tv series

[Only IN Hollywood] Back to ‘Westworld’ with Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Paul, producers

Ruben V. Nepales
[Only IN Hollywood] Back to ‘Westworld’ with Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Paul, producers
'It's been such a gift to be a part of a show that is trying to warn and teach people, get people to ask different questions,' says actress Evan Rachel Wood

LOS ANGELES, USA – After a long wait of two years, the world – make that Westworld – of The Man in Black, Caleb, Dolores (wait, she’s now Christina), Bernard, Maeve, amusement parks with android hosts, and more – is back.

And season four of the dystopian AI-ruled future created by the talented married couple, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, is just as compelling and visually stunning.

HBO showed us the first four episodes prior to our Zoom interviews with (listed in the way they were paired) Lisa and Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores-turned-Christina); Aaron Paul (Caleb) and Alison Schapker (showrunner); Ed Harris (The Man in Black), Tessa Thompson (Charlotte Hale) and Angela Sarafyan (Clementine Pennyfeather); Jeffrey Wright (Bernard Lowe) and Luke Hemsworth (Ashley Stubbs).

Thandiwe Newton (Maeve Millay) and James Marsden (Teddy Flood) are back as well. Ariana DeBose, the actress du jour, Aurora Perrineau, and Daniel Wu are exciting additions to the excellent cast.

We will, of course, not share spoilers but the excerpts in our interviews will give you hints and clues as to what’s in store for the many rabid fans of the acclaimed futuristic drama inspired by Michael Crichton’s movie of the same name. Suffice to say that the wild, roaring 1920s figure prominently.

In part one, we start with Evan, Lisa, Aaron, and Alison.

Evan Rachel Wood and Lisa Joy

Robots and artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly pervasive in our lives. Should we be enthusiastic or afraid of it?

Lisa Joy: This season is over seven years since we last saw the folks of Westworld and we find the world that Dolores sacrificed herself for. Humans are no longer under the control of this vast AI system and life has seemingly returned to normal.

Even though much of the ostensible AI has been kind of retired, the question is, do the hosts still exist? And will they, in this new world, be able to find a way to fit into society and live with humans or alongside humans? Or will, once again, this cycle of violence continue?

In thinking about artificial intelligence myself. The things that I’m most scared of aren’t sentient humanoid robots taking over the world, empathizing, having feelings, and having a turf war with them.

I don’t even think we will survive that long as a culture to have that kind of war because we can be broken as a culture and fall into infighting by being hacked by much simpler algorithms. Like social media, while not a sentient AI, is a very simple algorithm that has a very profound effect on humans.

I don’t think that we’ve evolved to be able to deal with it. So, this season, we deal with a parasite. In some ways, the world is just coming out of COVID and coronavirus.

We’re used to the idea of a physical virus but we’ve also been thrust into a time where we’ve been isolated, sequestered from each other, and subjected to a kind of intellectual, emotional virus.

That is the virus of social media and the kind of siloing of news that has very much changed the culture and the psychology of individuals, especially children. That is more the artificial intelligence that I currently fear.

NERD SWEETHEART. Evan Rachel Wood, in the words of Lisa Joy: “She’s a total nerd sweetheart. She’s like a badass who’s just really inspiring. So, when you get to write for someone that cool, you try to do the best job you can.” RUBEN V. NEPALES

How have you grown as an actor with this show and how has working with Lisa aided that growth?

Evan Rachel Wood: Oh, my goodness. Not only does the show mirror what’s going on in the real world, but it has mirrored my own journey as an individual coming to consciousness and asking different questions about my reality and the things that I believe and the way that I choose to live my life in the world around me and how I relate to it.

These are all things I feel like were coming up for me right as I was brought onto the show and being around people like Lisa, Thandiwe, Jonah (Nolan), so many of the not just incredibly talented people who work on the show but are incredible intellectuals with real heart in the game.

That is very rare to find. It’s been such a gift to be a part of a show that is trying to warn and teach people, get people to ask different questions, but also bring us these incredible characters, this emotional depth and journey that we go on with them.

