Interview: James Marsden Talks HBO’s Sci-Fi Hit Westworld
As Game of Thrones take a back seat before its final season, HBO’s newest sci-fi series, Westworld takes over television screens with its dark, twisted look into the dawn of artificial intelligence in a virtual world where visitors are free to do whatever they desire – no matter how noble or depraved. The show has proven to be a huge hit, taking over media and dinner tables with fervid discussions. Right before the show hits its feverish peak known as the season finale on 5 December 2016 on HBO, we sat down with one of the main actors, James Marsden* for to know more about his own Westworld journey.
Westworld is based off Westworld the film, from 1973, by Michael Chricton. Have you watched the film?
James: I watched the original, it was great. Yul Brynner was great, and one of the scariest villains in cinematic history. He was really the original terminator if you think about it.
Jonah, our show runner, said: “Go watch it. Just know that you don’t have to come back asking who’s playing the Richard Benjamin role, and who’s playing who.”
We are taking the concept and making it our own. We are going to take it to much darker, deeper levels. We have taken the audience pretty far down the rabbit hole already. I think that’s the best way to remake something. To take a concept that was great, which, maybe didn’t reach its full potential. It’s not a slam on the movie. The movie’s a great film, but, in two hours, you only have so much you can do.
So, we are able to take a much more novelistic approach to the show on HBO. It has 10 episodes, and how many years of seasons to tell the stories you want to tell, with as big of a cast you want. It is a nice playground for things we can discuss down the line.
One of the most beautiful scenes is when you & Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood) ride on horseback through the gorgeous outback of Westworld. It was very much like the old-school style of Western films. How was it like filming such scenes and finally viewing it on screen?
James: Well, I keep saying that my favourite thing about being an actor is to put on all these costumes. By that, I mean, not literally costumes, but play all these different types of characters, and step into all these different fantastical worlds and exist in it.
I have been a fan of cinema for a long time, and Westerns are something I’ve always loved as well. So, to be riding a horse just outside of Arches National Park in Utah, chasing the fair maiden with a beautiful background and feeling like you’re in a John Ford film, it just adds a tremendous scope to the show. And, a dreamlike quality to it – even for me from just being on set. It was a special experience.
And, for the audience to see how vast it is. We shoot a couple of weeks out in Utah for those big shots. It adds so much to and enriches the show. Hopefully, we get to do a lot more of that in Season 2.
Westworld sets itself up as an amusement park where visitors can do whatever they want; a hero or a villain. A lot of these technology is being worked on right now (not to the extent of Westworld). What effect do you think the show will have on an amusement park like these if it ever comes to pass?
James: It speaks to where we are, or, at least, the direction of where we are heading with gaming. We are starting to now see fully immersive virtual reality gaming. That’s a real thing that’s happening, and will continue to evolve. We have to have the next best thing. I think it is not out of the question that this will, some day, exist.
My concern is whether or not it will be good for us. I have kids and some of them do play video games, and we have to monitor that. But, you don’t want to desensitise yourself, and, more importantly, your children, to the effects of virtual gaming.
One of the things about Ed Harris’ character (Man in Black) that you see is that he appears to be a man whose thrill is not as much there as it was when he first started in the park. He wants to up the ante. You see that, and you start to become numb to these sorts of things.
There is a great line from Jurassic Park, also Micheal Crichton. Jeff Goldblum goes, “You scientists spend so much time wondering whether or not they could, they never stop to think whether they could”. And, I just hope that there are a lot more smarter people out there who know the ramifications of progressing with artificial intelligence and all that. I don’t really know how that all manifests itself, but there are some smart people out there that are a little worried. And so, I hope that some good discipline is taken from the creators to ensure that we don’t become obsolete.
The final episode of Westworld premieres same time as the U.S. on Monday 5 December 2016 at 10:00 AM, with a same day prime time encore at 9:00 PM, exclusively on HBO (Starhub Ch 601). Viewers can also catch up on the entire season on HBO SIGNATURE (Starhub Ch 603) from 10:00 AM on both 24 and 25 December 2016, as well as on HBO GO DEMAND (Starhub Ch 602) and Starhub GO.