7:30pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Westworld' Star Explains Her Character's Real Purpose: "She's on a Mission"
[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode four of HBO's Westworld, "The Riddle of the Sphinx."]
With two words, one of the most mythologically significant character in all of Westworld stands revealed: Emily, the Man in Black's daughter.
Since her first appearance in episode three, fans have been trying to solve the riddle known as "Grace," which we now know as nothing more than an alias from HBO to cover the character's true identity. In trying to unravel the mystery, theorists pointed at the way in which Katja Herbers wielded her cigarette, similarly to how Theresa Cullen from season one wielded hers. Instead, there was another tell fans could have picked up on: the way Herbers wields a gun, which she modeled after studying Ed Harris' own actions as the Man in Black.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about the big Emily reveal (a character to whom she frequently refers in the first person), Herbers explains how she first learned about the big twist, what it means for the future of the season, what Emily will reveal about the Man in Black now that they're reunited and much more.
When you signed on for Westworld, was it with the full knowledge of who you were playing: Emily, the Man in Black's daughter?
I did not know that, no. On my first day coming to the offices, Lisa Joy asked if we could talk for a second; she wanted to tell me her backstory. She told me everything, and my jaw was on the floor. I got very excited. I knew that I was playing someone on a mission, prior to that. I auditioned with dummy sides that involved me confronting someone, but definitely not my father. So I did not know. I met Ed that same day, and I was very happy.
How did that first conversation with Ed go?
It was very easy. He's such a sweet man. We immediately had a very easy connection. I think he was very excited to tell that part of his story, to see who the Man in Black — one of the most mysterious characters in all of Westworld — who is he, really? Who is he outside of Westworld? There's an episode in the first season that I've studied multiple times, where he's with Teddy (James Marsden) and he says, "Do you want to know who I am? I'm a god, I'm a philanthropist, a family man, husband to a beautiful wife, father of a daughter." I got very excited, as a fan of the show, to see who this man is in the real world. I think that's what Emily brings to his storyline.
How much did you study the Man in Black's character arc and Ed's performance as you started developing Emily?
That speech that I just mentioned, I had it on my phone. It's very important to me, because that's when he actually spoke about me. Then, as Emily, I think I had a hunch: "This is my father, who disappears to the park maybe three or four months out of the year, since I was very young. I don't know what he does there; back home he's a family man and philanthropist, and I have an inkling that he's not the same person in the park." All of his other scenes, I watched them again, but that's not Emily's dad as she knows him. I got obsessed with the way Ed Harris uses his gun. I thought it would be very cool to use my gun in the same way. He has a certain way of flipping it. It's very hard to flip it in the same way!
Who is Emily, fundamentally?
In that speech, the Man in Black talks about how his wife died from an overdose of pills, which led to a confrontation between him and I at her funeral. He tried to console me, and I was furious. I told him it wasn't an accident: "It was suicide, and it's because of you." That's what I knew about Emily, going into it. That's what I went into the park with: to confront him with what I now understand he did. That's only what we know about her out of his mouth, but it's what I used to go into the park. In the third episode, when we're in [the Raj] and the guy comes up to me and asks if I'm hunting Bengals, I say, "Yeah, sure, among other things." I'm on a mission. I want to find my father and I want to talk to him. And I think I probably haven't seen him since my mom died, and there's a world of stuff to talk about.
Even though our knowledge about her is limited when we first meet your character, there's a lot that's conveyed in the first scene. For instance, she's not interested in any relationships with hosts; she wants something "real."
I think it's a very different approach than the Man in Black. I think I respect the hosts. I'm not just going to use them for sex; it's uninteresting to me. I really loved playing that scene. You also see how I speak the Ghost Nation's language. I really liked that part about her as well. You get the sense that she may even respect the hosts more than the people. (Laughs.) She has this line when we're tied up by Ghost Nation. I'm talking to Stubbs, and he asks me, "You've spent enough time in the park to learn their language?" And I said, "Yeah. Other people tend to ignore their narratives. I don't like other people all that much." It's such a great line, and so informative for the kind of person she is. She's probably very different from her dad, but she's also her dad's daughter, and there's a darkness to her.
We actually saw Emily earlier in this season, before you were introduced. She appears in a flashback in episode two, as a child, interacting with Dolores. In retrospect, it's a very interesting scene; she looks at Dolores like a person right away.
Yeah, that's true. That's very true. I hadn't seen that scene before playing the character, obviously, but it's something I noticed as well. I think that's how Lisa and Jonah wanted her to be. I was so excited when I saw the little girl treat Dolores that way.
Given what you've said about her attitude toward the hosts, she must feel particularly unnerved about what's happening with them now in the park, right?
Yeah, but I don't think she thinks it's their fault. We built them. In episode three, right before Ganju shoots my boyfriend, I really try to level with him, and it doesn't work. But I'm fighting for my own life, too. I really do come to the park when it's in utter chaos. You can only have respect for the hosts if they're behaving. If they're trying to kill you, you have to stay alive.
Did you feel the weight of how mythologically significant Emily is within the series, given the close connection to the Man in Black?
In terms of me as an actress trying to control my nerves? Uh, yeah. (Laughs.) I was like, "Oh my god. I'm Delos' granddaughter! Logan's my uncle!" It was quite something. It made me have to shush my mind before work and after work. During work, I was fine; it's what I'm there to do. But it wasn't great when I'd allow myself to think about the pressure of playing that character.
The Man in Black and Emily are reunited at the end of the episode with two simple words: "Hi, dad." The first step of her mission is accomplished. What's coming next?
We're definitely going to see them talk and reckon with the fact that her mom is gone. I think she needs her father, now that she doesn't have her mom anymore. She needs an explanation for things. She needs to get to know her dad. I think she wants to know what he does in that park. I think I've gone to the park a lot with him; growing up, I've been there many times. But I don't think I know the kind of monster he is in the park. I'm going to find out who he really is, I guess, and who I am in the park — like everyone does.
What do you think will happen next with Emily? Sound off in the comments below and keep checking THR.com/Westworld all season long for more coverage.