‘Westworld': Jeffrey Wright on Knowing the Show’s Secrets

     November 7, 2016

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Created for television by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the HBO drama series Westworld is as ambitious as it is thought-provoking, exploring fascinating themes of humanity and human intelligence, and with a cast that couldn’t get any better. It is a dark odyssey about artificial consciousness, in a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged, if you pay the right price. The series stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, Tessa Thompson and Rodrigo Santoro, among many others.

During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Jeffrey Wright (who plays Bernard Lowe, the brilliant head of the park’s Programming Division) talked about building the first season, the masterful work of showrunners Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy, what sold him on being a part of this series, playing the character that leads the audience through the archeological dig to the center of things, how he was given a fair amount of information about where things were head, and that he’s explored the Westworld Delos website, www.discoverwestworld.com.

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Image via HBO

Collider: What’s it been like for you to be a part of Westworld and to work with showrunners Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy?

JEFFREY WRIGHT: For all of us who worked on this, it took a bit longer than we had expected to get the first season out, but that wasn’t a function of turmoil on the set or all kinds of chaos. It was really just the difficult logistics of creating a first season, building these stories and writing these scripts from scratch, and also constructing the sets that are this vast world. We were all so deeply in love with the work that we were doing and loved working with each other. Throughout the entire process, we were just really over the moon about the work that we were being asked to do, and the level of storytelling that Lisa and Jonah were cranking out. It was next level stuff. They have a really frighteningly masterful control over the multiple layers and multiple narratives that work to form this show. There are so many different ends to tie up, and they do it with seeming ease. I can’t say enough about them. TV is never easy. That’s been my experience with long-form drama. But they had to have been working 25 hours a day, and with a young daughter, too. They are superhuman. Maybe they’re super A.I. I don’t know. They definitely are an army of two master storytellers.

How did this all come about for you? What was it about the way this was pitched to you that sold you?

WRIGHT: They won me over pretty easily. I got the call from Jonah that he would like me to consider the show and look at the script. At the time, Anthony Hopkins was on board, J.J. Abrams was producing, and it was for HBO. That, alone, was a pretty compelling invitation. Then, on reading the script, I discovered this really carefully constructed, balanced story that was multi-layered and had intimate possibility because of the nature of the technology and the nature of the park. I thought, “This could be an interesting ride.” And then, as well, I’d been involved in The Hunger Games series and I had another long-form drama on HBO, Boardwalk Empire, but I hadn’t been at Ground Zero for either of those pieces. In the case of The Hunger Games, the others went in and created this huge phenomenon. With Boardwalk Empire, they took several years to build this wonderful party, and then I showed up and had the punch and all the food. It was a really exciting challenge for me to take the risk of being at the ground floor of a project like this, and be a part of the early pioneering hands that set about trying to build the thing. All of those things combined made the invitation a very easy one to say yes to.

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Image via HBO

We entered this world through the eyes of the hosts, and then started to learn more about it through the people behind the scenes who help run things and interact with the A.I., but we don’t really get to see any of the outside world and we don’t really get to learn about these individuals outside of the world they live in, in Westworld. How and why do you think Bernard ended up where he is?

WRIGHT: It’s clear, from the start, that he’s really deeply engaged in the technology. He loves the work and he’s fascinated by the work. He also has a deep respect for Dr. Ford. We also hint, early on, that there are some backstory issues that have driven him even more deeply into his work. He’s committed to the place, but in a different way than Dr. Ford is committed. Dr. Ford is the originator. He’s the Walt Disney/Colonel Kurtz of this place, and he’s committed to it because this technology is his life, but also there is a clinical and maybe even misanthropic detachment that has overtaken Ford’s life, for whatever reason. I think there’s a tension that’s built out of the different sensibilities of Ford and Bernard. Whereas Bernard takes on a much more sensitive relationship to the work and to the hosts, Ford insists that they be viewed absent of emotions and solely as machines. They’re beautiful, extraordinary, complex machines, but nonetheless machines that are tools for the purposes of the pleasure and indulgences of the guests. And they’re not only tools for the indulgences of the guests, but for Ford, as well. They serve to give him comfort in a world in which he seems not to have found that level of comfort. Those are all part of the explorations that the first season will lead us on. Why this place? Why this technology? And Bernard is very much leads the audience through the archeological dig to the center of things.

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Television