“We settled on a place of subtlety” to identify hosts, she said Saturday during a Westworld panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “These were the things that made the difference between the hosts (and the humans). One slight little movement or freeze that throws you off completely” can reveal a host.
Westworld, which also stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton and James Marsden, makes the distinction even more difficult by opening the series from the hosts’ perspective, rather than a human one.
The 10-episode first season, inspired by the late Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name, explores artificial consciousness, memory, identity and sin via interactions between lifelike “hosts” and guests acting out fantasy storylines, many of them oriented toward sex and violence.
The drama looks at the increasingly narrow divide between human life and artificial consciousness, which is being developed in the real world, executive producer Lisa Joy said. “It’s questioning: ‘Where does life begin?’ ” she said. “It’s a constant examination of that line. Where does consciousness begin and end?”
Newton, who plays a madame working in the saloon, said playing a non-human host made her feel “more exquisitely human than I’ve ever felt. (There are) so many existential questions about being human and do hosts end up reflecting us more perfectly than we are?”
The challenge for playing a host is instantaneously switching gears, Wood said. Her character, Dolores, can go from “panic attack to complete freeze to (a character) accent in 30 seconds.”
For its human guests, Westworld, which includes J.J. Abrams as an executive producer, creates “a sandbox environment to play in without consequence,” executive producer Jonathan Nolan said.
That means acts of nobility and depravity. Producers said they were careful with depictions of sexual violence, a topic that also came up in relation to Game of Thrones during HBO’s press tour session.
“It was definitely something that was heavily discussed and considered as we worked on those scenes. Westworld is an examination of human nature,” from the best, including maternal and romantic love, to the most base, including violence and sexual violence, Joy said. The violent acts “have sadly been a fact of human history since the beginning … In its portrayal, we never (meant it) to be about the fetishization of those acts. It’s about exploring the crime and torment of the characters within the story and exploring it with dignity and depth.”