Season 2 of Westworld officially premieres on HBO Sunday, April 22, but Tribeca Film Festival attendees got a sneak preview of the premiere episode on Thursday night. Following the screening, Westworld stars Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and Jeffrey Wright took the stage alongside series creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy to preview the upcoming season. The discussion did not focus on the specifics of the first episode (so don’t worry about spoilers!) but rather the overall arc of season 2, as well as the actors’ behind-the-scenes experience. Here are five things we learned.
Delos’ data collection sounds familiar…
The scope of season 2 expands widely, going far behind the contours of the Westworld park to the inner workings of parent company, Delos, itself. In season 1, viewers saw Delos executive director Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) emphasize the importance of the company’s intellectual property — in particular, all the data they’ve gathered on park guests over the years. Season 2 will continue to explore Delos’ shady data collection practices — a timely story line as real-life Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has come under fire from Congress after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
At the Tribeca panel, Nolan drew an explicit connection between Delos and real-life tech corporations.
“An innovative and dangerous idea that emerged over the last 10 years is that a company could have an ostensible purpose for the consumer, and a completely different purpose for the shareholder,” Nolan said. “Google is one great example; Facebook is another. Facebook is ostensibly a way for you to connect with people, but that’s not their business at all. Their business is to sell you shit and read your mind. It turns out you are the product. Not coincidentally, these two companies (Google and Facebook) are also the leading investors in AI. So that felt somewhat relevant to our show. It’s a cynical business model, and it lends itself to delicious reinterpretation on our show.”
Nudity for story, not thrills
Unsurprising for an HBO drama, season 1 of Westworld had a lot of nudity — most often, whenever one of the hosts was called away from their duties to give a diagnosis report to behavior chief Bernard Lowe (Wright) or park founder Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). There is much less nudity in season 2, and Joy explained how the change is just as rooted in story as the original nudity was.
“Filming a nude scene is hard and difficult, because these are peers and also friends, and I understand how vulnerable that makes people,” Joy said. “We were very upfront about the nudity from the start, and trying to talk with all our actors [about] not only why it was in the script, but also the safeguards we would have on set in terms of trying to protect them as much as possible. We talked to people who would be in the scenes with them about being careful. It’s a vulnerable position. In both our filming and our cutting, we’re not lingering on parts that aren’t essential to the story. What is essential to the story is that feeling of both perfection and tragedy. They’re sitting there, literally being objectified, treated as objects to be operated on and talked about while they’re right there in the room. So you always know what you’re asking, and the great trust it takes for actors to go there with you. It’s an essential part of the story, and it’s guided by what the characters are doing. So yeah, when the hosts get power, they’re not gonna spend a lot of time naked on a stool.”
Newton elaborated further with her own experience filming one of her nude scenes in season 1, and how Nolan and Joy worked to make her safe and comfortable. Her character, Maeve, spent a lot of time naked in season 1, since her plan to escape the park necessitated her to keep dying and moving pieces behind the scenes, but Maeve is on a different journey this time around.
“I remember reading the script for episode 1 and being like, ‘I’m wearing clothes! I’m not only wearing clothes, I get other clothes to wear. I’ve got another costume!’ So I went to Lisa and was like ‘I’m not naked,’ and she was like, ‘Why the hell would Maeve want to get naked again?’” Newton said. “I remember one of the first sequences of nudity from season 1 — the scene where Maeve wakes up from the operation and her stomach’s hanging out and she runs through this unbelievable space — and it’s horrifying. Jonah was shooting it, and I remember we did a take, and he rushed out from behind the camera and told everyone to turn around and got me a robe. The director! He wouldn’t even look at me, he was just trying to guide the robe to me. I just wanted to cry, because I’ve never ever been treated like that while nude, and I’ve been nude or semi-nude a lot for movies. It took me a moment to recover myself and carry on. I was treated that way every single day I was nude, and it started with this man and this woman. It was a revelation to me. The grace and sensitivity… on the one hand, I was so appreciative, and on the other hand, I was horrified at what I’d been through up until then. I had delayed horror.”