It’s something that has definitely caused me to evolve and find more strength in myself. It’s hard to play a character like Dolores and now, Christina, and to embody that kind of power and not bring some of that into your real-life and to be inspired by her and how she fights for others and things of that nature. So yeah, I’ve taken a lot from it.

ARIANA AND EVAN. Evan Rachel Wood (right), with new ‘Westworld’ cast member Ariana De Bose. HBO GO

Lisa: I just want to add that it’s a two-way street. Muse is a passive kind of patriarchal word but I would say Evan is an inspiration. Like if you want to know, to be inspired to write a hero, somebody who’s speaking for the things that they believe in, somebody who’s overcoming their own hardships and…

Evan: Someone who’s tragically misunderstood.

Lisa: Tragically misunderstood. Evan is the sweetest, most down-to-earth nerd ever.

Evan: I mean, look at these headphones (she has them on). Nerd.

Lisa: Evan is so awesome. I know you hear this about a lot of actors. She’s a total nerd sweetheart. She’s like a badass who’s just really inspiring. So, when you get to write for someone that cool, you try to do the best job you can.

When you signed up for the first season, did you ever imagine what this character will be or you only thought about, okay, it’s a Western?

Evan: The second one. No, I had no idea. I knew that the character was going to change and grow but no, not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the trajectory of this character and all the different sides of her that we would see.

In a way, I’ve been playing a different character every season. There was Dolores in the first season, more Wyatt in the second. The third was sort of her merging with this other character and the duality of the two sides of her.

And now, she’s somebody entirely different. We’re completely starting over. So it’s very fun for me to be able to step up to the plate every season and reinvent the character.

Do you ever think about what the viewers imagine where the series is headed toward?

Lisa: Evan knows because she plays a writer this season. So she knows how, probably through observing me. Honestly, I am shy and scared of the public in any way, shape or form.

Like it’s hard enough for me to write anything. So if I feel like I’m disappointing people, I truly get so sad that I can’t read it because I would not be able to work.

I wish I could read more about it but I also think the things that I write and imagine are just so personal at this point. So all I can do is write what I can write and hope to have a really great collaboration with my team.

I don’t really know how people respond to it. For me, that’s probably the only way to do this. Oh gosh, Evan, I am gesticulating. Evan said that I use my hands a lot and she copied it for her performance.

This is why it’s good to have Evan play the writer and me as the writer to be behind the scenes, hiding.

Evan: I brought some of Lisa’s mannerisms into Christina this year since they’re both writers and kind of nerdy.

The thing that draws people in is that you really have to watch and look for every little detail to try to guess the coming twists. What is your writing process like?

Lisa: I know that the show is twisty at times but, to be honest, that’s never been my goal. I’ve never been like, I’m going to get you and write a twist. It’s more about something that comes organically from the conceit.

I was just talking about how I think writing is an act of empathy, right? So it really started very organically first season as part of the DNA of the show.

I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be a host in a park who completely believes her reality is true and in imagining that existence and the incredible injustice of having your memories erased again and again.

But then also imagining the ability to maybe retrieve those memories, the idea that the higher drive in one’s mind doesn’t always have to block a memory forever, that they can come back. Something that humans and hosts I imagine could experience.

It just became something that happened organically that, oh my God, she would get lost in time, right? If her memory’s constantly being wiped, she would get so confused and disoriented as to where she was and not even know how she was being manipulated because the system would be so corrupt and coercive.

So for her to realize suddenly in claiming herself that she’s been fooled and she’s been used just happened to coincide. It just lent itself to this twist in time and it lent itself in terms of the technology to it, too. The idea that, for us, memory degrades.

For a human, it’s like, okay, if you remember something from the past, it’s a little fuzzy. It’s built up of your own extemporizing.

Although people do say that trauma comes back quite vividly. So it’s a little different for trauma, which is a lot of what Dolores’ character has been through.

But in the case of an AI, if you had perfect recall like a system would, like a computer would, how would you tell one moment from the next if everything was perfectly rendered and there was no dissolution in the quality of the memory or the world you could imagine around you?

