Jonathan Nolan recalls the moment he showed his Westworld season 2 Super Bowl ad to his brother, The Dark Knight and Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan: “My brother said that at first, he thought the ad was a car commercial,” Jonathan says. “And I said, ‘Exactly!’”
The Westworld co-creator jumped on the phone with EW on Monday morning to break down the buzzworthy commercial, which marked HBO’s first Super Bowl ad in 20 years. The first thing you should know is that Nolan isn’t calling this spot a “trailer” at all. “We’ll do a proper trailer later in the year,” Nolan says. “This was very much conceived as a Super Bowl spot. HBO came to us and said they wanted to do it… and we were incredibly excited. The show has been off the air [since 2016], longer than normal for a TV show and we wanted to create a love letter to Super Bowl spots in general.”
The idea behind the 90-second ad was to emulate — and then totally subvert — the typical Americana tropes of Super Bowl ads.”I wanted it to feel like one of these beautifully crafted love letters you get in the Super Bowl,” Nolan says. “Something that gives you a sense of what the park was supposed to feel like — this idyllic dream of the pastoral and idealized West that Americans get sold during the Super Bowl ads, and then pull the rug out and remind the audience what they’re really watching.”
We previously reported that some content from the ad isn’t going to be in season 2, but it’s actually very little — just the shot at the end where Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) addresses the camera. The rest of the ad is all in-season footage, though those shots of android bulls charging through the theme park’s backstage labs were given some additional production. “That set piece was conceived for the season and we executed it with extra time and care because our partners at HBO thought it would make a great centerpiece for the ad,” Nolan says. “It has always been scripted, but we leaned harder into it.”
And yes, the production used real bulls for the stunning sequence — six of them, with some CGI enhancements. The imagery was a nod toward two iconic Super Bowl ad campaigns, Nolan reveals: The iconic slow motion Budweiser Clydesdale horses and the Merrill Lynch series where a bull wanders down Wall Street.
For the music, Nolan and co-creator Lisa Joy had composer Ramin Djawadi re-imagine Kanye West’s “Runaway,” and, yes, you can expect more iconic tunes to get Westworld orchestral treatment in season 2. “Kayne West is a genius and that song has stuck with me since I first heard it many years ago,” Nolan says. “It’s simultaneously incredibly beautiful and incredibly subversive. And what Ramin did with it, there’s a lot of different layers.” (Listen to the full version below).
The ad has succeeded by one metric at least — it’s the No. 6 trending video on YouTube the day after the Super Bowl launched dozens of ads and trailers, coming in just after big screen heavy hitters like the Solo: A Star Wars Story trailer and the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom trailer.
“My dad was an advertising guy as a kid,” Nolan says. “I always wanted to make a commercial and this was a hellvua chance to do it.”
As for all the new Westworld mysteries presented in the trailer, Nolan wasn’t quite ready to reveal any new season 2 details just yet. Though we did get a chance to ask about those glimpses of that seedy tourist Logan (Ben Barnes) and Dolores’ disturbed father Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum) whose returns were confirmed in the preview. “They are back. We had so much fun working with Ben and Louis and had more story to tell with them,” he says. “Dolores’ story — as we’ve learned about all our hosts by the end of the first season — their lives span decades. So we have more storytelling to do about the origin of the park and the park’s little secret project.”
Here’s the full version of “Runaway”:
Westworld returns April 22 on HBO.