SXSW: 'Westworld' Panel Teases Shogun World; Elon Musk Makes Surprise Appearance

HBO offered attendees a glimpse at season two, which featured star Thandie Newton in a kimono.
Courtesy of HBO
Jeffrey Wright in 'Westworld'

SXSW attendees were treated to two surprise treats during Saturday night's Westworld panel.

First, the crowd got a special sneak peek at the highly anticipated second season of the HBO fantasy drama that featured the newly named Shogun World. As if that weren't already enough, co-creator Jonathan Nolan brought out Elon Musk. The crowd went wild.

Musk is longtime friends with the writer-director, having met at a physics conference years ago. (Musk's ex-wife, Talulah Riley, also has a small part in the HBO series.) After he strolled out onstage and talked about his SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch, the audience watched a short film Nolan made of the historic moment.

Ahead of the Musk appearance, the cast and creators of Westworld spent an hour talking about the big-budget drama in a conversation moderated by Wired's Jason Tanz. On hand for the panel was Nolan's wife and series co-showrunner, Lisa Joy, and castmembers Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and James Marsden.

Apart from the clips shown (which HBO has not released yet), the actors and creators — as they're prone to do on this production — remained tight-lipped about details of the upcoming season. When asked about Shogun World or a Delos park, Nolan declined comment on any speculation about the series. "They've erased our memories," Wright joked to ease the awkwardness. (The series has become a favorite on Reddit, with many users accurately predicting the biggest twists in season one early on, and Nolan has an aversion to spoilers.)

Instead, the conversation kicked off with how the stars felt about returning to the series following a lengthy hiatus. (The series didn't air in 2017.)  "I could not fucking wait. The anticipation was gigantic to come back," said Newton. While Wood agreed, she also acknowledged the nerves that she had about returning. "You feel this looming dense of dread when you’re walking up to the set because we don't know what's going to happen.... It's like, 'Oh, yeah, none of this ends well,'" she said. "Westworld is an onion; there’s always more layers that you’re peeling back. Every time you think you know everything, they throw more at you."

Westworld famously had its series premiere twice delayed as producers had issues figuring out the arc of the first season. In a bid to prevent that, Nolan and Joy have said they wanted to have all the episodes written before starting production. "We weren’t really interested in doing a TV series," he acknowledged of the show's structure. "We wanted to treat it more like a film franchise, like an installment. And the only way I know how to do that is to change the game — reinvent the show — each season."

Wright, for his part, explained that if the first season was about establishing the rules of the world, then the second season is about ripping them all apart. "Season two for [my character] Bernard is 'What the fuck just happened?'" he said to laughs from the audience. Wood added that she felt like her and Wright flipped roles a bit this time around. "I feel like we swapped narratives. Now you’re the one that’s lost and trying to figure it out," she said.

Newton was candid about her struggles through the second season. "I was fucking angry. I was really cross. They forced me to do shit and I felt like a fucking child," she said onstage. "By the end of the season, I was really humbled. To be forced into a situation that is uncomfortable and then to come out the other side emboldened, is humbling." Joy then teased that the second season, in her mind, "becomes a shifting lens on where our sympathies lie."

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