'Westworld' Star Tessa Thompson Explains Finale Twist: "It's a Game Changer"

The erstwhile Charlotte Hale speaks with THR about that shocking moment, and forecasts her 'Westworld' future: "It leaves the whole next season wide open."
John P. Johnson/HBO

[This story contains spoilers for the season two finale of HBO's Westworld, "The Passenger," as well as where the HBO drama might go in season three.]

Here she is, in the flesh: Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), in the form of Delos board overlord Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson). In the second season finale of HBO's Westworld, viewers learned the truth about Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and his apparent case of amnesia — and apparently, it was a self-inflicted condition, an effort to disguise his role in destroying Delos' digital immortality project. As part of that plot, Bernard created a brand new shell body for Charlotte Hale, infused it with Dolores' mind, and sat on the sidelines as the new Charlotte killed the old Charlotte.

Using this new guise, known by Thompson and others among the Westworld team as "Halores," Dolores managed to escape Westworld and chart a new path forward in the real world. In the final pre-credits sequence of the episode, it's revealed that Dolores reconstructed her old body, while some new entity kicks around inside the artist briefly known as Halores.

Who is Tessa Thompson playing in that final scene? Your guess is as good as hers, based on what she tells The Hollywood Reporter.

"I mean, it's a total game changer," Thompson tells THR, speaking the morning after watching the finale for the first time. "The truth is, Hale is just gonna be another skin. Hale can be used in any which way. I hope that I have the chance to get my Tatiana Maslany on!"

Will Westworld season three present Thompson with an opportunity for a few Orphan Black-inspired performances? It's certainly possible, given that she's one of only three hosts kicking around in the free world, at least as far as viewers know. As showrunner Lisa Joy tells THR, the future of the series is wide open now that Westworld has moved onto the world outside of the park as its main setting. Thompson is as eager to see that setting as anyone else. "I feel like what the finale is really honing in on is that we are not, as humans, as free as we think we are, that we really have core programming that we have a really hard time getting out of," she says, musing on the finale's main takeaways. "Obviously, the season breaks it wide open in terms of where we're going for the next season."

Before we move forward, how did we get here — and specifically, how did Thompson go from Hale, to "Halores," to whoever she's playing now? Read on for her take on becoming Dolores, and who she wants to become next.

How did you first learn about the big twist — that you would end up playing a version of Dolores, walking around looking like Charlotte Hale?

On the inside of the show, we liked to call her "Halores." I first knew that I was playing Halores before I even knew that my Hale would die, and I think it was around episode six or seven. It's hard to tell in Westworld terms because episodes numbers, from our perspective, sort of become arbitrary because of the timeline. You can shoot something in episode two, and really, you might not see it until episode 10. So, it's hard to think of chronologically where things happened.

But we were coming back from shooting a couple days in Utah, and right before I got onto the plane, I get a text message from Lisa that said, "Do you have a second? Can you call me?" I literally had a second, because we're about to take off. I call her and she goes, "So, tomorrow, you have this scene…" It's the scene in which I'm interrogating Jeffrey Wright's character, Bernard. And she goes, "And I don't know how else to say this… you're you, but you're Dolores, so you're not really you. It's like Dolores is in your body." That's sort of all she told me. I said, "Am I speaking like Dolores?" She goes, "No, because she'd be speaking slow. But just know that you are Dolores, or you're Wyatt. You are this sort of extended version of Dolores that we've seen in this season."

So, that was sort of the first clue that I got, but I didn't know what the implications of that were. I didn't know what it meant, and I didn't know what it meant until I got the script for episode 10. That's when I started to understand what's happened. But until I got that script, I would just ask, "Am I Dolores now? Am I Halores, or am I Hale?" And obviously, because I knew we were jumping between multiple timelines, it made sense to me that at any given point I could be either one of those.

Did you talk to Evan about any of the traits that she had brought to Dolores that you wanted to emulate? Did you study her performance at all?

Yeah, I studied her performance. I mean, the good thing is that I've had the chance [to watch Wood's performance] this season, but even last season a little bit, because there was some intersections in terms of when we'd all be on set. So, I've had the chance to watch Evan a lot. She's just so incredibly mesmerizing in her performance that when I've been on set, getting to watch her, I watch her because she's so fun to watch — the work that she's doing. So, I had already studied her, even before knowing that it would be of use to me.

And then I did speak with her. At first, I was sort of like, "What are we doing? Am I going to be over dubbed? Do I sound like her when I'm finally her?" Her voice is so specific, that I just love this idea of her voice like literally coming out of me! But they were like, "No, that's not going to happen." (Laughs.) I was like, "Shucks. Okay, cool. So what can I do then?" So there were subtle shifts with my voice that I could do, and then also I just asked Evan little things, like, "Is there anything sort of physically that you do as her?"

