'Westworld' Stars Talk Thandie Newton's "Bone-Chilling" Maeve Reveal

Ptolemy Slocum and Leonardo Nam talk with THR about the big reveals from episode eight of the HBO drama.
John P. Johnson/HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through episode eight of HBO's Westworld.]

"We're going to have some fun, aren't we?"

When Maeve (Thandie Newton) spoke those words at the end of episode six, few Westworld viewers doubted that her definition of "fun" would be very different than the word's traditional meaning. At the very least, very different from how Felix (Leonardo Nam) and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) view the word. The two lab technicians, already opposites in terms of their personalities (Felix is an introvert with a wide-eyed curiosity for life, while Sylvester cynically and boisterously declares "touchdown" after simple surgical procedures), are at further odds over the Maeve situation. As she grows more aware, Sylvester grows more alarmed, wanting nothing more than to put the powerful host to sleep, permanently.

In this week's episode, "Trace Decay," Sylvester attempts to get out of the Maeve game for good when he and Felix bring her upstairs to satisfy some of her requests for modifications. His plan backfires, thanks to Felix deciding to support Maeve in her quest for increased power, and the results are immediately terrible: Maeve slashes Sylvester's throat open in a stunning show of her newfound ability to inflict violence on humans. The most self-aware host in Westworld orders Felix to patch up Sylvester's throat, get him back on his feet, and get straight to work on building her an army of hosts as she engineers an escape plan.

After the most violent week yet in their already turbulent storyline, Nam and Slocum spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about Felix and Sylvester's increasingly bad decisions and worse luck, why viewers should cut the pair a little more slack, and the experience of watching Newton bring Maeve to life. But first, the big question.

Let's start with the most important matter at hand: the lab tech uniform. How uncomfortable is the costume, Ptolemy?

Slocum: It's actually absolutely fantastic. It's way better than it looks. From what I know about it, it was designed by a latex shop. It's not some random design. It's a very human design. And there are no zippers, no latches, nothing. It's all magnets. When you slip it on, you can basically throw it and it catches onto itself. It's like wearing the future. It feels very cool and weird and has this human skin feel to it, and this weight to it. I actually loved it.

Nam: It's like putting on a second skin. That latex is so malleable. It sticks right to your skin. I loved it. The magnet part was very cool. It's all held together by magnets. 

Slocum: It really does feel like the future. I remember Leo and I, especially at the beginning, had this huge contraption on with latex on top of it, and sometimes we would have to wear gloves — basic latex little gloves. Those things? They were the worst part of the entire costume, just wearing those little rubber gloves. We would argue for getting them off of us as soon as possible.

Nam: You would get all pruney and wrinkly. It was gross.

Let's turn toward Felix and Sylvester's current obstacle: Maeve. They have very different reactions to her awakening. Sylvester wants nothing more than to shut this down, while Felix can't seem to escape Maeve's grasp. Leonardo, is that a fair read of the situation to you — that there's something about Maeve that Felix can't resist, and if so, what does that boil down to?

Nam: It is. I think on one hand it's a matter of survival. When you see these hosts wake up, you know what they're capable of, especially as a technician. When you're not in control of them waking up and going to sleep, and you realize that something else is going on, it's just a pure machine coming at you. That, on one end, is pure survival. On the other hand, it's something that's kind of amazing and magical to watch. It also skids on that border as well, the fascination with what's going on and what's really happening in front of him.

Sylvester is not thinking about "magic" when he looks at Maeve. What does he see?

Slocum: You have to understand that to Sylvester, Felix is working on life. Sylvester is literally working on a very complicated iPhone. For him, there's no illusion. This is a situation where we as humans are built to react to things that look like humans, but this is not a human. It's a very complex iPhone. There's nothing sensitive about it. There's nothing flowery. There's nothing coming out of this thing. It's a machine that's meant to make you react this way. It's not life. As horrible as he sounds, he's a very practical individual. He's been there, I believe, a very long time. This is a job. He sees these things as work. He sees them as constructions. If you confuse the two, and he's watched many people get confused, you can get in some serious danger, including the possibility of losing your job.

Or your life, as it almost played out for Sylvester this week.

Slocum: Yeah. That's the danger. I think we are as programmed as these machines are to react to them. If you allow that programming to get the better of you? No disparaging against you, Felix, but you have some issues, man. That's when we get into some shit. That's always been our debate. One of us sees life and light, and the other just sees a thing, an object.

Felix's view of the life and light in the hosts was certainly established a few episodes ago, with his research into the bird. 

