For devoted viewers of HBO’s ambitious, futuristic drama “Westworld,” it’s easy to understand why Evan Rachel Wood relished the idea of playing humanoid robot Dolores Abernathy. The oldest “host” in the adult theme park — where fantasies from benign to violent can be had for a steep price — Dolores is run through an emotional gantlet as she begins to awaken to her true nature.
We recently chatted with the actress — who has appeared in other HBO projects including “Mildred Pierce” and “True Blood” — about the rigors of playing a robot, the fan theories swirling around the show and how the future of “Westworld” is wide open.
You can engage with this show on a relatively superficial level, robots and the park. But there’s so much more to it, about identity, and technology, and agency, and human nature.
This was the most complex role I’ve ever played, hands down. She’s an artificial being with so many different layers. There’s her core programming, where she’s just the most genuine, sweet, loving person. So when we’re doing the scenes where they’re in character mode, there is this weird, almost Lynch-ian tone to it, because we’re saying dialogue that is supposed to be scripted, that we’re supposed to have said a million times, but we’re supposed to be saying it like it’s the very first time and to make them as human as possible, because that’s what was really going to move the audience, and make it twice as heartbreaking when all the trauma, and all the abuse, and really the torture that they go through (happens). And where do you draw the line? And what is consciousness? So playing a character that isn’t fully conscious, but is finding it along the way, so …
And hopefully will become more so next season.
It ended on the note of is she or isn’t she? But to be playing somebody that is literally living in the past, present and future, and finding out later in the season, around Episode 8, that I was also merged with another character.
Which then made so much sense to me why they cast me. (Laughs) I was like, OK, because you needed a Disney princess, but she needed to be able to hold an Uzi. I got it.
And you’re like, “That’s me!”
Yes. But being able then to weave another character in and out to another character. … As an actor, you’re like, “Wow, I can really delve into something here.” And everything that we’re doing, all the little movements, all the changes in voices and emotion, we’re all really doing that. There’s no cuts. There’s no, “OK, now let’s cut and let’s work up some tears.” At some points, they were literally yelling commands to us from behind the camera. Going, “OK, now freeze. OK, now, can you cry out of one eye? OK, now in this take, be really, really panicked, and then just stop.” On top of that, you’re also doing this incredibly physical show.
You were very public with fan theories and had your own, as a fan. Did you guess the young Man in Black twist?
I actually guessed that in Episode 2, if I’m going to brag.
So what was the tip-off for you?
Well, it’s different when you’re on the show. I had done the scene with Ed (Harris) in the pilot where he picked up the can and gave it to me, tipped his hat. And I just had a deja vu. I was doing the same scene with Jimmi (Simpson). And I could just tell the energy on set was very specific, and they were being very specific about how we were shooting, and how he was picking it up. The first time he did it and I took it, I looked in his eye, and I just went, “Oh, that would be messed up. Which means, that’s what it is.” (Laughs). It was so heartbreaking for Jimmi and I, because for eight months we’ve genuinely been trying to make these characters fall in love. And then halfway through we’re sitting there on set going, “I really, really hope you’re not the Man in Black, man.”
It’s so bleak. It’s so on-brand for the show, though.
Oh, yeah, which is why I knew it was right. And then when I read the scene, Lisa Joy had written this incredible monologue for this character, I just knew I had to sell this moment. Otherwise, this whole season is just gonna end on this dud. So that’s the scene I’m actually most proud of.
And then she gets up and goes on a rampage.
But it was done in this way that was so calm and so emotional at the same time, and so strong, and then this side of her comes out that we’ve just been waiting for.
But my great fear now is that she will be wiped and she won’t be able to lead the revolution.
I seriously doubt that they’re going to go back to doing what we were doing. I think they want every season to be different. And there’s endless possibilities. Because anybody can come back. You can be in any kind of world. You can be in any time. So who knows what they’re up to right now?