Since the early 1990s, a remake of Michael Critchon’s Westworld, a best-selling novel turned film, has been floating around Warner Bros. In 2013, writers Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight, Interstellar) and Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies) signed on to the project and filming began in 2014, with the original premiere date slated for August 2015. The date came and went, with viewers wondering if they were ever going to see the secretive series that was rumoured to rival fellow HBO staple Game of Thrones in terms of production value and talent.
Westworld’s train finally did pull into the station in October this year, with the 10-episode season captivating audiences from the first recognizable piano note, earning Westworld the title of most-watched HBO premiere since Season 1 of True Detective (Westworld has already been renewed for a second season).
In its most basic terms, Westworld is about an adult theme park, the advanced artificial intelligence hosts who cater to its wealthy visitors, and the people who run the park. More than that, Westworld poses a number of theoretical questions, like what behaviours define us and what make a person or thing ‘alive’? In a season comprised of various viewpoints and timelines, Sunday’s highly anticipated 90 minute extended finale is expected to answer at least some of our most burning questions.
Actor Jimmi Simpson plays Westworld’s resident good-guy William, a guest of the park who ends up falling for host Delores. We chatted with Jimmi about the show’s secrets, working with Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood, and which characters make it through the finale.
There was quite a long period between filming and the show’s premiere this past October. Was there a fear that Westworld may not be released?
“No. I’ve never seen such a collection of invested cast and crew and creators in my life…We were halfway through filming and they put us on a break for a couple months. Lisa (Joy, co-writer) and Jonathan (Nolan, co-writer) explained to us they were so happy with the material they’d been filming so far, they wanted to go through the rest of the scripts and make sure they were in the best shape possible…I never doubted it would see the light of day. I had seen a few episodes and it was so good. There was no way it wasn’t going to air in my opinion.”
What was it like working with a cast packed with incredible talent?
“I was surprised at how approachable Jeffrey (Wright) and Anthony (Hopkins) are, because you hold them aloft because they’ve done this work that’s made you think, that’s devastated you, that’s terrified you, that’s inspired you. You just assume that’s probably too much to be a normal human. They were just like us. They were just so excited, like kids going into their first movie.”
Most of your scenes are with Evan Rachel Wood. How was she as a scene partner?
“I was so taken with Evan’s work prior to Westworld, but then as soon as I met her she was so clearly open and there was no diva quality at all…We jumped right in as a pair and really got deep into the work together. I’m in such awe of her already and instantly she was like, you don’t need to be in awe. It was great.”
The first season has resulted in tons of internet chatter, with debates about story lines and theories on characters becoming a common occurrence. What has it been like for you in terms of keeping all of Westworld‘s secrets?
“If it’s a real close friend and they start needling me, I can tell them to shut up and go do something else. If it’s a stranger, I’m a bit more cautious. I’m not going to lie to anybody, but I don’t want to sound like I’m lording more information over them that they don’t have…I promise you’ll be happier that I haven’t told you anything!”
So much of what Westworld is about what defines something as truly ‘alive.’ For example, Teddy is programmed to love Delores, but William is in love with Delores, who is programmed to be ‘perfect,’ so is one more ‘real’ than the other? What’s your take on this?
“We get kind of distracted by what we think is real. With the world we live in today it’s all about catering to the human and unfortunately that’s ended up being consumer catering as opposed to development of the soul and development of communication with other actual beings. By saying ‘these guys are robots, should we love them or not love them,’ I think what they (Nolan and Joy) are saying is intelligence is there and it’s different from ours, but it’s not any less than us. I feel like everyone gets a little confused by borders and ‘me’ and ‘them’ and they’re asking us to say it’s all ‘us.’
William’s relationships with Logan and Delores represent who he is in the real world and who he wants to be. Who do you think is the real William?
“I think like real life it will be revealed way closer to the end of the human beings’ life. We’ve all been 20 and thought we knew exactly who we were and what the world is and by the time you’re 30 you realize you were absolutely full of shit…I think William is neither just sweet nor just out for blood. He’s a very complicated man. He’s pushed in different directions and has to adjust his own course and sometimes we lose a little bit of sweetness when we do that.”
William has been the Westworld newbie that has acted as the viewing audience as he explores what Westworld is and what it means to interact with hosts. What do you think has been the biggest change in William since entering the park?
“William has been conditioned to compact and do his best. I think what happens when he starts developing his relationship with Delores and then when he starts interacting with these other beings who are responding to the things he’s doing, instead of the humans he’s been interacting with in his life who have their own agenda, all of a sudden these beings are praising him for what he’s doing and not what he was or what he is. When someone sees you do something and is impressed by it you start to feel more confident in who you are. I think that has never happened to him before. He’s got Delores who sees him as this man of her dreams…he’s never seen himself that way before. He wakes up to his own potential.”
Where do we leave William in the finale?
“The next leg of his journey becomes more clear to him.”
We’ve seen major character deaths in the first season. What can you tell us about who will make it through to the finale?
The 90-minute extended Season 1 finale of Westworld airs Sunday, December 4 at 9pm ET on HBO Canada.