You would absolutely get lost in time and so the twists tend to emerge from just the conceit like that and imagining the logical conclusions to those conceits.

LISA. ‘Westworld’ co-creator and executive producer Lisa Joy. HBO GO

For both of you, what is your relationship to the 1920s? Was there a specific reason that you chose this period, Lisa?

Lisa: It’s a really great time to explore because it was all about sin and decadence, right? And when people create the park, that’s what it’s an escape towards – sin and excess. Similarly, in Westerns which are known for their wild west, wild frontier, anything goes.

People who come to a park, they’re doing it so that they can blow off steam and so that they can let all those dark underbellies of their characters out in a sort of safe way. So the Roaring Twenties felt like a kind of perfect venue for that.

Also, it’s a very stylish, attractive age so we had a lot of fun. Our crew did an incredible job bringing it to life.

E: I was always really fascinated with the 1920s. The Bloomsbury Set was the 1920s, correct, and that sort of Virginia Woolf, androgynous…it was like so much had happened and out of this sort of chaos and tragedy came the birth of this new culture.

I feel we’re sort of mirroring a lot of the ’20s then to now, weirdly, if that makes sense. I’m curious to see how the culture is going to shift and change coming out of the pandemic.

This pandemic, not the other pandemic in the ’20s because history just tends to repeat itself in interesting ways. I’m curious to see how the two relate but what I thought was so cool just visually this season is the 1920s world that you see, the street that you see, that’s Sweetwater.

That is the Western town where we filmed, just completely redone to look like the ’20s. That’s just a fun fact about the show that I think is really cool, that is actually the Sweetwater Street, just totally redone.

Aaron Paul and Alison Schapker

What the shows that you’ve done before, like Alias, Lost, or even Fringe, have in common is a sense of fun. You brought that sense of fun to Westworld this season.

Alison Schapker: I think they (Westworld team) were happy that I had all those credits. I certainly feel, in many ways, that all those shows gave me creative tools that I could bring to Westworld.

Aaron Paul: Alison, I’ve talked to you about my obsession with Lost, right?

Alison: Oh, I don’t know that we have.

Aaron: Wait, hold on one second (he gets up and walks away). Sorry. It’s right here. I mean, I have Dharma beer (shows a beer can from Lost).

Alison: Oh, very nice. Speaking of Lost, I got to write for Harold Perrineau and now on Westworld this season, I’m getting to write for Aurora Perrineau, who is his daughter. That was kind of a super fun twist. She’s wonderful.

Aaron: Yeah, she is wonderful.

ALL SMILES. Aaron Paul on being dad to two kids: “To experience life for the first time through their eyes is the greatest gift anyone could be presented with.” RUBEN V. NEPALES

What has it been like for you, jumping in as a new cast member in season three and now, being back in season four?

Aaron: I will say that jumping into season three, being such a massive fan, I had my own theories of what was happening. After each and every script, I was convinced, oh my God, this is future world. We’re in future world.

I kept asking all the writers, are we in future world? I just really wanted to be inside a park. And so, when I read that I was going to a park, I was just over the moon.

And the fact that I get to do that with Thandiwe was such a dream. I’m such a massive fan of hers. I didn’t really get to work much with her in season three.

And they definitely fixed that in season four. We did a lot in season four and she’s just such a pro. And that park we get to play in is a fun one. So I’m excited for the world to see what that’s all about.

Can you take us back to when they first offered you to be part of Westworld in season three?

Aaron: I jumped up and down with excitement. I’ve been such a fan of Westworld from day one. I started talking to Jonah and Lisa very early on, after they shot the pilot of Westworld.

It was right after I finished things up with Breaking Bad and I was looking for a gig. The timing just didn’t work out in the first season.

But when they approached me for season three and beyond, I sat down with them and they pitched me their idea of who Caleb was all about and how he fit within this world. I was already so excited to just get a peek behind that sort of velvet curtain of Westworld.

I saw the inner workings a little bit and being such a psychotic fan, I had to just say, yes in the meeting. “It would be my honor to join forces with you.”

