Evan Rachel Wood loves going to theme-park-style haunted houses. Yet last October she was navigating a maze of dark rooms when she realized something was wrong. The Westworld star was seeing all this gory, violent imagery and creatures were jumping out at her and yet she felt … totally fine.
“I go to haunted houses every year, only this time I wasn’t getting scared,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ And I realized: I’ve been [filming] season 2 too long. I’ve been completely desensitized to blood and dead bodies. So you can expect a lot of carnage.”
This year Wood’s newly woke android prairie girl Dolores is on a rampage, leading a violent revolution against the sci-fi theme park’s human overlords. When filming the first season two years ago, showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy showed Wood the classic Andrew Wyeth painting “Christina’s World” to explain her character’s awakening; this time they gave her Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” — which depicts a flag-carrying goddess in tattered clothes leading a revolution (Wood’s new costume is inspired by the painting as well). Below, the Emmy nominee spoke to EW while on set in the Abernathy ranch house:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re one of the actors on the show who enjoy theorizing about the story and making predictions. Surely you had a lot going of predictions going into season 2. How close were you?
EVAN RACHEL WOOD: Given the big reveal we had at the end of the first season when you realized Dolores was merged with Wyatt, I didn’t know what season 2 was going to be like. I asked [producers when filming the finale] when I was shooting Anthony [Hopkins], “Am I Wyatt now?” And they said, “Yes.” I had expectations of what being Wyatt was going to be, and those were off, so I had to regroup. I had to tear these ideas up and throw them out. Just when you think nothing else could be possible, suddenly things you never imagined are possible. I did have some theories about the first season that are turning out to be right.
So there were things you guessed about first season that are now being paid off?
Yes. Which is cool because there were things I thought for a second and thought, “No, no.” But I’m going back to things in the first season. That’s what’s so cool about the show, what [showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy] worked so hard on. There are things I actually said as Dolores that I had no idea of the significance of until filming this season and now I’m going, “My God, [the showrunners] were telling us!” I think even when we’re in season 7, you’ll still be able to go back to the pilot and find clues that were right in front of you. There’s a lot of those.
So what can you tease about your character this season?
She’s multifaceted now. She’s certainly awake. She has access to all of her memories. What’s fun about the character this time around is she’s in control of what character she slips in and out of. So she has elements of Dolores and Wyatt, and there’s this new thing brewing which is just her — a combination of everything together. It’s challenging for me to play to be all these different layers of herself.
And she’s pretty ruthless this season, from what I hear …
She is. The way they’ve described it to me is, “She’s not good or bad, she’s just right.” I think she’s just doing what needs to be done so she can be free and — [At this point during our interview, a scene begins filming in the adjacent room and the AD calls for quiet. Wood’s head drops and she goes still — looking pretty much exactly like Dolores powering down. We sit in silence for a minute or so while the filming is being shot. “Cut!” yells the AD, and suddenly her head comes up and she comes back “online” and continues without missing a beat.] — Dolores is smart enough to see the big picture, and no matter how hard that might be, that’s her only option at this point.
She’s yearned for freedom in general, but what’s her specific goal this season?
I still don’t really know. I have an idea. Of course, she wants to be free. She’s trying to get out of the park. But I think she has much bigger ideas that go beyond getting out of the park that I’m not privy to yet. She’s certainly on a mission for something specific, but I don’t know what that is.
And you’re also having to deal with all the other hosts; what’s that like for her?
Some of them are more awake than others. There’s an array of consciousness going on. I think because she has access to all her knowledge now, she knows what to say to manipulate them to get what she wants. She’s playing chess master.
What’s really challenging this season?
