In Sunday’s episode of Westworld, it was revealed that the Man in Black hasn’t been the best husband to his gorgeous but thoroughly wrecked wife, Juliet, played by the inimitable Sela Ward. We asked the veteran TV actress, last seen on the Epix drama Graves opposite Nick Nolte, to reflect on her too-brief appearance and whether there’s a chance she’ll return to the HBO drama.
But first, a SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read this until you’ve seen the penultimate episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s clear HBO doesn’t know that a rule in TV exists that you don’t give us Sela Ward and then take her away in the same episode. Didn’t your agent tell them that?
SELA WARD: No, I told the producers that before I took that job. That’s funny.
How long ago did they approach you about playing this role?
Oh, God. When did we shoot that? I don’t remember because I had been filming Graves, which is now over, in New Mexico. It was somewhere in between shooting those two seasons. I just don’t even remember. It was this year.
Did the producers give you a lot of prep? Did they update you on the mythology to give you an idea of what you’re delving into?
Not really, actually. I talked to [executive producer] Lisa Joy and she gave me their vision of Juliet, her relationship and that sort of thing. Because all of my scenes were not in the park, she didn’t delve deep into the whole underbelly of it all. It really all had to do with her relationship [with the Man in Black, played by Ed Harris] because that’s really what… all of my stuff was really the portrait of a marriage. A woman who had turned to alcohol. She was living with great loneliness and despair, which is very debilitating. A husband who’s not there. He takes these long sojourns every year to the park. He’s really vacuous for her.
Did Juliet die thinking her husband was a monster or a monster robot?
I don’t think she thinks he’s a robot. I think she saw, through that data card, what a real monster that he had become. She saw all of the… he was really beyond redemption, all of the horrors that you could ever imagine a human being committing. Killing and torture. Looking at the reality of she doesn’t even know who she is married to. It’s real life, profoundly shocking.
You talk in the episode about how he basically brought you and your family into his lair. Am I to assume that your family comes from money or influence?
He came from nothing, right? It sounds like you and your family gave him something.
Had you worked with Ed before?
I hadn’t worked with him before. I met him before. We’ve never worked together. This was the first time. He’s a great actor.
Your relationship with your daughter in this episode… you obviously died thinking that your daughter thinks you’re just a drunk, and she didn’t understand what was behind it, obviously. Right?
Right. This mother-daughter relationship is very complicated. I think she felt very betrayed by her daughter, betrayed by life in a way, between her husband, who she doesn’t even know and who has been this monster revealed to her, and her daughter wants to send her back to rehab because she considers it equivalent to an institution. There is really no safe space, nowhere to turn. I can’t even imagine the loneliness of that. Despair is such an interesting state of being for a human being. It’s so incredibly debilitating to think that’s what you’re seeing a portrait of and why she just feels there’s no way out.
Did you have a chance to binge the show before you watch it? Did you feel like you needed to?
I didn’t. I was filming Graves and doing my own 17-hour days. I had seen a good handful of episodes. My kids were obsessed, but I didn’t binge the show. I didn’t feel like I had to. I think it is what it is, and you understand what it is. Every episode brings a new piece of a puzzle. That’s what’s so fun about it. The revelation and keep the audience guessing. It really struck a nerve with the people, and they love it. I understand why they love it. I didn’t have to really watch every single episode, but I sure watched a good handful.
So your kids were impressed that you did this.
“Oh, Mom, you have to do this. You HAVE to do this,” they said. I’m like, all right.
Did you get a chance to spend any time with Evan Rachel Wood, your former costar on Once and Again, while on set?
I did. I did because she was in that scene at the party. The party scene. We had many, many hours sitting around waiting. It was great to see her. She’s so wonderfully talented. I’ve seen her several times since then at different functions, and she’s always a delight. When she was on Once and Again, I think she was 12 when she started and ended it at almost 16. I have fond memories of her.
What was your experience like on Graves?
We’re finished with that and it was really fantastic because it was wonderful to work with Nick Nolte. He’s such a legend. I really liked Nick and we had a good time. It was a comedy. I love comedy so much and I had a great time getting to show those chops, if you will. I’ve been associated with drama for so long that it was a breath of fresh air. Really fun. I don’t know if you got to see it, but it was a really clever, fun, dark movie.
What did you hear from Lisa in terms of whether we’ll see Juliet back? There are a lot of flashbacks in this show.
We absolutely talked about the possibility. I don’t know that they have made that decision. I think they keep all of that very close to the vest, and we’ll see. I have no idea.
What’s next for you?
I’m actually on the campaign trail with my husband, Howard Sherman, who’s running for the U.S. Senate in Mississippi. I’m going up and down the state with him, and it will probably be all-consuming until November. I’m very attached to lifting that state up. That’s where I’m from. I’ve been a goodwill ambassador for the state in many, many different ways. For women’s issues and children’s issues. I started a children’s home called Village for Children back in 2000. We’re on our 18th year. It’s in Meridian, my hometown, and we’ve served over 3,000 kids statewide. I have a lot invested in the state. I’m certainly not going to be one of those political wives who stands in the background or the shadows. They’ll be getting a two-fer! I’ll be right there, very vocal for all the things that matter for women and children. We’re a good team, and we’re having fun.