming. There’s a great line in one of my favourite animated movies, The Iron Giant, “you are who you choose to be” and that’s kind of what he’s going through. The dynamic between Delores and Teddy, that love story that they shared, it was always written for them, it was preprogrammed and yet he is still bound to her with mighty cables and it goes past what could ever be written for him. Delores has changed and it’s hot for a second, but then you have to stay alive. It’s a fun journey!”
Evan Rachel Wood also shared her take on her character’s relationship with Teddy: “We had jokes about this on set. ‘So how does our relationship dynamic change now that I’m Wyatt?’ I won’t go into the jokes that we said…what I loved about their story line this season is that they’re dealing with this revolution and they’re awakened to this dream, which they’re realising is a nightmare and they’re still having sort of the same relationship problems which any of us have: can you cope with your partner changing or feeling like you’re being forced to change? It’s how can this love survive evolution and this new climate in a war basically. And how much of it is programming and how much of it is real? Which I think we’ll discover and see more of in season 2. I just thought it was brilliant. What do sentient robots have issues with when they’re in love? That’s some of the stuff we get to explore.”
In the first episode of season 2 we are reunited with Jeffrey Wright’s character Bernard as he lays unconscious on a beach, a scene Wright addressed during the Tribeca panel: “I think I described it early on as ‘Bernard waking up on the beach or on a mud pile in the middle of Woodstock having eaten the wrong acid and everything had gone to hell and he’s trying to survive it somehow. And away we go!”
When asked about shooting scenes on different time lines Wright joked: “They were filmed in a sequence designed to completely disorientate me! There’s a deeper level to the game. Bernard’s faculties are completely debilitated and it completely forced me to really focus because the logistics of shooting the season required that we shoot during the first four or five weeks scenes from seven or eight episodes, not all of which I’d read fully, in fact most of which I hadn’t. Which was useful because it kind of insisted that I focus on the moment and that’s really in some ways what Bernard is going through. In the midst of this chaos and the rebellion of the computers, the most granular understanding of his existence is he’s struggling with orientation with time and place. So that was really a fun exercise in that it required me to try to understand the specifics of the moment in that served the interests of the character.
Evan Rachel Wood divulged that she now refers to going to work on Westworld, as “going back into the Park. It feels like when we work on the show we actually walk into the park. I actually say that when I’m going back to work now. When I drive to work I see Westworld in the distance as this all consuming thing and my eyes just get wider and I’m like ‘oh, here we go!’ There were even some days when I’d show up at work and be like “hey, what episode is this?’ We never really know what the order is going to be so we’re very much in the moment. And we laugh a lot through the chaos!”
Thandie Newton revealed that she has the first five episodes of Season 2 at home and so far has seen the four. “With three kids it’s tough and they can’t watch Westworld! Usually I just watch Spongebob. What is absolutely a revelation to me having seen this work is that these two people, Jonah and Lisa, knew exactly what they were doing every step of the way. Season one set up a trust among us which was unbreakable. It is all hail to them! Thank God they’re at the helm.”
Nolan talked about opening up the world of the series as it goes on to include other theme parks: “When JJ first called about Westworld and we were wrestling with whether or not we could do this we knew you were going to start with a western and at a certain point you’d be unlimited as to where you could take the story. One of the things that the show is about is storytelling in a way that was delicious. We imagined that Anthony Hopkins’ character’s relationship to narrative was similar to our own. That he wouldn’t have tried to make a realistic western, he wouldn’t have wanted to be limited to one period in the west with that sort of fetishistic detail of the real west. He’d want to make a John Ford movie and a Sergio Leone movie and cobble them together. And what we got excited about in addition to all the world building which is great fun…was to imagine what you could do with other filmmakers in other genres. The western’s a wonderful genre, it’s kind of a dead genre. We spent a lot of time watching westerns before we made the pilot.”
Nolan continued: “When I was I kid growing up watching Sergio Leone movies on London Weekend Television, I had two older brothers so I would watch a lot of movies that were very inappropriate for my age! I’d also watch a lot of samurai movies. Watching Akira Kurosawa’s movies I started to notice that they were kind of similar to westerns and that Leone’s movies owed a lot to Kurosawa’s movies and Star Wars owed a lot to Kurosawa’s movies. It’s like I’d found a base level of code, and realised all these filmmakers have watched this guy’s movies. That was delicious to play with. Coming into Season 2 and getting to build not just other worlds, but getting to pay homage to other filmmakers and use the same stocks they shot on and try to design the same colour palette and the same costumes. For Shogun world we brought out an entirely Japanese cast and Japanese stunt choreographers. It was a delight.”
Westworld Season 2 begins tonight Sunday 22nd April at 9pm on HBO in the USA and on Sky Atlantic in the UK. The Tribeca Film Festival is now on in New York City until Sunday 29th April. Click here to see the full schedule and to purchase tickets for screenings and events: https://www.tribecafilm.com/