'Westworld': Sela Ward Breaks Down Her Heartbreaking Turn in "Vanishing Point"

Speaking with THR, the Emmy-winning star reveals the secrets behind her tragic performance as Juliet, the Man in Black's wife.
John P. Johnson/HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode nine of HBO's Westworld, "Vanishing Point."]

The Man in Black and his wife, Juliet, approached the world from opposing viewpoints, certainly toward the end of her life. But they had at least one pursuit in common: the search for something true.

Emmy winner Sela Ward joined the Westworld fray for this past week's "Vanishing Point," the ninth and penultimate episode of the HBO drama's second season. The actress was tasked with bringing life to Juliet, previously seen in flashback appearances and played by Claire Unabia. In her first and thus far only appearance in the series, Ward stepped into the life and times of Juliet Delos on the final night of her life. What followed is a tragedy of the highest order, as Juliet is revealed to suffer from substance abuse and emotional abuse, stemming from her feelings toward her husband — namely, that the seemingly white-hatted William is actually a much darker person than he ever lets on to the rest of the world. 

When the Man in Black confirms her suspicions, after a taxing night in which Juliet's daughter Emily (Katja Herbers) announces plans to commit Juliet to a rehab facility, Juliet kills herself. It's a development fans of the series have anticipated for some time now, as Juliet's death was the incentive for both the Man in Black and his daughter to travel to the park on this most recent ill-fated visit. Seeing the night pan out, instead of just hearing about it, was perhaps less expected, certainly with someone of Ward's caliber bringing the tragedy of Juliet's death to life. 

For more on her involvement with the series, THR spoke with Ward about signing on for Westworld, her experience shooting with Harris and Herbers, and how she imagines a trip to the park would work out for Juliet.

What's the story behind joining the show?

It's that Hollywood structure of an offer: "Would you like to play this part?" And my kids, my 24-year-old son is obsessed [with Westworld]. "Mom, you have to do this show. You absolutely have to do this show." So he was excited. And I'd seen the show. It's really brilliant. So I was thrilled to check it out and be a part of it. It was a great experience shooting.

How was the role pitched to you? Once you came on board or maybe before you came on board, and the idea was being floated your way, what was your understanding of who Juliet was and who you'd be playing?

They were very secretive about their scripts. They don't like to send out their scripts. I said, "You guys, I've been doing this for 30 years. I'm not going to send your script to anybody, and I can't take a job if I don't know what the part is." So I was able to read just the part, which is all I really needed to read, and I loved the way that it was written. And I thought, "Wow. This is an interesting character piece." I knew that that would be fun for me, and working with Ed would be fun because Ed is a great actor. And creatively, it was interesting to me.

What was involved in your preparation process?

It's a pretty straightforward dynamic, I think, which is universal, and first and foremost has to do with a woman and a marriage, whose needs are not being met, and a distant husband, a troubled husband, a cold man who is not there for her emotionally, leaving and going on these sojourns to the park for long periods of time. And in any relationship, loneliness is one of the most debilitating experiences emotionally for people who are partnered, particularly for long periods of time. That was such a universal thing to draw from that I really didn't need much else. What I did was a portrait of a marriage, encapsulated in one episode. You're really working very hard to make sure that everything that's communicated onscreen within the writing is telegraphing everything you possibly can about these two people verbally and nonverbally. You live enough life and have been in enough relationships that you don't have to look far to understand what that feels like, right?

There's an added heaviness to your scenes, knowing that this is the final night of Juliet's life. How did that impact your performance?

I've thought a lot about that, about whether people, when they decide to commit suicide ... I don't know that they start out the morning thinking that. I think that there's a debilitating level of depression and lack of joy, and that I think her decision was really spurned by looking at [the Man in Black's profile]. But being able to confirm that her whole marriage was a lie by seeing this data card, and seeing that she doesn't even know this person, that he has an entire different life. And wherever she is and was in her unhappiness, I think it was just too much for her to handle. And also, in the wake of being told that they were going to take her back to that [institution] type of construct, she obviously felt very trapped and felt that was her only way to escape.

What was your perspective on Juliet's relationship with Katja's character, with Emily, which we know is very fraught in the episode? How did you feel you wanted to play that dynamic out?

I come from that old school of acting — the sort of the Meisner technique, if you will — where whatever you are given by the other actor, you respond to truthfully. Obviously, they don't have the most warm and fuzzy relationship, and she's very attached to her father, but whatever was presented to me, in terms of the other actor's performance and behavior, is what I was reacting to, knowing that this was not a terribly close relationship between a mother and a daughter. Mother-daughter relationships are often fraught with all sorts of competition, and layers of walls that keep them from really being terribly close until a certain age, I think. So it was whatever was given to me. There was not a lot of need to delve deep there. I have a daughter. (Laughs.)

What was your experience working with Ed on the episode?

Ed is a very dedicated, intense actor, and he takes his craft very seriously, and he likes to stay in character as he's shooting. And I totally respect that and give that a lot of space. Given that, we weren't laughing much. (Laughs.) It was delightful. I love working with real professional actors, and he is one of those actors who gives a lot in the performance to the other actor. And I love those kind of gracious actors. So it was a treat for me.

We know how he acts in the park, and we know how Emily acts in the park as well. How do you think Juliet would spend her time in Westworld?

I thought about that a lot, and I'm trying to imagine her in the park. I have no idea. I really have no idea. That's why they're so brilliant with their imagination. I'm sure the showrunners would come up with something very clever, if that were to happen. This show is always full of surprises, and I think that's one of the reasons people stay so glued. They never know what to expect next. And it's just part of a fun journey, a mystery, I think.

Do you hope to see it someday, Juliet in the park? Do you hope to return to this character?

That's really a producer question, whether they see that happening for this character or not. And it would be fun for me. I really enjoyed it, and I loved the show, so we'll see what happens.

Your son would certainly would be pleased.

My son would be thrilled. (Laughs.) He'd be thrilled.

What are your thoughts on Ward's work as Juliet? Sound off in the comments below and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.