Entertainment Television

Evan Rachel Wood says ‘Westworld’ more than 'guns and boobs'

By Bill Harris, Special to Postmedia Network

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld. (Handout photo)

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld. (Handout photo)

We all have experienced very bad days, when very bad things happened to us, or to people we love.

For a moment, if it's not too painful, I want you to remember one of those bad days right now. Just for a few seconds, if you can.

Imagine that, unbeknownst to you, you've been reliving versions of that same terrible day, with only slight variations, over and over again. It has been going on for decades, but your memory essentially gets wiped clean every night. Each morning begins with promise and optimism, but most evenings end in despair and fear and anger, or even worse.

But now focus on this: How would you feel if you started to “wake up,” for lack of a better term, and remember?

Even if it's vague and cloudy at first, what would your mindset be if you began to recall some of the horrible things that had been done to you, day after day?

And as it all becomes clearer, what would your emotions be regarding the organizers and masterminds who set this up, as well as the ordinary people – often different every day – who callously and continuously take advantage of the situation to satisfy their own carnal desires and violent instincts?

Um, I don't believe you would be too pleased.

Welcome to Westworld.

Based on a 1973 movie of the same name but telling a different tale, Westworld debuts Sunday, Oct. 2, on HBO.

Executive produced by J.J. Abrams, developed for TV by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and starring Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, Tessa Thompson, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Shannon Woodward, among many others, Westworld is the most intriguing new show of the fall season.

I saw the first two episodes back in the summer, and I've really thought a lot about them since. Westworld gets under your skin on many levels, and Wood – who plays lead character Dolores Abernathy – obviously agrees. In fact, Wood said that after she was cast, she spent days and weeks on end, trying to figure out the bigger picture of Westworld.

“I couldn't help it,” said Wood, excitedly.

“You know, (Nolan and Joy) pitched the show to me, and it was mind-blowing already, and when they asked me to do it I already knew that I was going to be a part of something really amazing. But I didn't quite understand, because I wasn't allowed to know until about the third or fourth episode, it really started dawning on me what show I was on, and what was in my hands. I became such an uber-fan.

“So I've been on the journey the audience is going to go on, because we found out episode by episode. All I could do was just sit and think about Westworld. 'What about this? What if it's this?' James (Marsden) sometimes would be like, 'Oh, yeah, Evan thinks she knows, she doesn't know.' And I was right! I was right about a couple of things, so he has changed his tune a little bit.”

Speaking of being right about things, I'm about to discuss the basic setup of Westworld. Nothing that will ruin anything for you, but I'm going to talk about things you'd know if you've seen any of the trailers, or if you're familiar with the general premise of the movie. So if even that's too much for you, and you want to go into it 100% cold, consider this a SPOILER ALERT.

Okay, having said that, Westworld is set at a massive, elaborate, realistic theme park in which customers can pay to immerse themselves in the wild west of the 1800s. The park is populated by so-called “hosts,” a.k.a. robots that are virtually indistinguishable from humans.

The human customers can do whatever they want in Westworld. And we all know what tends to happen when humans don't think there are any consequences to their actions. Yes, there are heroes among us, those who understand that integrity is what you do when nobody's watching. But many of us quickly succumb to our darkest instincts.

Hopkins plays Dr. Robert Ford – yes, Canada, that's his name, “Rob Ford,” I'm not making it up – who is the founder of the park. And as the trailers for Westworld clearly reveal, Wood's Dolores is one of the “hosts.”

The deep ensemble cast notwithstanding, Wood's Dolores really is the main character in Westworld. She's the one who makes you care. And that's quite an accomplishment, considering Dolores is a robot.

“Dolores is my most favourite character I've ever played, because there are so many layers to her,” Wood said. “By the end of shooting, I just started weeping. I hugged Lisa Joy and said, 'Thank you.' Because getting to play that role changed me, and gave me a newfound strength that I didn't know I had. Not to give anything away, but I think this character is going to be incredibly important. And especially important for female characters and survivors. It's just kind of unlike anything we've ever seen. She's pretty special.

“What's cool about Dolores is, there has to be somebody in the park for everyone. And there are different levels, because it's a game, really, at the end of the day. You can go really easy, and go to the brothel and pick up a guy, or a girl, it's very fluid in Westworld, there are no rules. Or there's Dolores, who is a bit more of a challenge. She has a brain, and she's witty and she's a little tough. She's a little hard to get. She's the one you can fall in love with, should you choose to have that experience and that adventure. So there is a lot of depth and strength in her, and we're going to see it come out more and more.”

Wood admitted, however, that it took her a while to get used to Dolores' signature light blue dress.

“I was not thrilled about having to wear the clothes in the beginning, because I'm very much a tomboy,” Wood said.

“Shannon Woodward, another actress on the show, I've known her since I was 15, the first time I opened the trailer door, she just started laughing. And I was like, 'Shut up, Shannon.' She said, 'You look like a Disney princess!' And I was like, 'That's the point! That's what I'm supposed to be!'

“(Dolores) wears the same thing every day. But then, by the end, I didn't want to take the dress off, I was so attached to it.”

Dressed in black rather than blue, Harris' character in Westworld is known simply as The Gunslinger. Prowling the park in sinister fashion, The Gunslinger is the most mysterious presence in the early going.

"As the episodes go along, you learn more about him, who he is on the outside world, and something about his past," Harris said. "He has been coming here for 30 years.

"I think initially when he first arrived, he was just really exploring what this place was like, ‘Okay, I can do anything I want? I can kind of kill people if I need to, or make love to strange robotic prostitutes.’ And I think something happened to him at some point, where this part of him that is very dark, very violent, all of a sudden he recognized that this was a real part of him, that he had obviously repressed in civil society.

"But there's also a much deeper purpose for him being there by this point (when the series begins). He thinks there's some deeper level to what's happening in this park. He thinks that perhaps (Hopkins') character is in charge of something that is not really obvious on the surface, and he's probing. But, you know, it's not random. There is always some narrative that he's following. He is not just going around killing everybody he sees."

Well ... he kind of is. But it's true that Westworld is about a lot of different things, all at once.

Yes, it's about robots and the dawn of artificial consciousness. But what it really will get you thinking about is human nature.

“If all (robots) have to model themselves after is (humans), if they surpass us, they're not going to want to model themselves after us,” Wood said. “The show is an existential nightmare, it is. It's so much more than a theme park gone wrong. It will leave you with a lot of questions.

“It's not just something bright and shiny to look at, with lots of guns and boobs. All that's there. But this is really taking it to the next level and elevating it and really examining why those things are so entertaining to humans. And why good things and safe things are usually considered boring and not as fun, and the forbidden is what really drives us at times.

“Everyone working on this is at the top of their field. There was just no room for divas, there was no room for messing around. It was like, everyone has to come and bring their 'A' game, because everyone working on this knows what we have. And they want this to be the one.”

Go west, and keep going. An even wilder west awaits.

Twitter: @billharris_tv