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“That doesn’t look like anything to me.”
It’s a familiar refrain for anyone who watches Westworld, the HBO series set in a futuristic amusement park where robots (called “hosts”) operate as violent delights for their human guests’ violent ends. It’s what hosts say when they’re introduced to concepts their programming can’t possibly comprehend. It’s also the sad answer that co-creator Jonah Nolan delivered when the subject of “Samurai World” was brought up Saturday during the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel.
Among the first-season finale’s many jaw-dropping moments, few things caught as much traction as the reveal that there are multiple theme parks beyond Westworld. During an escape attempt, Thandie Newton’s woke host Maeve wanders through a section of the park’s behind-the-scenes terminal, where she spots several hosts garbed in samurai gear and practicing swordplay. The scene has gone largely unexplained thus far, with both Nolan and his co-creator and spouse Lisa Joy playing especially coy on the matter. When asked at Comic-Con if Samurai World would play a role in season two, Nolan would only offer: “How much do you want it to play a role in season two?” The attendees in Hall H roared with enthusiasm, but again, all Nolan would offer is that classic Bernardism: “Doesn’t look like anything to me.”
Luckily, there were plenty of things one could actually look at and process over the course of the Westworld panel in the massive Hall H, including the first teaser trailer for season two, an action-packed look at what’s ahead — and an impressive look at that, given the series has only been back in production for a week. Outside of the preview, Nolan, Joy and the cast were reticent to give up too many details about what’s ahead. Instead, they spoke at length about the process, notable scenes from season one and the heady philosophical questions the show raises through its narratives. Read on for the highlights.
Why was the first season primarily told through the hosts’ point of view?
“J.J. Abrams, who you guys might have heard of here, called us several years ago to say he had been thinking about [Westworld] for a long time as a movie. Is there something here as a series? He started thinking there was an opportunity to go deeper,” said Nolan. “What if we spent a little time in the perspective of robots? We haven’t quite seen that before. Amazing books and films have dealt with these questions, but depending on how you interpret Blade Runner, not a lot of them have been grounded in that perspective. Lisa and I took that idea and ran a country mile with it.”
How the score and soundtrack serve multiple purposes, including turning the audience into robots:
“One of the earliest images we discussed was a player piano,” said Joy. “It seemed like a perfect encapsulation of what this is about: the old and the new, the classic artistic creation and also this mechanized, mass-produced quality to it. Using the player piano as a touchpoint was an amazing way to repurpose and recontextualize contemporary music in an old-timey way that lulls us into something familiar but different in that context.”
“Humans are kind of robots, too,” added Nolan. “We’re gently reminding you the show is not in the time period it appears to be, but there’s some human programming we’re manipulating, too. … When you use familiar music, it’s an easy way to bypass a lot and focus on emotion.”
The cast’s thoughts on not knowing much of their characters’ journeys ahead of time:
“I started piecing things together,” said Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Dolores, adding that she confronted Nolan about all of her theories surrounding the mysterious villain Wyatt, deducing there was only one possible candidate for who was playing the character: “I turned over every rock except for mine. Jonah laughed and walked away. I knew I was onto something.”
Jimmi Simpson, who plays William, added of Wood: “I think about this show a lot, but not as much as Evan. She comes to work with PowerPoints.”
“I felt like it was very altruistic of you guys not to tell us anything,” said Newton, speaking to Joy and Nolan. “Some of the storylines are so huge, trying to wrap your head around it. As an actor, you want enough to digest. If we had known everything, it would be too much. Our minds would have been scrambled. I actually think it was incredibly kind to just give us what we needed, so we could give everything to that section and then move onto the next moment. I don’t know how you managed to control it so we all had enough.”
As for how Jeffrey Wright, who plays Bernard, learned he was playing a host? “I just went on Reddit,” he joked. But in all seriousness, the actor knew about the twist starting with the second episode of the series, the first one they filmed after receiving the full-season order.
“There are some really interesting ideas about perception, reality and consciousness, and the decisions and agreements we make with ourselves — certain touchstones, whether they be physical or familial,” said Wright about why he loves playing the character. “The agreements we make with one another that determines what it is we’re doing right now. I’m still learning who Bernard is. Join me.”
What were the most challenging scenes to shoot in the first season?
Both Simpson and Wood agreed on the revelation of William as the Man in Black, due to how badly it broke their hearts in the context of William and Dolores’ love story.
“We had built this love story together and really invested in it and really cared and really wanted to make them fall in love,” said Wood. “We didn’t know. We kind of started having a feeling of where it was going, but not until we were there and Jimmi was in the black. We couldn’t look each other in the eyes that day. It was a very emotional day.”
“They crafted the love story so beautifully that we didn’t think anything bad could happen, and then it did,” added Simpson. “It was too much!”
For Ben Barnes, who played William’s would-be brother-in-law Logan, his most challenging scene was also one from which he derived some pleasure: “Gentlemen, until you’ve ridden a horse balls to the wind, as it were, you won’t know true terror or true joy.”
“Season two begins with you riding that horse, still naked,” Nolan joked. When Simon Quarterman, who plays Lee Sizemore, chimed in that he wanted to ride a horse naked in season two, Nolan replied: “Duly noted.”
What is it about Westworld that’s landed with such a broad audience?
“I think it’s because Jonah and Lisa spent years developing this thing and have had so much passion about it, which translates to all of us actors in terms of trying to interpret what they have created,” said Ed Harris, who plays The Man in Black and who apparently showed up to the panel at least one drink deep, based on something Nolan said earlier about his theory on reality: “I’ve concluded we are in a simulation. I just did a tequila shot with Ed Harris in a parking garage at Comic-Con.”
“It’s its own genre in a way,” the questionably sober Harris continued. “It’s extremely well done. It’s very detailed. It’s very specific, even though it’s confusing. I just think that anything that’s paid attention to to the extreme that this show is is worthy of attention, and people get that and dig it. In a way it’s like Game of Thrones. I don’t know everything going on with that thing, but I enjoy watching it. There are a lot of storylines going on. Some people really get into trying to figure it out, and others enjoy watching it show by show.”
“Can we stop down on two things?” Nolan said when Harris was finished. “One, Ed Harris is at Comic-Con … and two, Ed Harris is a Game of Thrones fan.”
Watch the season two teaser trailer below:
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