5:41pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Westworld' Star Evan Rachel Wood Talks "Evil" Dolores Twist, Season 2
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the season one finale of HBO's Westworld.]
Before Westworld became the internet's favorite water-cooler conversation, its theories as thoroughly dissected as the livestock butchers working on their hosts (an admittedly lopsided comparison skewing in the web's favor), there was the original fan — and she's also the original host.
Evan Rachel Wood not only stars in Westworld as the deeply driven Dolores, but she's among the show's very first theorists, according to many of her colleagues, and even according to the actress herself.
"After work, I would just sit and think about the show and try to figure it out," she told The Hollywood Reporter during an interview Monday. "Out of my thousands of theories, I got a few right."
Wood can relate to the masses of Westworld fans who feverishly worked to piece the puzzle together all through the season, having done so herself while on set. And indeed, Wood managed to correctly guess a few major twists, including one that involved her own character. It's not just William (Jimmi Simpson) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) who share an identity, as revealed in the season finale; Dolores and the mysterious villain Wyatt are one and the same as well — though to hear Wood tell it, there's very little Dolores left these days.
Read on for Wood's reflections on the finale, her thoughts on Wyatt's Dolores takeover, the intense pressure that comes with holding a gun against Anthony Hopkins' head, and the show's expansion into samurai territory and beyond, as well as several of her own theories about the second season.
For what it's worth, this interview is taking place right as I'm watching the finale for a third time. I paused before you started beating up Ed Harris.
I have watched it over 10 times. I can't stop. I'm obsessed. It's really good. It blew me away. It was better than I expected. When I read the script, it was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I had ever had in my hands. I couldn't believe how good it was.
It's a very active episode for you. We learn a lot about Dolores. We learn that she's Wyatt, for instance. She kills Anthony Hopkins' character Robert Ford at the end. The list goes on. What was your first reaction when you read the script and learned the scope of Dolores' arc?
Well, I had my suspicions. It was hilarious. While we filmed the first season, we didn't know our character arcs. I would be instructed to be "dark and menacing" in weird moments. I thought nothing of it. I thought it was part of Dolores waking up. Then they introduced this looming character of Wyatt, and I kept asking people on the set: "Have we cast him yet? When is he going to show up? Who's playing him? Who's Wyatt?" I went and looked everywhere, turned over every stone, and came up with nothing — and then I realized I hadn't turned over mine. I looked everywhere else, and figured it had to be me. So I asked [co-creator Jonathan Nolan], and he laughed and walked away. It wasn't confirmed until the [finale], and I was so excited. I thought it was a genius move on their part. This whole season, she's been going through this Jekyll and Hyde thing. We've seen Wyatt poke his head out at multiple times. When she slashes Logan's [Ben Barnes] face, or during her last speech to Ed Harris; halfway through, her voice shifts and the eyes get darker. That's totally Wyatt.
What are some of the differences in how you approach the two characters of Dolores and Wyatt?
It's funny. I kind of had to play five different characters. There's Dolores the character; there's Dolores analysis, when they're able to talk to the characters in an office; there's straight analysis mode; then there's Wyatt; and then there's Dolores' subconscious. Dolores' subconscious, I didn't realize that's what it was when I was playing it. They just kind of instructed me on the vibe. I thought I would just play this like Ford. I would make my subconscious as close to Ford as I can. (Laughs.) Not that that's how it was supposed to be, but as an actor, that's just what I did!
When in doubt, pretend to be Anthony Hopkins.
Yeah! (Laughs.) When I did realize what I was doing, we changed the makeup slightly. The eyes are a little darker. We contoured my face more. We darkened my eyebrows a little bit. I just tried to channel the most badass cowboy that we possibly could. The first time we see in Teddy's [James Marsden] memory Dolores walking in slow motion, that was the first time I got to walk over kind of hunched over with this weird strut. Dolores walks the same way every time. It's always shoulders out, arms folded in front of my chest. To be able to change it and walk with purpose and strength as this beast was really fun. I lowered my voice a lot and I dropped the accent slightly. Little details here and there. I'm really excited for season two, because … it was sad for me when I watched the finale. I didn't realize that in a way, Dolores' character does get killed off.
That's how you view it? When Dolores achieves consciousness, she's committing to Wyatt?
Yes. The way I interpret it, when she finds the center of the maze and is talking to herself at the end, consciousness is a conversation with yourself. It represents to me that Dolores is fully conscious. When she realizes who she has to become and it becomes her choice, Ford has just gotten through telling her that the divine lives in our minds. She unlocks Wyatt and allows him to take over and Dolores disappears. So that was very bittersweet.
What was your take on finding out that you were pulling the trigger on Robert Ford and taking Anthony Hopkins' character out of the equation?
I felt terrible! I read [the finale] and didn't know it was coming. It was on the very last page. I threw the script down and walked away with my mouth open for a good hour. I just couldn't believe it. When I got to set the first time I saw Anthony after I read it, I walked up to him and said, "I am so sorry. I am so sorry I have to kill you!" And he went, "No, no, no. It's all right. It's beautiful! It's really beautiful!" (Laughs.) He forgave me. He saw the poetry in it. I will say that shooting that scene was one of the most nerve-racking things I have ever had to do, because we're using real guns. We're very safe with them and they're not loaded. But dear god, I had to hold a gun up against Anthony Hopkins' head and pull the trigger, and after every take, I would go, "Please god, do not let this be the time that something goes horribly wrong and I am responsible for killing Anthony Hopkins. I won't be able to handle that." (Laughs.) That was terrifying. It was horrible.
Dolores turns the gun on the crowd, and we see her through Teddy's eyes. He looks terrified, and you can understand why. He and Dolores are star-crossed lovers, but he's also Wyatt's sworn adversary. Teddy is looking at his great love and his great enemy in the same person. Did you sense that conflict in the character?
