Inside 'Westworld's' "Epic" Orgy Scene

"I think all of us have a modicum of taste that keeps us from taking it too far into the pornographic world," co-executive producer and supervising director Richard J. Lewis tells THR.
Courtesy of HBO
Evan Rachel Wood and Jimmi Simpson on 'Westworld'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the fifth episode of HBO's Westworld.]

Within one single scene, Westworld vaulted itself close to the front of the pack as far as HBO's history of vivid sex scenes is concerned.

In the fifth episode of the series, called "Contrapasso," guests William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes), alongside robot host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), encounter a new area of the park: Pariah, a city filled with outcasts, delinquents, thieves, murderers and a whole bevy of horny hosts. As a reward for their work in apprehending a stash of explosives for the local mercenaries, William and Logan are invited to attend a sexy party — and as it turns out, nobody throws an orgy quite like the people of Pariah.

The scene takes place in a great hall filled with mysterious figures, all but ripped right out of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Completely naked men and women are coated head to toe in gold and crimson paint, pleasuring each other and themselves in varying amounts of partners, positions, and other P-words that are not quite fit to print. In other words, Pariah is more than just a critical new location on the Westworld map. It also cements the genre-bending thriller's place as one of the most visually charged shows currently on television.

For more, THR spoke with Richard J. Lewis, who helmed the show's second episode, and also serves as a co-executive producer and supervising director on the series, about how the Westworld team brought both Pariah and one of the most vivid television sex scenes in recent memory to life.

How was the town of Pariah conceived?

We had always talked about Pariah as this place on the outskirts near the edge of the park — not totally on the edge, but close to it. Sweetwater is central to the arrival terminals, but the further out you get — and we say this narratively — the more dangerous and perverse and derelict the action is. Pariah, we always wanted it to be a strange city that exists near the edge of the park where you can get into a whole lot of trouble.

Indeed — and that's exactly what William, Logan and Dolores find when they arrive.

Yes. When we started thinking about it, we wanted it to feel like it was difficult to get to. We wanted the travel, whether it's horseback or on a buggy or whatever, to be treacherous to some extent. We show Pariah from the perspective of this graveyard [which was shot in] Utah. It's wedged between these dangerous-looking mountains. We wanted it to feel like it was not only fairly tough to get to and remote, but also that you had an aggressive desire to want to go there and to get there.

How about the culture of Pariah? For instance, there's a street parade at night, and it seems centered on celebrating death …

We wanted it to feel like a border town, so that there's a Tex-Mex feel to it. We wanted it to land somewhere between an American culture and a Latino culture. We were inspired by Buenos Aires and the really beautiful grave sites there. There's a lot of Spanish flavor to this. Credit to our great production designer Zack Grobler for that. We did a lot of research and felt there was a nice almost Haitian feeling as well. We played with various looks. We played with full-body makeup, we played with an African flavor that felt more … there was an ideal of cannibalism we were messing with for a while. We landed in this border town Tex-Mex feeling.

The big set piece in Pariah is the sex party, of course, and I'm curious about how this fits into the town's culture. When we're behind the scenes with the humans, Westworld boasts a futuristic vibe. When we're in Sweetwater and the surrounding areas, it has that classic Western feel. But it's much harder to place the orgy in Pariah. It almost feels alien.

I'm glad to hear you can't land it anywhere in terms of references, because it does feel like there are a lot of influences there, from Eyes Wide Shut and some Kubrickian stuff that's there, as well as the movie 120 Days of Sodom by Pier Paolo Pasolini — a '70s movie that's a crazy, orgy-tastic ordeal. (Laughs.) We wanted to do something that's epic. [Westworld showrunners Jonathan "Jonah" Nolan and Lisa Joy] always wanted to do the biggest, best and most mind-blowing stuff, so we wanted to create the best sex orgy you can imagine. To that effect, we had some stylists. We really curated the scene to the T. Sometimes, to me, it has almost a medieval flavor. You can't categorize it, because it's so uniquely strange and beautiful in a way.

Is this the show's version of Roman World from the movie? The scene has some notes that feel like they could belong in that world.

I don't think that's intentional. We just wanted to create a palette that was very sensual and very dark and not particularly rote or done. We housed this scene in a mausoleum in Compton. That's where we found this location: a very narrow building where essentially 40,000 bodies are buried aboveground. It was a strange place to begin with. It had a very haunting flavor to it, right from the get-go. (Laughs.) It was very surreal.

Was it challenging finding people eager enough to participate in this scene?

I don't take care of that end of things, so I don't know. We hired what they called "special extras," "special background players," who were willing to participate. We also had a sex stylist who made sure things looked properly choreographed in that regard. It was all hands on deck, to say the silly pun. We were trying to make things feel elegant and graceful and beautiful and strange.

Was there ever a concern that the scene went too far?

I think all of us have a modicum of taste that keeps us from taking it too far into the pornographic world and keeps it in the sensual world. I think that's important.

Sweetwater was already well established, and now we have Pariah on the map. Is the world of Westworld firmly mapped out already, or is there room in the writers' minds for future Pariahs to emerge?

I think that Jonah and Lisa believe the world is quite large. I think the park is maybe 300 square miles, or maybe even more. There are different topographies and different geological and weather areas. You can be in various different [locations]. It's not just a Western place. We will discover many different topographies as we get deeper into the series. There are a lot of hidden treasures to come.

Follow THR's Westworld coverage for more interviews, news and analysis.

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