'Westworld': Decoding Thandie Newton and Anthony Hopkins' Journeys (So Far)

WESTWORLD - E06 - Still 1 - Anthony Hopkins - EMBED - 2016
John P.Johnson/HBO

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

Two episodes ago, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) told Delos board representative Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) that his new narrative would not be a retrospective: "I'm not the sentimental type." But perhaps Ford does not know his own heart as well as he knows the ins and outs of the world he's created.

The sixth episode of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy's series, called "The Adversary," reveals that Ford owns host versions of his own family — including a young version of himself, the same android boy (Oliver Bell) who accompanied Robert to the buried church back in episode two. It shows that Ford is a more sentimental man than he's let on, and it also speaks to his connection with Arnold, the late Westworld co-founder who created Ford's host family as a gift for his partner.

There's another massive revelation in "The Adversary," too, in the form of Maeve (Thandie Newton) discovering the true nature of her existence. Livestock technician Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam) takes Maeve on a behind-the-scenes tour of Westworld, and even modifies the Sweetwater madame's programming at her request. No host in Westworld boasts an overall intelligence score higher than 14 out of a possible 20 points — except for Maeve, who is now maxed out in that regard. A frightening prospect for any nearby humans, and a thoroughly exhilarating one for viewers invested in Maeve's next steps.

For more on the two pivotal storylines, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with the episode's director, Frederick E.O. Toye, about his experience crafting the Maeve and Ford scenes alongside Thandie Newton and Anthony Hopkins.

After questioning the nature of her reality over the first few episodes of the series, episode six sees Maeve discovering the answers. What were you conversations like with Thandie Newton in preparing for the episode?

She was so completely invested and enthused going into this. She couldn't have been more excited. There was absolutely no emotional reservation on her part, to discovering how Maeve would see the world with her newfound consciousness and observation. She jumped in head first and couldn't have been more fun to work with and collaborate. Because the material was so interpretative for her, we were able to have lengthy conversations about what it meant, in the context of the story, how her character was displaying out in the open what that moment of discovery might feel like. She had a number of opportunities to play it. Mostly, in our discussions, it was inherent in the material that there's a childlike innocence to the discovery of what's happening in the Mesa [Gold, Westworld's headquarters]. In that, I think she was completely focused on presenting that level of vulnerability, and yet, her character and Thandie as a person are such strong people, singularly and together. That strength was the undercurrent of everything we discussed about her character. In that vulnerability, finding strength and empowerment, that's what she brings across. I feel like these moments in the episode where you see Maeve discover what her world is and, most powerfully, that her memories are on display… there's an incredible amount of vulnerability there. You feel so connected to her in that moment. You never feel her weakened to the point that her character becomes lost. You feel that power and strength beneath the surface. She was so amazing in keeping that level of strength.

It's a great moment for the show, too. The promise of Westworld is that many if not all of the hosts are on a journey of self-discovery. We've seen several hosts inch forward along that path, most notably Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). Here, Maeve gets to see fully behind the curtain, to fully know the nature of her reality. From a creative standpoint, what was the most exciting aspect of getting to bring a host this close to reality for the first time on the show?

First of all, I felt so completely gifted and blessed to have the opportunity to present this emotional component to the show. I felt as though, as you said, the promise of the show is from the hosts' point of view. What is their world? And what is our world, ultimately, which is what we ask ourselves when we watch it? Who is our maker? I knew when I read episode six that this component of what it would be like to discover the machine, and the machine that creates us. That component was most exciting to me. I'm of course a huge fan of the Western genre. John Ford is a hero of mine and I've studied his films, and conversely, the Stanley Kubrick element of the show — when we're in the laboratory, I knew concretely, and with Jonah and Lisa's blessing, that we were presenting a Kubrickian view of the world, which is very austere and cold in some ways. But the emotional component playing against that was going to be the part that would be so powerful. I knew going into it that the part I could really invest in was the dramatic aspect of it. I would have a ton of fun with the Western genre and elements, but going into the episode, it was her journey that truly drove me towards the execution of this episode. 

The music, "Motion Picture Soundtrack" by Radiohead, ties the scene together. Can you share any insight into the selection of this song?

I can't, unfortunately. I have to credit the composer and the post-production team and Jonah and Lisa for that. I wasn't involved. But I can say that in our process as we were going through it, we imagined something dramatic in that way. What that particular choice is, and the fact that it's strings and that it's done orchestrally — emotionally, it's really a gut punch. It harkens back to the pilot to me, the "Paint it Black" sequence. It's a counterpoint. This plays also dramatically and emotionally to what Maeve is going through, but it has a counterpoint to it, which is the dissonance. It also plays into the world we're seeing for the first time through her eyes. It's not dystopian, but the themes that are presented in the music are completely on point. 

The episode ends with Maeve's bulk apperception levels boosted all the way to the max — which means her overall intelligence is now six points higher than even the smartest hosts in the park. She has the great line: "We're going to have some fun now." There's a beauty involved in Maeve waking up, but to me, her final note in the episode suggests some darkness, as well. Was that note on your mind in crafting the scene?

Absolutely. If we hadn't presented… if we failed in any way to present the perspective of Maeve through these sequences, then it wouldn't have been earned. But what was critical was for you on a basic fundamental level understand what reality through the hosts' perspective looks like. If you achieved that successfully in understanding the context of what the darker component of waking up might mean, then that context is completely earned. Without it, becomes evil, right? Or something you wouldn't understand. The fundamental component is point of view and perspective. I think we have point of view and perspective of Maeve in this moment, because we earned them throughout the episode. In a way, it's a darker presentation, but the feeling I get when I watch it is empowerment. I feel that I'm rooting for her.