The making of Shogun World
One of the most enticing elements of Westworld season 2 is the possibility of exploring different parks with different themes. The samurai-inflected Shogun World was first glimpsed in the season 1 finale and has a much bigger role in season 2. At the panel, Nolan explained the influences that went into creating Shogun World.
“We knew we were gonna start with a Western, and after a certain point, we’d be unlimited in where you could take the story,” Nolan said. “I found that terrifying, but incredibly exciting, because one of the things the show is about is storytelling. We imagined that Anthony Hopkins’ character’s relationship to narrative was similar to our own. He wouldn’t have tried to make a realistic Western with fetishistic detail; he would want to make a John Ford movie or a Sergio Leone movie. Going into subsequent seasons, it was delicious to imagine what we could do with other filmmakers in other genres. When I was a kid growing up, I watched Sergio Leone movies on London weekend television. When I watched Akira Kurosawa movies, I started to notice they were kind of similar. Leone’s movies owed a lot to Kurosawa, and Star Wars owed a lot to Kurosawa. It was like finding a basic level of code: “Oh s—, all these filmmakers have watched this guy’s movies.” That was a delicious idea to play with. The challenge of coming into another season allowed us to not just build other worlds but pay homage to other filmmakers: use the same film stocks they shot on, design a similar color palette. For Shogun World, we brought out an entire Japanese cast and Japanese stunt choreographers.”
Finding the thread between Dolores and Wyatt
All throughout season 1, multiple characters kept teasing the arrival of “Wyatt,” a mysterious character who sounded like the ultimate bad guy among the park’s hosts. In the finale, viewers learned that Wyatt was actually a subpersonality of Dolores (Wood), originally placed into her by her creator, Arnold, so that she would kill him. The Wyatt personality came back in a big way in the final moments of season 1, as Dolores killed Arnold’s old partner Ford and ignited a robot revolution in Westworld. As season 2 begins, Dolores is still at the forefront of the host uprising, but Wood admitted her challenge this season was to find the connection between Dolores, Wyatt, and her true self.
“I didn’t really know who my character was for season 2,” Wood said. “There was this character Wyatt talked about in hushed tones, and then in the finale, it was like, ‘Ooh, I’m finally Wyatt! Wait, who is that?’ So I met with Jonah and Lisa at the beginning of this season and was like, ‘Who is he?’ And they were like, ‘You know, Wyatt’s a girl’s name too.’ So who is she? Jonah said there’s never been a character like her before. So we built her from the ground up. We found this new version of her just by doing. I remember showing up for the first day of shooting being like, ‘I have no idea who I’m playing or what I’m supposed to be doing anymore.’ We would try different things when we could and play around with different levels: How much of the old Dolores should be there, how much of Wyatt should be there, how much of the accent should be there? We made these different rules for her about who would be the dominant character in different situations with different people. It was a trial and error, and I think we found this really nice groove that merged all three. But it was definitely a challenge.”
Robot relationship problems
Good ol’ Teddy (Marsden) is still at Dolores’ side in the new season, but they’ve come a long way from their origins as the cute couple of Sweetwater. Teddy still wants the idyllic life they’ve always dreamed of, but Dolores now has her sights set much higher.
“He is bound to her with mighty cables, and they go past what could ever be written for them,” Marsden said. “But she’s changed. It’s hot for a second, but then you have to stay alive.”
Wood admitted that she and Marsden had fun on set joking about how their relationship dynamic might change now that Dolores is Wyatt (“I won’t go into the jokes we said”) and how sentient robots deal with age-old love problems.
“What I love about their storyline this season is they’re dealing with this revolution, and they’re awakening to this dream that’s actually a nightmare, and they’re still having the same relationship problems that any of us have, which is can you cope with your partner changing? Or feeling that you’ve been forced to change?” Wood said. “How can this love survive evolution and this new climate of war? How much of it is programming and how much of it is real? We’ll see more of that in season 2.”