She’s faced with a lot of dilemmas. Also because she has taken up this leader position and has Wyatt in her, she sometimes speaks like a general. I’m not used to that kind of dialogue because I’m a girl. I’ve never been asked to play a general, it’s completely foreign to me. She’s in a war and at the helm and that’s completely new. … Probably the funniest thing happened so far Is James Marsden [who plays Teddy] and I had to play a scene where we’re both frozen — which is already hard to do, because you want to laugh. Other people are talking and we’re stuck there. And then one of the horses started to piss as loud as an explosion. And James and I looked at each other like, “Oh no, oh no, oh no, don’t laugh!” And tears were welling in our eyes, we were trying so hard. And the horse stopped, and we got through it. And then another horse started peeing right after, and we immediately lost it. The horse outtakes could be their own movie. We’ve had the same horses since the pilot, we know their personalities, they’re part of the crew, and when they’re tired and done, they’ll start messing up shots so they can go home. I’m not even kidding.
And who is Dolores conflicting with?
Dolores and Bernard … there’s a lot going on there. For a number of reasons. I haven’t really had any scenes with Bernard last time. I had a lot with Arnold. I always knew Jeffrey Wright was a great actor, but it really hit me when I had my first scene with him as Bernard and I looked at him afterward and went, “Oh my God, you’re a genius! That’s a completely different character.” It’s so subtle, but it’s so apparent to me that he wasn’t the same person. I had a whole new appreciation for him. But their relationship is quite complicated.
How far is Dolores willing to go to achieve her goals? Is there any rancher’s daughter morality left?
I don’t think there’s anything that Dolores wouldn’t do — except maybe hurt Teddy. The only time you really see shades of the way Dolores used to be is when she’s with him. She’s really alone this season, it’s lonely at the top of a revolution. I don’t think she always takes pleasure in the things she has to do. She suffers a lot in silence, but Teddy is one of the few people that she can be vulnerable with.
Just making a fanboy prediction off that: If you think the only thing Dolores would never do is hurt Teddy … then that’s the choice she’ll be forced to make at some point.
Possibly. It’s a good theory. I hadn’t really thought about what could stop her. That’s the thing about programming, is that you could be programmed to love somebody but it’s still love, even if it’s a program. The feelings of love are still there. She and Teddy are bound together in their core codes, and that’s tough to break.
What’s the most common reaction you get from fans?
I rarely get recognized because I have short hair, glasses, and wear grungy clothes. I’ve been out with cast members and they get recognized and I don’t. But it’s fun when somebody yelled out at Target, “Freeze all motor functions!” That has happened and I do — I do it. If anybody says that to me, I do it.
That’s very game of you.
It’s fun, and it’s so rare.
Was there anything from being in this role that impacted you personally? Like watching the first season caused me to examine the idea of the loops that we all find ourselves doing automatically in our lives and how to break them.
She gave me so much strength and helped me find a power that I didn’t know I had, and helped me deal with repressed memories and trauma that we all bury to protect ourselves. One of my favorite moments is after she’s been beaten by the Man in Black and she’s crying and she says, “I’m not crying for me, I’m crying for you,” and beats the s— out of him. To me, the whole season was leading up to that moment. For a lot of repressed people to have that image, even as a fantasy, it was very empowering.
I also liked the little snarl that crossed her face when she shot Ford, it was a glimpse of something we hadn’t seen before on her.
Yeah, and she still had that in the Comic-Con trailer too. The Wyatt face.
In that trailer, you’re on that horse riding at full gallop and firing the rifle. Is that all you?
Yes. I’ve been riding since I was a kid. Because of that they put me on one of the slowest horses — you really have to kick to get him to go, because they know otherwise I’d just go [too fast]. They asked me, “Do you think you can ride a horse without hands and fire a gun?” You’re pretty much not using your hands much anyway. But it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
The analysis mode segments were a big part of season 1, but they’re also from when humans controlled the hosts. Is there less of that this season now that the hosts are gaining control?
Yeah, not as much. When [Nolan] explained to me what I’d be doing this season, he said, “You basically have to show all human emotions in one look.” There are some scenes where she’s three different people in the span of a minute, but it’s all under her control. It’s less mechanical and more messy and more … human.
Westworld returns to HBO tonight.
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