Sure, but because we are humans — as far as we know — when you hear Maeve say, in the most soothing tone, "Let's take that all the way to the top," there's something chilling, even when you're rooting for Maeve. Your natural human state starts to twitch a little bit, because you know this could be bad news for "us," so to speak. It's scary on that level.

It is scary. But I have to say, and I hope this strikes people in the same way that it strikes me, is that part of the fun of entertainment is the voyeuristic quality of living through a reality that's not necessarily real, but you're feeling the parallel worlds kind of collide. In this aspect… with all of the global warming and everything, there's a certain cynicism and negativity that I have as an adult toward the human race. (Laughs.) I kind of go into it thinking this is a fantasy presentation of a reality that I think is all too real. There's something delicious about that, being able to voyeuristically observe a future or reality presented where the innocent beings — which I say the hosts are — win out. 

The episode also reveals that Robert Ford has host versions of his family members housed away in a quiet corner of the park. It's very humanizing on one level. This is a man who said two episodes ago that he's not "the sentimental type." But he's sentimental enough to have been maintaining this host version of his family for all of these years. But it's also unsettling in another way. What were your goals for this scene?

In addition to the hosts, presenting Doctor Ford's reality is a critical component of the believability of this story. As the world expands around us and we learn more and more about what this creation is, you start to look to the creator. I've always looked at Ford as the creator, the foundation. To me, his world and his reality is everything to my fundamental understanding of what the philosophy of this show is. So going into this, we had an opportunity to see the sentiment that he's preserved over all these years, and to see this family. There had to be an innocent quality to it. With Dolores being the first host and these figures being some of the oldest in the park, I think you needed to see that there was an innocence in a way — an idealism that was part of the fundamental creation of Westworld when it was first thought of, that the darkness of humanity is not what they were going for or looking for. That's how I've interpreted it, that there was a certain amount of innocence on the part of Robert and Arnold when they went into it. Arnold, of course, was the coder and mastermind behind the idea of awakening the hosts as sentient beings, as Ford presents it in episode three. So my thought was, how do you present this reality for Ford that's very innocent? Going into the house and seeing the father, and you see the greyhound for the first time. There's this lovely moment where Tony puts his hand on Robert's brother's head. I remember that. I remember him asking me, "Fred, I have a question for you: I really feel as though I want to connect with my family." I wasn't quite sure where he was going with it. And then I saw him gently put his hand on the boy's head, and I realized that it was so important for him to present to us where his emotional life lived — and that it's Arnold, right? That's the other component. This is a creation from the two of them. That was very important. 

Both Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden shared great stories of working opposite Anthony Hopkins. It sounds like you have a story or two of your own.

I was very fortunate to get to spend a lot of time with him. He couldn't have been more open and welcoming and chatty about all of his experiences. He loves, loves, loves people. He loves to talk. We became good friends. His process is… it took me some time to learn his process. His process is very analytical. We did rehearsals on a lot of these scenes, and they consisted of simply reading, and some idle chatter about the drive of the scenes. But later, we would have conversations on the phone and e-mail conversations where we were chatting back and forth about how he put these moments in the perspective of creationism and history. In those eyes that you see where everything is done with such an incredible degree of reservation — everything you're receiving behind those eyes, it's not magic. It's real. He's thought it all through. The one thing I can say is that going back and looking at Tony's performances over the years… one of my favorites is Remains of the Day, which is a story about a guy who doesn't talk. You wonder how he creates that character, but I realized in getting to know him, it's all there. All of the unspoken is completely spoken in his mind. The subtlties that are happening in the tiniest moments with Tony are all complete. Every moment is researched. Every thought is put in the context of history. That's why you're seeing so much power in his performances. He doesn't need to say it, because he's feeling it. It screams through the screen. 

We keep hearing about Arnold. Young Robert identifies Arnold as the person who told him to kill the family dog. As far as Elsie can tell, Arnold is the one who is speaking in the heads of these hosts. "He's a prolific programmer for a dead guy," she says. As far as we know, he has not been on screen yet. But he's still such a challenging presence for someone we are not seeing physically. For you as a director, what were the challenges of building impact for a character that, right now at least, is a ghost in the machine?

It's honestly hard to talk about that without talking about where the story goes. We wanted the idea of this mysterious figure to be shadowing over everything. There's a wonderful scene in episode three where Ford basically reveals what their relationship was, and how they created it together. Going back to Tony's performance, the way he presents Arnold is with such an incredible amount of precision. When he talks about how Arnold was "very careful," and you learn that he took his own life. The shadow and specter of that character and who he was for Ford, and the fact that we've never seen him and we don't know who he is, makes you question, in a way, the reality that's being presented, and who he really is, and who Ford really is. That's what's most interesting. The component of Arnold and Ford together and what their relationship was and what they created, and what each of their priorities were, is fundamental in the undercurrent of the story.

You directed next week's seventh episode. What can you say about what's coming up next?

I think episode seven is a huge game changer in terms of the story. I think a lot of the reality that we're seeing is brought to clarity. It brings a whole new perspective on what we've been watching for these past six episodes. I think we reveal a lot of information that will make this show incredibly rewarding moving forward. For me, it's a very powerful chapter. 

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