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As Westworld barrels toward the finish line of its first season, some of the show’s greatest mysteries are starting to unravel — and somehow, Jeffrey Wright keeps standing at the center of the answers.
The Emmy-winning actor was already part of the science fiction drama’s biggest twist yet, as it was revealed that his character, the mild-mannered scientist Bernard Lowe, was secretly a host. In the episodes since that reveal, Bernard has questioned the nature of his reality, and in episode nine, he unearthed a big answer: Bernard is modeled after Arnold, the brilliant man who pioneered Westworld alongside Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). After Arnold’s death, Ford built Bernard as both a tribute to his old friend and as a means of returning to the glory days of their partnership. But that partnership was on an ill-fated trajectory, as Ford commanded Bernard to commit suicide upon learning his true nature, no longer content with simply scrubbing his servant’s memories as he’s done many times before.
Over the course of three episodes, viewers learned that Bernard’s a host, that he’s modeled after Arnold, and then they watched him die. Evan Rachel Wood describes working on Westworld as “the acting Olympics,” and if it’s an apt metaphor, then Wright certainly earns top marks for juggling not one but two characters with intricate ties to the show’s central mystery.
Read on for what Wright told The Hollywood Reporter about learning Bernard’s latest secret, his thoughts on Arnold’s place in the story, the different approaches to his two characters, and more.
Now we know why you needed to know Bernard was a host after filming the premiere. You’ve been playing two characters. How tough has this secret been to keep?
Like most of the secrets with this series, it’s been pretty tough trying to dance around what in some ways is the obvious. I know people have been very excited about discovering the secrets through various theories, but everything has been shown really from the beginning. In some respects, these things were obvious. I think they’ll become more so when you trace the breadcrumbs back to the beginning. But we’ve been strangely open about these things. (Laughs.)
How did the Arnold conversation go? Was it part of the same conversation you had when Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy told you Bernard is a host?
Yeah, but at the time, Lisa described everything to me in relatively retailed broad brushstrokes. I understood the arc and some of the generalities, but she remained slightly cryptic about some of the finer details. Some of these finer points, I discovered as the scripts became available. But I knew everything I needed to know to separate the various timelines and also understand a little about the nuances that differentiate Arnold from Bernard.
What are some of those nuances? How did you differentiate between Bernard and Arnold in your performances?
I think there are subtle, tonal shades and differences between the two characters. That lives within the writing. Almost reflexively, I found that Arnold was a bit warmer. He’s a bit more available. We only see him in his relationship with Dolores. But it was odd, really. There’s more of a glow within him. There’s a smiling heart there. It was a very subtle shift. Whereas with Bernard, although he’s empathetic and empathizing, he’s still somewhat detached and somewhat more clinical. Obviously not to the extent that Ford is, but there’s something slightly less humane about him.
Arnold has been such a mysterious figure on this show. What we know about him, we mostly know through the words of other characters. As the actor who played him, who is Arnold to you? What can you share about your thoughts on the character as a man, as an innovator and as this force looming over Westworld?
Well, Arnold is the Anti-Ford, but at the same time, he kind of overlaps him in complimenting him. They are certainly the polar opposites [as] the founding fathers of this place. Bernard in some ways exists on the Arnold side of that philosophical space between the two characters, but that ground was Arnold’s in that he was a bit more of the romantic and a bit more of the dreamer and kind of vulnerable to the possibilities of new lifeforms going through this technology. Perhaps that’s his nature, but it’s also perhaps the loss that he experienced, the loss of this child. Westworld existed in its origins within the tensions between Ford and him.
Looking at the scene where Bernard first comes online, what was it like playing a character experiencing life for the very first time?
Well, I had done it once before in my life, so …
The universal experience!
Yeah. It was … I guess it was an attempt at clearing the slate. We’ve all done it, right? Maybe not in the same manner and with the same components, but we’ve all done it. I tried to do it again, but slightly older than the first time. (Laughs.)
It’s been a turbulent ride for Bernard since learning he’s a host. He killed Theresa, maybe killed Elsie and ultimately shoots himself. What were some of your takeaways from playing Bernard after the robot reveal?
I can say that the epicenter of all of that is this kind of interrogation and quote-unquote “self-exploration” scene with Ford in the lab down in the bowels of this place, behind this army of defunct hosts. We spent several days down there on those scenes and I was ready to get out of there by, like, the fourth day. It was pretty … you know. I love acting when it’s right and it’s fun, but I was ready to move on from that scene. (Laughs.) Anthony Hopkins was sitting there on the other side of the room, kind of grinding Bernard into pretty much oblivion. It was good stuff, but … you know what it was? It really called on, as Evan has described, dredging up a lot of the themes in the mirror reflection that the show plays on. Who are we? Why are we? Are we missed? Are we not? How much of our personality is self-created and how much of it is organic? What makes us up? Not to be overblown about it, but it was pretty trippy in that regard. You’re basically as actors replicating to some extent what these hosts are tasked with doing. It was fun in that regard. I think as well, when the mirror reflects back on the audience, ideally they empathize, yes, but also recognize it as a metaphor for their own looks into the mirror at times.
In terms of your process, was it an intense place to go to, when you’re playing Bernard with a gun to his head, finger about to pull the trigger?
The gun plays the emotion more so than I have to. The stuff that was rawer was the trickier stuff, and the more tiring stuff. If it’s going to match the level of storytelling we’re going for, then it had to be what it is. At the same time … you know, it’s funny. I’m coming back from D.C. right now. I went down to Fort Belvoir, the army base down here, to take part in a series of workshops with some soldiers who are experiencing PTSD and other forms of trauma. It’s a writing workshop, to use this creative channel to dip into these toxic reservoirs and make something better out of it. I have an opportunity to do that in my work at times, which I think is good and healthy for me. Today, this experience with these folks, although the increments of what they’re dealing with are much more different and much more specific, I can see and feel it as a healthy exercise. It was a pain in the ass [to play] after four days, but that’s why we do what we do. We love it.
Looking ahead at the finale, I know there isn’t much you can say about it, but do you have three words to describe the finale?
Is there a finale? No one mentioned it to me.
“That doesn’t sound like anything to me.”
So not even three words? You have nothing?
I mean, I guess I’ll watch. I dig the show. But I don’t know anything about it!
Follow THR‘s Westworld coverage for more interviews, news and theories as we race toward the season finale.
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