Dubai Film Festival: 'Westworld' Stars Jeffrey Wright, Luke Hemsworth Talk Trump, Hollywood Elitism
"To say that anyone is more disconnected from the realities of the ‘common man’ then the man we just elected president of the United States is absurd."
Neither Luke Hemsworth nor Jeffrey Wright is bothered by the wind. It’s howling onshore as the duo sit in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab, the famous sail-inspired hotel-cum-city landmark. Fresh off a screening and audience Q&A, following a surf earlier in the morning, the two Westworld stars are soaking up the scene.
During their time in Dubai, the actors have been asked to talk American politics (even though Hemsworth is Australian) and implored by fans for some season two spoilers (they don’t start shooting until June 2017).
Similar to HBO in America, Westworld is broadcast in Dubai via Orbit Showtime Network (OSN), a direct-broadcast satellite provider serving the Middle East and North Africa. All 10 episodes of season one aired in real time, although OSN has full censorship capabilities and did edit scenes out throughout the season.
“I don’t buy the idea that we as actors should only be about escapism and entertainment bullshit,” Wright told THR.
Although Westworld takes place in a fantastical world with elastic rules and artificial intelligence, real-world themes create a series thru-line.
Excerpts from the conversation:
As working actors, have you noticed any palpable changes in Hollywood linked to the transition of political power from Barack Obama to Donald Trump?
Jeffrey Wright: I live in Brooklyn so … I don’t know what Hollywood is really to some extent. In terms of the artist community, I think people are energized, obviously, I think they are awakened and I think there is going to be some interesting fierce oppositional expression that comes out of this. I think there is going to be a lot that is crystallized by the results of this thing. But I’m still not completely understanding where it is all going just yet because every day it just seems more and more astounding and unbelievable, this kind of nature of the thing. The president-elect questioning the credibility of the CIA? That’s a little hard to fathom. And there are so many contradictions between politics and information it has become such a contradiction. It’s a bit like Westworld trying to understand ...
Luke Hemsworth: He's a host, he’s a host!
Jeffrey Wright: How to unravel all the story lines and I’m not sure how the finale [to the presidential election] is going to play out just yet.
Luke Hemsworth: I’m finding it really disappointing and fascinating. What it’s shown to me is that there is a huge divide, culturally, spiritually, through the middle of the country and I had no idea it was still so prevalent. I understand to some degree the fear politics, but I want to be inspired and I think Obama was an incredibly inspiring leader. I don’t find this person to be one bit inspiring – I find it to be the exact opposite. Australia has a lot of the same problems; we’ve just put another person who is very similar to Donald Trump in terms of beliefs and preying on people’s fears. She’s just got back into politics and she is a horrendous woman and it’s frightening and it makes me feel ashamed and like we took a step backwards.
Many people in Hollywood have come out as very anti-Trump and some critics have drawn parallels between Westworld and our current political climate. How do you think Hollywood and politics mix?
Jeffrey Wright: In certain camps, there is this skepticism about folks in our line of work commenting on politics. The contradiction is yes, there are some within our industry that lead intensely isolated lives, that are disconnected in really meaningful ways from a grounded understanding of certain of the issues. But we’ve just elected a guy who lives in the penthouse in the arguably the most expensive ZIP code in the United States, across the street from the Giorgio Armani exchange. So, to say that anyone is more disconnected from the realities of the ‘common man’ then the man we just elected president of the United States is absurd.
I also think that is the absolute responsibility of artists to educate themselves, to be aware, to attempt to ground themselves in an understanding that speaks to a larger collective beyond themselves and to create work that comments on the political atmosphere in responsible ways and challenging ways and dangerous ways. Out of this election we will see more of that. My work has been most gratifying when it does merge creative things and politics. But that’s how I was raised. And even now there’s contradictions all around. There was an actor in my class in school who is now a U.S. Senator – Michael Bennett in Colorado. And I was a poli-sci major who is now an actor.
Luke Hemsworth: I think that need to want an escape is always there and I hope will always be there. Whether a political climate makes people want to escape more or be involved more, I’m still finding my way through the political landscape. My reaction is an emotional one; it doesn’t want to make me disappear into a hole. It provokes a response in terms of how do I protect my kids and the people who can’t protect themselves.
At the DIFF screening of the premiere episode, some parts were edited out. The level of nudity and violence that exists in Westworld isn’t necessarily common on television shows in Dubai or the U.A.E. How were you expecting the show to be received here? Were you nervous?
Luke Hemsworth: I know my wife was nervous coming here, she was apprehensive to not offend anyone, as was I. Obviously, they’ve had all 10 episodes here as well, and I don’t think we’d be there without a positive response.
Jeffrey Wright: There’s not a culture on the planet where people haven’t engaged in sexual intercourse. Universal themes tug at audiences. I didn’t know what to expect coming here with the show, but working on a set out in the dust north of Los Angeles it’s easy to forget the power of the medium. But I’m getting notes from people on social media in Iran telling me how much they enjoy it.
Not to be trite, but it just speaks to universal humanness that we are all, at the very least, from all regions of the world, and that we gather around the same storytelling fire. That in and of itself undermines a central political theme that has been propagandized by Trump’s campaign and believed by many of those who voted for him: that the people here are aliens. When you only need to travel here, granted Dubai and the Emirates are jurisdictions onto themselves, this is not a monolithic region and something we fail to understand.
Luke Hemsworth: Which is still a Muslim country that is brandied with disdain.
Jeffrey Wright: And that is exactly right. There is a complete misunderstanding of what that means and so it really proves further the value of reaching out and touching other countries and exploring the world, versus exploring the world through one’s own fears and ignorant preconceptions.