Westworld: A study on human beings
SINGAPORE — He has successfully crossed over from movies to TV and back. As an actor, who is on the lookout for the next acting frontier to discover, James Marsden said that unpredictability is an interesting quality of an onscreen character. It’s safe to say that playing Teddy Flood, a handsome gunslinger host — a robot/android — on HBO’s drama series Westworld, sit well with James.
“You always wanna play characters that there’s more going on to them than just what’s on the surface, you know,” he shared with Asian writers during his recent visit in the city to promote Westworld’s season finale. “You don’t really know what they’re gonna do in any circumstance, a lot of different things that drive them, different motives. So I think Teddy is very similar in that way. I think he sees himself having a peaceful life with Dolores someday but there’s this past he has to come to terms with.” By the way, Dolores, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is Teddy’s object of affection, who learned that her reality was a lie. Also in the cast were Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford, founder and chief programmer of Westworld, and Ed Harris, the Man in Black.
This type of roles excites James to develop from ground up. With Westworld, the cast members didn’t have a full knowledge on the 10 episodes. None of them knew where the story was heading, James related. His character had gone from “good guy that turned completely upside down and he can be a savage killer if he needs to be,” he said. The actor found working on Westworld satisfying and playing Teddy’s different sides exciting.
From there, James eloquently surfaced the Westworld’s theme: Human condition.
“What it means to be human,” he said, “and all the things that we deal with and what we turn into if we can have anything that we want without consequence or without rules, laws and what happens if you extract grief from our lives… things lose their value because sufferings are not there.”
These ideas had been explored in the latter episodes of Westworld, where hosts are controlled by a man and his crew. According to James, Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) wanted to release the hosts and let them reach their full sentience while Ford didn’t want to give up his dream.
“So I guess, it’s a study on what makes us human,” said James on hindsight. “When this consciousness begins, we all associate it with being alive, having consciousness and when that consciousness is gone, we’re not alive anymore. If the host ever reached that level of sentience — that being aware, being able to know what they are and have that consciousness, what makes them different from human beings even if they’re wires and cables or whatever they are made up of?”
Be it on the small or big screen, James said he approaches a project by looking for good directors and good scripts. “It doesn’t matter what genre it is. It could be an action, a sci-fi, a comedy, drama or adventure. I wanna follow people that have a specific vision, specific voice. They know what they want.” Thus, James fit perfectly with Westworld executive producers Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy and J.J. Abrams who made sure that everything was well-crafted. So it’s easy for actors to be a vessel to tell the story.
With its compelling narrative, sometimes confusing to identify the hosts from the visitors, and its following from the US and Asia, Westworld deserves a second season. James didn’t confirm if there were already talks for a follow-up. If ever there was and he was asked to reprise his role, how would he like Teddy to reappear in the series?
“Hypothetically, if I had my choice, die less. Hahahaha,” said James, who died several times in the story and was resurrected. “You know it’s been interesting to watch Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Dolores have their, whatever you wanna call it, awakening. They’re reaching their level of sentience and becoming aware and conscious. The guys are a little slower to that awakening. Maybe that’s actually a great parallel to real life. I’ve boys and girls. I’ve kids. The girls are always step ahead of the boys, just a little bit. I’ve enjoyed watching Evan’s performance and Thandie’s performance… they are given the opportunity to wake up, to remember, to see parts of their past, to look at themselves in the mirror and understand, and with that understanding, evolve and grow. And so I hope that continues.”
So how soon the next season of Westworld will hit the small screen if and when?
“It took us two years to do the first 10 episodes. We hit some hiccups and some bumps along the road mainly because, we were going too fast,” said James. “In an effort to avoid these bumps this time around, I think we’re gonna need to take our time, get the scripts perfect, precise and exactly the way Jona (Nolan) and J.J. (Abrams) want them to be before we start shooting because Jona wants to be there on set every day as much as he wants to be in the first season.
“My perspective — this is just me who loves cinema, loves quality filmmaking — I never believe that something great happens easily,” he added. “I think it takes time and dedication… Hopefully, the audience will understand that… I think we will be more well-oiled machine the second time around. Hopefully, the impression we made was so strong that people will be salivating, waiting for the second season to come around. I think the mistake could be (was) to give it to soon when it was not ready. The last thing that we wanna do is let the audience down.”
Patience is a virtue. If ever there’s season two, Westworld fans will just wait and look forward to its compelling storylines and unpredictable twists.
Westworld will have a marathon encore from Dec. 24 to 25, from 10 a.m. on HBO Signature and weekly encore on Jan. 19, 2017, 8:50 p.m. and Jan. 26, 9 p.m. on HBO Signature