Westworld: HBO New Series with All-Star Cast

Amazing Talent

Jonathan Nolan:  We got the talent the old fashioned way. We sent them the script for the Pilot and in many cases we reached out and showed them a bit of the vision of where we saw our characters going, and it’s been an amazing experience.  The cast is excellent.  And I had never worked with a cast like that before, and I had worked with some wonderful people but never that ensemble here.  Each of them so talented, and it just is a phenomenally talented cast and lovely to work with fully committed, and that may not be apparent from the Pilot, but so many of them have such a journey through the season, we needed utterly fearless actors.  And we found them an incredible group to work with and a real privilege.

LJN:  Yes it was an incredible blessing because as we were writing it together, we saw the characters, first you imagine them in your mind and then we thought this Dr. Ford and who on Earth could play this kind of figure? And the only person we could think of was Anthony Hokins.  And at that point it just seemed my goodness, he’s a legend, would he do this?  And we were delighted because he reached out and he saw the same thing in the character that we did and he brought his own thing to it.  And was a gentleman and a scholar throughout.   There’s nothing like getting poetry read to you by Sir Anthony Hopkins in a tuxedo (laughter) between takes.   I would just sit there in the chair, and he would recite Proof Rock in his beautiful voice.  And I was just swooning. And he was wearing this gorgeous tuxedo and I was like this is the dream.  As an artist, it’s a dream to collaborate with these people, and it only starts there.  All of our cast, when we were looking for our Delores, it’s a real challenge to find somebody who is such a chameleon as somebody who can switch from vulnerable in a period piece, to bold in a contemporary setting.  And who while playing this winsome beauty, can also be relatable to a woman of today and can speak beyond the role in a Western and just grip you and say I am alive and I am vital and I am yearning for something more.  Which I think is something that we can all relate to.  And Evan just brings that vitality and that complexity and that strength to everything she does.  And so she’s just a revelation to work with in this and a delight.  I mean I can go on, I don’t want to go through all the actors, (laughs) but the one I just want to talk about really quickly, is Thandie Newton’s character.  Because oh my gosh, I mean I don’t know if I can even find the words to describe it and I am excited for you guys to see her performance.  She is fearless in this.  She, it’s funny, because when we first spoke, both of us had just had babies, and we did this Skype call over the internet and she was feeding Boo and they were just tiny, and Zoe my daughter was there, playing in the background as we were trying to work, and there was just this bond of immediately understanding the ferociousness of maternal love but also finding the strength to do other things and we were both working like mad at the same time.  And it was just this immediate click and she is so intelligent and just so insightful.  And you will see in this role, she starts out as this Madame and you see a little less of it in the Pilot, but in two we really explode outwards with her role, and exploring her world and her backstory and she becomes a very, very vital piece of Westworld so I am looking forward to you seeing it.

Rebooting Movie into TV Series

JN:  Well luckily you start with JJ Abrams, with who I have collaborated on a previous series, Person of Interest on CBS and we worked together for six years now.  JJ is a lovely guy and sees in TV I think what it can be, and I think he understood how powerful a storytelling medium it could be a long time before anyone else did.  JJ approached this with this take on Westworld where you could step outside the original premise of the show.

The original film is brilliant, I watched it when I was a kid and it’s so packed with ideas.  Crichton was a very, very smart fellow and the film is almost breathless it’s so packed with ideas.  And ideas that it’s hard to remember, in hindsight appears to be readily understandable and there is a throwaway line in there, in the original film, about the bug transmitting in between from host to host as something like a virus and you watch it now thinking oh right, of course, like a computer virus.  And I actually went back and looked into it, and he wrote the film in 1972- 1973, and the first computer virus didn’t appear until 1974. So you are literally talking about someone who anticipated it.  Crichton is brilliant. And the film is packed with ideas.  But for us, the thing that he didn’t get the time to fully explore in the film and the thing that made it for us a series, was the perspective of the host, as we call him in the series, the robot.  In the film you are coming in, and it’s a classic setup, the two bachelors who are coming into this place where they are encouraged to act however they want, which is always a fascinating premise and it’s become only more relevant.  Crichton wrote the original film before the advent of video games and video games literally didn’t exist when he wrote the film.  And now of course they are a massive part of storytelling medium unto themselves.  So we felt like we wanted to come at it from a very different angle.  The same fascinating premise but coming to it from the perspective of the robots who are there to be used as cannon fodder and to be used as however the guests see them.  And we thought that was a fascinating idea and it really allowed us to explore the idea of the origin of artificial consciousness.  And we fully believe after working on the show for a couple of years, we fully believe that this topic is not only current, but imminent.  And the idea is, not necessarily the ideas in the show but the idea of artificial consciousness and the idea that we are bound to be presented with a new form of life on Earth, a new form of sentient life on Earth, which no form of humanity has ever experienced before.  We don’t think we are necessarily totally well prepared for it.  And we have seen an awful lot of films that deal with artificial intelligence as a dystopian topic, as a threat.  Very few, we were just talking about the Spike Jonez film Her, which we loved and which felt an opening to consider artificial intelligence from a sympathetic perspective.  Not what will we make of them, but what will we make of us?  And so for us, it felt just like an incredible jumping off point.  To your second question, the process of making it, it’s been a labor of love and it’s a massive undertaking, and when they say it’s not TV, it’s HBO, they are not kidding, I have made TV before and this is something different. But it’s been a glorious experience.

Purpose and Meaning of the Show

LJN:  I think the show is an examination of human nature, and part of human nature is violence.  And part of it is also love and transcendence.  But there is also an ugly side to human nature and one that we have seen throughout history.  Drama has always dealt with these topics from Ancient Greeks to now and it’s because people have always grappled with these issues.  And so for us to look at the issue of violence, to look at the issue of, without the rules of society holding you back, what is inside you?  What is in your soul?  Is it different from person to person and is there an irreducible amount of violence within human nature?  And it’s a topic that we hope to explore on this, along with other facets of human nature.

Role of Children

LJN:  Children have an important part in this world and parental love has a very important role in this world and it was clearly on my mind and when I think back about the process of doing this show, I think of the time line in trimesters (laughs) because I was pregnant when I was doing it and then we finished the first draft and my third trimester and so it was definitely Jon and I as first time parents, it was heavily in our mind. But also, in terms of human nature, which this is also a study of, it’s a such an all-mental part of who we are as men and women and what do we leave for the next generation and what do we want to leave that outlasts us and what will our legacy be?  And so we wanted to address the issue of children and specifically parental length and the lengths that we go to for our children in this.