SDCC 2019: HBO’s Westworld Talks Season 3, Explores Humanity’s Relationship to Violence and Technology

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The theme for the third season of HBO’s Westworld—premiering next year—is “The New World”. A glossy, futuristic landscape is highlighted in the trailer, along with scenes of Thandie Newton’s Maeve in what appears to be Europe circa World War II. Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard, and Tessa Thompson’s Hale (or really, whoever is in what appears to be Hale) are all back, along with newcomer to the show, Aaron Paul who plays a construction worker named Caleb. 

Paul is a “psychotic fan” of the show. He said he was “shell shocked and star struck” when he first walked on set. His character “has a complicated past” and is “maybe a bit of a white hat and a black hat…He’s just trying to survive in the world and sometimes has to do bad things.” Paul’s character also has a red robot named George “and I love him.” 

About the kinds of roles he is drawn to Paul said, “I am always drawn toward characters that make me feel deep-rooted, complex emotions. I’m not afraid to open my heart and feel the torture, the pain, the love that these characters are going through.”

Credit: Sara Remley

When asked if this season takes place outside of the theme park, executive producer Jonathan Nolan neither confirmed nor denied, but stated that “dystopias…can look pretty beautiful. Just because something is corrupt on the inside doesn’t mean it can’t be smoothed over and pretty on the outside.” He went on to say that instead of building this futuristic world, they went looking for it in ours, and dragged the cast “all over the place.”

Woods said that Dolores is a “fish out of water this season”. She continued saying, “She’s taking on the entire world single-handedly…[but] her interactions with Aaron [Paul’s character] kind of make her challenge her ideas about humanity.”

When asked if Bernard learned to be empathetic or if it was programmed, Wright said, “I guess that’s the question of the show, isn’t it? Is it alive or is it mimericks?” He also said, “We have a real gift in this gig, and that’s our bosses. We have two of the most incredibly generous and engaging and challenging leaders you could ask for.”

Thompson said that she “loved the experience…where you have a tremendous amount of trust. I like the moments where I don’t entirely have free will. It’s fun to be controlled by masters like Lisa and Jonah that just do really cool, twisted stuff to you.”

What’s being written “is fantastic,” said Newton. “The setup is extraordinary, what we’ve been given.” She went on to say how much she is enjoying Maeve’s realization of her value. In reality, “she’s an extremely expensive piece of hardware…but she is treated like she has no value…So what I’m loving right now is what that gives her in terms of the choices she makes about her value.” 

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“Everything [in the show] is heightened, but it’s based on something we are seeing in the real world,” said Nolan. 

Executive producer Lisa Joy expanded on the link between the show and reality by saying that “the show is violent, but nowhere near as violent as the world…We aren’t showing more violence, we are putting a lens on that violence and really examining that. It might make people uncomfortable, but it should be uncomfortable. It should be terrible.”

Thompson considers herself “a pretty nonviolent person”, but during filming felt significant differences between violent acts performed on a stunt double, versus violence toward Jeffrey Wright. “Suddenly when it feels personal to us we understand, but we’re able to ignore the many violent acts that happen globally. There’s a disconnect if we don’t know them.”

On issue of subjective morality, Woods explained how one person is a hero and one is a villain for doing the same kinds of things but perhaps for different motives, or because perspectives are different. “So I understand why Dolores is doing what she’s doing. It’s why the show is challenging. She is still learning and growing and I’m excited to see where she goes next.”

Credit: Sara Remley

In terms of our future with technology and the implications of creating artificial intelligences Nolan said, “[They’re] being created out of the public eye. That may not be a big deal, or it might be the single biggest mistake humanity ever made.”

Wright spoke about the ways in which technology creates and increases an “income disparity among the majority of people in our country and world.” He said he was so glad that the show tackles that and “the way inequality is being driven by these tools we are addicted to at the same time.”

The panel also included a fun lightning round of questions about technology and the way the actors and producers use it: 

Do you have a smart speaker in your home? Jonathan Nolan, Tessa Thompson, Aaron Paul, and Luke Hemsworth raised their hands. Jeffrey Wright said he keeps his unplugged.

Have you ever uploaded your DNA for testing? Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan immediately put their heads in their hands, saying they did it for their children.

Do you drive a car with autonomous features? Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan, and Evan Rachel Woods raised their hands.

Other lighter moments from Saturday’s Hall H panel included Luke Hemsworth’s surprise attendance, with Tessa Thompson saying, “I never leave home without a Hemsworth,” and Hemsworth breaking into song upon request.

Credit: Sara Remley