Yes. I think the question on a lot of people's minds is if they're now going to be enemies, or are they going to join forces? I think that's a good question. I did love filming that scene. I think I really surprised James with my delivery. In my first take, I came up behind him and just pulled him into me and whispered in his ear, and when they yelled cut, he was just like, "Jesus Christ, Evan! What the hell?" (Laughs.) I had been this sweet and innocent Dolores with him, and now here was this sultry, primal, evil thing. I think I made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up a bit.
This episode confirmed that William and the Man in Black are the same person. How did you first find out about this twist?
I didn't know that Jimmi had guessed early on, but I will say that in episode two, when Jimmi and I filmed our first scene together — and really, that was the day we met, when he picks up the can and hands it to me and looks into my eyes … that was really us meeting each other for the first time. I remember, since I'd already shot the pilot and I had done that same scene with Ed, when we did it in episode two, my first thought was, "Oh my God, wouldn't that be so upsetting if Jimmi's character was Ed? But that wouldn't make sense." And as the show went on … at one point I thought Jimmi might be a host. I kept making up these backstories, and then it was around episode seven where I started getting the feeling that that's where it was going. All we were told about our storyline was that it was a beautiful and tragic love story, so we knew we were heading toward destruction, and we were nervous about that. At one point I kept saying, "God, I really hope you're not the Man in Black. That's so sad. And I really don't want to have to kill you!" (Laughs.) So there was that. But it was amazing storytelling, so we were excited by it, and it made us want to make the love story that much more believable in an evil way, to break people's hearts more. But it turns out that we were probably the most heartbroken people watching [the finale] last night. We didn't realize we would be. Jimmi and I hopped on FaceTime right after we watched the finale, and both of our faces were wet, we had tears streaming down our faces. We both didn't think it would hurt this much. Jimmi said it so beautifully: "We spent so much time building them up. I had no idea it was going to hurt so much watching them fall." As actors, we worked on that relationship for a year together. We really kind of experienced Westworld more than anybody else. We were given these characters, we weren't told our narratives, we were sent out into the desert, and since we only found out what was going on episode by episode, we really got to live in the moment, and live in the shock of certain moments. So much of it felt very real. So we were so heartbroken last night, just because we realized Dolores and William will never be in love like that again. The experience meant so much to us, and I love what we did together. And the good thing about Westworld is we've established we can move forward and backward in time. Nobody's ever truly gone. So who knows what the story will be with young William and Dolores — if it's over or if it's done. Who knows?
Another major moment in the finale involves the reveal of what fans are calling "Samurai World." Are you practicing your sword training for season two?
I have no idea what's going to happen with that. One can only hope that I'm going to eventually have to start taking some classes and learn how to sword fight. The only thing I do know is that when I met with [co-creator Lisa Joy] and Jonah for the first time, I said, "This is great, because if there's any action on the show, I'm a black belt in Tae Kwon Do." And Lisa's eyebrows perked right up. She looked over at Jonah and said: "Mm! That might come in handy!" So I don't know. It did come in handy for when I [fought] Ed Harris. I got to set and asked how we were going to do this. Is he going to be in a pulley or in a rig? Jonah told me that I was just going to drag him. And I said, "You know I'm not really a robot, right? I'm not saying I can't drag him, but I might not be able to make it look cool." But we did it. That was just dead Ed Harris weight.
In interviews with some of your Westworld colleagues, you're often described as someone who was always trying to solve the mysteries of the show. It's interesting, considering the fandom around the show. There's this feverish appetite to puzzle out what's going to happen next. Do you relate to those fans?
So hard. It makes me so excited that other people are just as crazy about it as me, because I would get to set and somebody would say, "Good morning, Evan!" And I would say, "Oh my God, what if it's this." I would just jump in with a theory. After work, I would just sit and think about the show and try to figure it out. I questioned the Man in Black theory in episode two, but didn't pick it up again until later in the season. I didn't know Bernard was going to be a host. I did, however, guess he was going to be Arnold, and I kind of guessed that I was Wyatt. Out of my thousands of theories, I got a few right! But I did get surprised a few times.
What are some of your biggest questions heading into season two, then?
Well, the only thing I know is that we'll see a very different side of Dolores, and that Wyatt has fully taken over. If I can speak just in theories now, literally basing this off of nothing — these are Evan Rachel Wood's theories and I'm taking no clues or cues, only what's coming out of my brain.
Fair enough. You're the original theorist, we're just following your lead.
I'm hoping that over the years, I'll get to play many, many different characters. That would be my hope. I think that's a lot of the actors' hopes, the ones who are playing hosts at least. Technically, we could be anybody or anything. That leaves the possibilities wide open. I'm really excited to see the many incarnations of Dolores, if that is in fact true; I really don't know. I really want to know where Westworld is. They have not told us, or at least they did not tell me. I do have theories! (Laughs.) But I really want that question answered. And I'm curious to see what the other worlds are, aside from the one we saw in the finale. I don't think they will be the same as the film, obviously. There are endless possibilities there. I'm curious to see how they keep playing with the timelines, and if we'll remain in the past, present, future, all in one. And I want to know what's going to happen if and when Maeve finds her daughter — and if it's still her daughter, or if her daughter has turned into someone else.
Hopefully it won't require too much arm-twisting to get Dolores and Maeve in a scene together.
I'm really looking forward to that. I only got one scene with Thandie, and that was a real bummer. I think she's just incredible. I would certainly look forward to this newfound Dolores and newfound Maeve either joining forces or going toe to toe.
What do you want to see in Westworld season two? Sound off in the comments, and follow all of our coverage at THR.com/Westworld.