Nam: Felix has that urge inside of him. He's looking for life. He very much respects what this world is. The fact that this was all created by Doctor Ford (Anthony Hopkins). This is a Delos company. I think he's very much fascinated by that technology and the fact that it's happening. He's part of that, one to one. And Felix is a young dude. He's just awakening himself. He's coming into his own. I think that's the marriage that's happening there, between technology and life.

Felix and Sylvester bring Maeve upstairs for her requested upgrades. Before she shuts down, she wishes Sylvester luck and gives him a death stare. It's a chilling look, given what comes next, but it's easy to imagine some laughs on set…

Slocum: Oh, man. Yeah. One thing Thandie has is that she does this Valley girl accent between takes. It's so funny. It's very cutting. We have a great time when we're shooting. It's also very tense. But man, when you're doing those scenes, and you're standing literally 24 inches away from Thandie Newton? It hits you, and it hits you hard. I inadvertently cried on one of those takes, and they couldn't use it because that's not even really the character of Sylvester. But she is f—king intense. Now, when I watch those scenes, I can't not get chills every time. It's like a sense memory. I keep getting chills every time I see it, because I also had to witness it.

Nam: It was bone-chilling. I sat there and watched as it happened before me. Part of me was as Felix, thinking, "Oh, thank god she's saying that to him." But then the other side of it was, "Well what is she going to do to me?" It was an interesting moment. She was so, so good. It was chilling. 

Things take a sharp turn, literally, as Maeve slices Sylvester's throat open. What do you imagine is going through Sylvester's mind as he's bleeding out?

Slocum: I think Sylvester, if you talk about programming…in my mind, as someone playing Sylvester, he's a very linear individual. So even at the end, he's thinking, "I gotta get out of this! I gotta figure it out!" It's always just trying to make sense out of this moment. So the sad thing about Sylvester is there's no sense of letting go or looking back on my mistakes. It's just: "Oh, shit, I have to figure this out!" This sad desperation of crawling into the grave, and it's all these poor decisions that got you there. It's this small rodent attempting to climb his way out of this. There's no peace. There's no introspection. He is trying to stay alive. I think a lot of people don't like him, but I do believe in his heart of hearts he was attempting to save Felix as well. I know he's a dickhead, but he does need his audience, and Felix is his audience. He was genuinely trying to save the two of them.

There's some hesitation on Felix's part before he goes to save Sylvester. Was that intentional?

Nam: Definitely. I think my character, at least in a couple of the takes…I was sitting there trying to figure out what exactly is happening. After she's woken up and what have you, I'm sitting there as a character thinking, "This isn't at all the way I thought it was going to go." That moment of hesitation is more a moment of contemplation. I'm frozen. That part of me that wants to go in and shut her down…I can't do that. Literally, she's awake on her own, making her own choices, outside of whatever guidelines we gave her. A lot of the hesitation on Felix's part is he just wants to survive. He sees how dangerous she has gotten. It's one of those moments where, as an actor deciding to play that moment, the truth of the scene is that I couldn't get to him because there's a table in between us, and you have Maeve holding a scalpel and looking at me with my colleague down on the floor and bleeding. So Felix is in this weird position: "If I go to him too quickly, will she then cut me? And if I don't go to him, will he die, and will I be responsible for that?" So there's a moment of balance in the hesitation.

What will Sylvester look like now that he's survived Maeve's attack?

Slocum: I think we're still figuring that out. It'll be interesting to see how he reacts to this. As ingrained as his arrogance seems to go to the core of him, there's no possible way he has the same sense of self after this event as he does before. Some of that cockiness and some of that holding power over someone, it must have taken a pretty severe hit here, watching his own blood pool around his eyes. We can probably count on that. But going back a little bit to what Leo and I talk about when we talk about these guys... sometimes the viewers are a little confused by these guys, because the show is filled with so many geniuses. So many of these human beings are paragons of intellect and power and wisdom. That's not these guys. We are literally doing the best we can. We're like baristas of blood, and we're just trying to get through the day. This shit is way beyond us. We definitely make some poor choices, but we're doing the best with the material we have inside our minds.

You anticipated the next question, which is how would you defend Felix and Sylvester to viewers who feel they should take more action against Maeve? You would argue that they're just doing the best they can?

Slocum: Yeah! And in my mind, Sylvester owns his domain, which is not necessarily either the wisest or most correct [opinion]: "This is my space. I really think that I am doing the right thing. I think I can handle this [Maeve situation]," which is not correct. In some ways, that's why he lets things go way too far — which he does realize while he's bleeding out, so give him credit for that!

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