Showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan were joined by cast members Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, and Jeffrey Wright, along with Wired’s Jason Tanz, for a conversation about season 2 of the HBO series. (Spaceman Elon Musk showed up, too.)
An exclusive clip of season 2 was debuted, which finds Dolores (Wood) and Teddy (Marsden) in a very different power dynamic. It also shows us a glimpse of Maeve’s fate, in what looks like Shogun World. “I could not fucking wait,” says Newton of returning to her character and anticipating the start of production. “I could not wait to be her again.”
Season 1 was about “establishing the order,” says Wright, who plays Bernard on the series. For the new season, he promises more “what the fuck just happened?” Wood added that she and Wright kind of swapped characters in season 2.
No solid plot points or new characters were dropped, though Joy makes her directorial debut in season 2. When asked whether we’ll see outside of Sweetwater, or see different worlds, Nolan didn’t budge. “They’ve erased our memories,” he said.
The panel pivoted after Tanz asked Newton and Wood how it feels to play a “strong female character” on Westworld. I could feel a collective shudder go through the room at the phrasing, but Newton voiced that exasperation: “Normal! It feels fucking normal to be powerful.” Wood concurred. She explained she just testified before Congress and wore a locket with Dolores in it; she became a “beacon of strength” for her, and hopes she does for others.
Asked about the inspiration for their characters, Newton said she works with an organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is a weapon. “Their psyches have been destroyed,” she says of the women there. When Newton told them that she had been raped, they couldn’t believe it. “These women die and yet they have to stay alive,” she said. “They are my inspiration and they’re on this planet right now.” She later expanded, at Tanz’s request, on how people can help, and the horrific acts inflicted on women and children there.
Asked about the show’s technological angle, and how tech is influencing our own opinions and memories, Nolan says we’ve reached an “artificial stupidity moment” with social media. “You don’t need a very smart AI to manipulate Twitter or Facebook,” he said. “You just need an AI with intent.”
Westworld is a show with a devoted fanbase; for SXSW, a recreation of Sweetwater was constructed outside of Austin, where you can be part of the experience. Regarding fan theories, Nolan confessed, “We love to fuck with Reddit as much as possible.” He teased an upcoming announcement regarding fan theories and audience engagement.
And then Elon Musk showed up. Nolan brought him up to talk about the recent Falcon launch and debuted a trailer they cut for it, soundtracked by David Bowie. He wanted to end on something “optimistic,” since Westworld isn’t always.