And so, heading into the show, I was like a new kid on the block in season three but diving into season four, I felt very much a big part of the Westworld family. This season is the biggest one yet, which is wild to say but I couldn’t be more thrilled to speak.

What’s the moment on set, especially since you were filming during the pandemic, that you’re going to remember most?

Alison: The standards are relentlessly high and the amount of effort it takes to realize the vision that the show has the ambition to realize is very arduous. People really do pour their heart and soul into realizing it.

And so that makes every scene as they come up – that’s the next one you invest in. It’s very much one foot in front of the other. Once you have the scripts on their feet but as far as finishing touches or little changes, it doesn’t stop until that day is over and it’s in the can and that’s the end.

And you got what you got and you take it back to the editing suite and you’re like, oh my God. At our wrap this year, it was very socially distanced.

They just ran all the footage we had just exhausted ourselves getting, and people were like, it’s so exhausting to watch. I’m so overwhelmed with pride at the same time because it’s that much of an effort.

But that said, my magic scene of this season was, that our locations were not compromised but limited because of the pandemic, international travel was hard and knowing what guidelines we could count on or not count on. They were always shifting to different places.

And so, we stuck a little closer to home and tried not to sacrifice any of the scope but everywhere we went seemed to have like massive weather challenges. Like New York was just intense and rainy and you were constantly like, please don’t let the lightning shut down the set and we were just on the edge.

Then Cabo (San Lucas) was so hot and there was a hurricane coming and that was just insane. Finally, it felt like the universe rewarded us. We found ourselves at the Hoover Dam (Nevada) which was just so iconic. The weather was perfect.

And there we were shooting in three places at once with different splinter units to try and maximize what we were getting. For me, the Hoover Dam stuff, that just felt like magic. That just felt like, oh, wow. Like I just want to savor the moment because you don’t often get it like that.

THANDIWE AND AARON. Thandiwe Newton (left) and Aaron Paul. HBO GO

How has fatherhood changed the way that you approach your career? And how does Westworld fit into that?

Aaron: It absolutely has changed everything. When I had my first-born, I took seven months off. That was the longest period I’ve ever had off since I could choose to have time off.

There were much longer periods where I was just fighting for the gig. And I’m doing the same thing with our baby number two.

The plan was to take this entire year off, just focus on family and some other things that I’m working on but not step foot on another set. I am jumping onto a small little thing next month.

But mostly I’m just spending time with my family. I’ve decided that we’re moving out of LA. We’re going out to the countryside. And I will no longer work on a series outside of LA.

I can’t be pulled away from my family that long anymore. I won’t do it. And so, I’d rather just not work. We’ll see how that pans out. Wish me luck.

These little ones – they grow up so fast. I know everyone says it but it’s true. So I want to try to spend as much time with them as possible before they run far away from me. It’s true.

They’re such blessings. They’re such little miracles and they really put everything in perspective. I feel having children now – the fact that I can say children is just insane to me.

It feels like I get to experience life for the first time. I experienced life when I was a child, obviously, but I don’t remember most of it. It’s definitely reformed me into who I am today but to experience life for the first time through their eyes is the greatest gift anyone could be presented with.

How do you think this new season will impact the viewers?

Aaron: I definitely started feeling it last season. I think it’s going to force people to really question their own surroundings, their opinion on technology, where it’s going, AI, and the dangers of all of that.

I never started thinking about the nature of my own reality until diving so deep into this show, I found myself thinking, am I losing my mind? Is it okay that I’m having these thoughts?

Are people around me thinking I’m going crazy? Or do I have my finger on the pulse?

Like Jonah and Lisa and now Alison, it’s just like, I don’t know…I think people are going to question the dangers of technology, where we’re at today and where we’re going in the future.

I think it’s irresponsible of us not to really sit down and have these discussions. –

Westworld season 4 premieres same time as the US on Monday, June 27 at 9 am on HBO and HBO GO, with a same-day encore at 10 pm on HBO. A new episode debuts every following Monday.

Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.