Westworld’s James Marsden on fulfilling a childhood fantasy in the new sci-fi
James Marsden is living the cowboy dream, thanks to a starring role in SoHo’s sci-fi drama Westworld.
He plays Teddy Flood, a mysterious wanderer at a fantasy-fuelled, futuristic theme park populated by humanoid robots and where visitors can act out their wildest dreams.
The series, described as a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin, also stars Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Ed Harris.
It centres on what happens when a computer update causes the park’s robotic ‘hosts’ to become aware of the nature of their existence. And when that ‘existence’ for some equates to 30 years of violence and abuse, the stage is set for some far from happy androids.
For Marsden, the reality of the role is, “Living out that eight-year-old fantasy of being a cowboy gunslinger again – putting on chaps, a cowboy hat, a gun and riding horses.”
On the face of it, his character is one of the good guys, a loner with a dark past looking for redemption in the arms of a beautiful woman – albeit one programmed to fall in love with him.
Whether viewers will root for the humans or the humanoid hosts remains to be seen.
“It’s kind of personal,” says 42-year-old Marsden. “Maybe you will have empathy for them, maybe you will have empathy for the human race because of how they reveal themselves to be when they don’t have society’s judgment on how to behave. I maybe feel sorry for the human race.”
He says the part made him more aware of the downsides of Artificial Intelligence.
“I did learn a lot more about the potential catastrophic repercussions of basically giving over too much intelligence to something we create and all the other downsides of what it does to the human race to have fully automated everything,” he says.
“My mind goes to another great Michael Crichton project, Jurassic Park (Crichton wrote the original Westworld).
“Jeff Goldblum’s character says, ‘The scientists spent so much time wondering whether they could, they never stopped to think whether they should’.
“And I think we do that all the time now. We just want to advance technology and sell it, and if some bad **** happens down the line because of it, we’ll deal with it later.
“The power that you have to play God and create things that think for you, it all comes from a place of ‘Let’s make our lives easier’.
“Well is it making it easier or is it just making us irrelevant?”
It is a view that is partly echoed by Marsden’s co-star Thandie Newton, who plays brothel-keeping ‘host’ Maeve Millay.
Newton loves the philosophical questions the show poses.
“The show throws up so many existential questions about the nature of being human. In the pilot they really shine a focus on the depraved things that people are addicted to. It’s bleak but it’s real.”
The series, made by HBO and touted as the next Game Of Thrones, has come in for criticism for is violence towards women.
The first episode features one robot (played by Evan Rachel Wood) being dragged off to be raped.
But executive producer and writer Lisa Joy defends the storytelling saying, “It was definitely something that was heavily discussed and heavily considered as we worked on this.
“Violence and sexual violence have, sadly, been a fact of human history since the beginning of human history.
“So when we were tackling a project about a park in which the premise is you can come there and do whatever you want, whatever desire you have, with impunity, without consequence – it seems like it’s an issue that we had to address.”
But as to whether Artificial Intelligence is ultimately to be feared or embraced, Newton has a simple challenge for viewers.
“Learn about it. Learn as much as you can and then weigh in with what you think.”
Westworld, SoHo and Neon, starts Monday October 3.