'Westworld': Tessa Thompson on Bringing "Emotional Espionage" to Season 3

[The following story contains spoilers for season three, episode three of HBO's Westworld, "Absence of Field."]

Tessa Thompson made her first mark on Westworld near the end of its first season, arriving as tough-as-nails corporate shark Charlotte Hale, ready to devour all in her path. The second season charted Charlotte's journey of survival through the park — a journey that did not end well for her, to put it lightly. 

But the journey didn't end — it was only just beginning, in fact, as Thompson's role on Westworld expanded from playing cold-blooded Charlotte to playing...well, someone else. In the season two finale, Evan Rachel Wood's Dolores temporarily occupied a new host body modeled after Charlotte, using her access to escape the park. By the end of that same episode, Dolores was back in original form, though the robotic Charlotte Hale was still at her side, the current occupant's identity unknown.

Three episodes into Westworld season three, the identity of Tessa Thompson's character remains unknown, despite the fact that her storyline is as front and center as humanly (or hostly) possible. In "Absence of Field," Thompson steps into the spotlight, as the new robotic Charlotte Hale operates within Delos for Dolores' as-yet revealed needs, all while trying to come to terms with the home life the actual Charlotte left behind — and it's a complicated portrait of a woman who, up until now, was presented in a largely unsympathetic light. 

Listen to the Series Regular: Westworld podcast for more about "Absence of Field."

The result: "Charbotte," to put a name on the mechanical version of the late Charlotte Hale, is not just an enigma to the audience, but also to herself, deep in the throes of an identity crisis. Meanwhile, as an actor in the sprawling Westworld ensemble, Thompson has never had so much fun exploring her character's various identities.

"It's an immense challenge to sort of keep a handle on it, but it's so fun," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "You have the chance to present something entirely new and that happened sort of midway through to the end of the last season, so it meant that I got to text Evan in the middle of the night and be like, 'Hey, will you send me a voice memo of you saying this line?' And trying to sort of infuse her voice into my performance or going to set and watching the way that she moves and I'm like, 'Oh right, she doesn't really move her hands that much when she walks,' so fun nuances of performance. Then, the truth is I think we as human beings, we play all sorts of different parts depending on who we're in front of; that's just a part of what we do as humans. To get to do it as this sort of subhuman or superhuman was interesting."

For Thompson, part of her performance within a performance involves discovering new layers of Charlotte, whose love for her young son was not a part of the character in the first two seasons, but is now an essential piece of her fabric — both for the late version of the character, as well as the robot imposter running around with Charlotte's likeness.

"It's like emotional espionage," says Thompson. "I think in the past, Charlotte presented to me this idea of big business, what a corporation looks like, that there's this idea that you put the bottom line before human emotions. She didn't really care much about hosts, about the emotionality of the sentient being. She was kind of like, 'I'm about the money.' Then you get to see actually the cost of power. You get to see her relationship to herself. But, of course, you get to see it through [my new character], and I'm kind of an impostor. I'm an impartial person that's suddenly in her life and having to reconcile all the choices that she made, good and bad, and that's fascinating to play. Really, really cool to play." 

"I started this show being a human and now to play a robot," she adds, "so I get to ask all fun questions like, do robots close their eyes when they sleep? Do they sleep? I sort of had to learn a whole new protocol in terms of performance — like, what does a tear mean to a host? Does it mean anything? I love that, especially when you're doing long-format television. You're telling so many hours of a story, so it's fun to get to see characters grow and change and shift. I hope the audience is as excited to watch it as we were to play it."

Who is the new Charlotte Hale? The answer is off in the future, though fans are likely to have a whole host of theories — pun intended, with no apologies. Is she James Marsden's Teddy Flood, Dolores' old flame? Is she Angela Sarafyan's Clementine, who also touches her face as one of her "reveries," much as "Charbotte" does when she comes online in the episode's opening scene? Is she someone completely new, or someone so far from mind that even the audience isn't considering the possibility? Whoever she is, Thompson says the possibilities a character like Charlotte presents are what draw her not just to the role, but the ongoing themes of Westworld at large.

"Charlotte Hale has always been someone that bucks convention," says Thompson. "I remember the first season people talking about the way that she behaves and they didn't really buy it or understand it. I was like, 'If she were doing all those very same things and she were a man, I don't think you'd have those complaints about her character. I don't think you would assess it in the same way.'" 

"I've always loved the questions that she posed about gender," she continues. "I think we're in a time where hopefully we're all reckoning with these ideas and seeing sort of more fluidity in our ideas about gender being upended. It's cool if the show can be a part of that conversation."

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