She said, "You know when I do Dolores, if I'm gonna look at someone who's not in my eye line, I look first with my eyes, and then I move my head." She does really subtle things that still make her feel human, but they just feel the tiniest hint of her [being a] host, these tiny little markers other than entirely human. It was small things, like when I'm walking, I try not to move my hands too much. There are other things that I won't say, but yeah, she gave me some specific physical things to think about.

As you started digging into the character, somebody who you already had been studying as you had been watching Evan's performance, who did you find this version of the character to be?

I sort of see Dolores this season as this fearsome, ruthless, leader. This leader that begins really thinking about the populace in the sense of liberating the hosts. And that is so singular in her vision, that she realizes that she kind of can't be about all people. She has to be about the people that really can be of use in terms of what her actual long-term plan is. She becomes this woman on a mission. And I think when she's able to be in Hale's shoes, it gives her real safety and power to sort of exercise her vision. That's when she becomes the gunslinger that is now untouchable. So there's real, delicious victory inside of Hale's skin. And then obviously because Hale has represented the spinelessness of the corporation, its brutality. There's something really delicious about them getting to [kill] that entity, and then use that to have it be the ultimate revenge, which is to gain power. There was something really fun in that.

One imagines you and the other Westworld cast members often think about where your characters will wind up, but was it ever on your Bingo card that Charlotte would die at the hands of… another Charlotte?

(Laughs.) I mean, yes, the eventual demise of Charlotte Hale has been on my mind since I started playing her, because there's enough villainy in her that I know certainly the characters in the narrative would want me dead, and I also knew that somebody in the audience would want me dead too. So I have certainly been thinking about the delicious ways in which Hale could die. But this is what's so fun about working on Westworld: I could never have imagined that it would be at my own hands. That I would get to play a scene in which I'm acting against myself. Only on Westworld! I mean, we really do say it, the cast to each other, on days when things are chaotic and crazy and surprising — we just turn to each other and say, "Welcome to Westworld."

It really did feel like one of those moments, but it was certainly not something that I anticipated. I think what's so cool about where I'm left now, this sort of shell of Charlotte Hale, is that you could literally put anyone inside me now. I could be anyone, which is really fun. I mean, it leaves the whole next season wide open to me getting to play [different characters]. I have no idea who is inside of Charlotte after her shell leaves the park. I don't know. I've tried to ask tons of questions to both Lisa and Jonah, and tons of guesses to try to figure out the truth, and I haven't been able to yet.

When you played that final scene of the season, as you're standing there with Evan as Dolores, and we don't know who that Charlotte is, were you playing it any specific way?

I think the thing that tended to happen to me a lot this season is I'm working without the full story, so I'm just relying on Lisa and Jonah. They'll typically give me really specific notes about intention, about physicality, and I just have to trust it and go with it. I don't always know why I'm doing what I'm doing, but I certainly know kind of how to do it because I get a lot of direction. For example, when you see Charlotte walking through [Bernard's house], I shot that super early in the season and had no idea why I was walking through the house. It was a day where it was just myself and Jeffery Wright on set all day. So, that was one of the early clues that there was something really compelling happening with Charlotte, and something going on, but I had no idea what. I just had very specific notes from Jonah: "Walk into this room, look to the right. Look like you're trying to decide what to do." It's fun. It reminds me of sort of accessing this space of playing like a kid would.

Is your head already spinning with possibilities for what season three is going to look like for you?

I mean, it's a total game changer. The truth is, Hale is just gonna be another skin. Hale can be used in any which way. I hope that I have the chance to get my Tatiana Maslany on. (Laughs.) I want to put on a lot of different characters. That to me is the real exciting potential in all of this.

Which is obviously a big part of the appeal of Westworld as an actor, right?

Yeah, and I think we're seeing that with all of the characters, with some of the programming changes. This season, you get to see James Marsden go from being such a sweet guy to being the real fearsome Teddy that you saw him be this season. And you've gotten to see Thandie shift and speak Japanese. That's the beauty of the show, that it really gives us actors so much to do, and it continues to be such an incredible challenge and joy that way.

Does this feel like a fitting end for Charlotte Hale, at least in human form?

I think so. I mean, it's her end, but it's still a pretty fantastic end — and relative to the ways in which people can die on this show, it's not so bad. She went out pretty instantly. She was killed by herself, so technically no one really one-upped her. She one-upped herself! (Laughs.) In terms of Charlotte, she's like, "You still didn't kill me. I killed me." It was a pretty sexy end, which I think she'd be happy about. And who knows? Honestly, it's probably a good thing that she went out, because I think that she had realized that if she'd cloned herself, who knows what she would have done with it. I think it's good that we just let her rest in peace.

What do you hope is next for Tessa Thompson in season three? Sound off in the comments and check THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.