'Westworld's' Thandie Newton on All Those Nude Scenes, Season 2 and the Han Solo 'Star Wars' Spinoff
"The scenes where I was clothes-less were the ones that I'd have to wake up and really play," the actress says of her role as a robot madam on HBO's sci-fi drama.
Ironically, of all the roles Thandie Newton has played over the years — Brad Pitt's plantation slave in Interview With the Vampire, Tom Cruise's undercover agent in Mission: Impossible II, Vin Diesel's alien overlord in The Chronicles of Riddick — the most human may just be Maeve, the robot madam on HBO's Westworld. The character presented the British-born actress with many challenges, physically and emotionally, but at least the wardrobe was simple: She says she spent the majority of her onscreen time naked. Newton, 44, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her character, her hopes for season two and her experience filming another sci-fi project, the Han Solo Star Wars spinoff.
You have said that you were naked in 70 percent of your scenes on this show. How do you get comfortable with such a thing?
Well, the nudity that's being portrayed in the show for my character is desexualized. That's very helpful. And the crew and other castmembers were so supportive and sensitive to the fact that I was standing there literally with no clothes. We got into a rhythm where it was kind of normalized: "Oh, you know, Thandie's on set naked again!" But because the element of sex is taken out of it, there was nothing erotic about it. Both of the showrunners [Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy] were incredibly supportive, and I think that on any set with a crew, their behavior trickles down from the top. And our showrunners were so kind and sensitive to the fact that I was willing to really sacrifice my privacy over my body for the show, so I was treated really well, and I don't know how I could have done it without that measure of respect and discretion that they used. I think that even though it was a very big challenge, the scenes where I was clothes-less were the ones that I'd have to wake up and really play.
One of the most memorable scenes of season one involves your character and Rodrigo Santoro's character having sex while fire rages all around them and ultimately consumes them. What do you remember about shooting that?
It mainly had to do with fire and safety. We had to be very careful about how we shot it. I was never in fear of my safety at all, but I was very aware of how dramatic it was going to seem, with these characters and the intense burning around them. So it actually just intensified what we were doing; even though it looked like the fires were right there, they really weren't. But I was aware of how it might feel from a viewer's point of view, so I could just feel how intense it was going to be when people saw it. That felt good.
What kind of conversations have you had with fans?
People are just really behind Maeve. Like, I mean quite literally. Someone tweeted a picture of a T-shirt saying, "Maeve for president" in the next election.
Yeah, right? (Laughs.) That made me feel good, because I feel the same way, that Maeve is a freedom fighter. She's against the establishment and she busts her way out of there, and I think that's something people all over the world can feel. There's a utopia that they are looking for; it's something they want to be a part of. It was really great, because I feel the same. When I'm talking to fans, it's like I'm a fan, too. We're all in it together.
What are you most looking forward to exploring with the character in season two?
Oh, I don't know. I mean, if it was more of the same, I'd still love it. But I won't know until July when I go back to shoot. I feel like it can go in so many different directions, and that's just so exciting. I think that Westworld already pushed the limits of what we can expect from television. Some people describe it as "film as television," in the sense that each episode is like a movie. So I know I'm going to love it, whatever it is. There's also this anticipation, because I know it's going to be hard work. Maeve is not a wallflower. So I'm kind of enjoying this time of peace before I get back into the fray again, even now when I'm shooting Star Wars.
Speaking of which, does an experience like Westworld prepare you for what you're going to get into with Star Wars fans?
I've been acting for 20-odd years, and each project has its own requirements. From working on Westworld, one thing that has carried over into shooting other projects is how much people love the show. For instance, Woody Harrelson is a huge fan, and I'm working with him now on Star Wars, which is a really nice way to start a job: people giving me respect for other work that I've done. That's really nice.
This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.