James Marsden on His ‘Westworld’ Return, Those “Matrix Vibes” and Playing an Opposite Dynamic With Evan Rachel Wood
The more things change, the more they stay the same for Westworld star James Marsden.
His return to Westworld was confirmed for viewers in episode four, “Generation Loss,” for those who might not have guessed he was the hero from season four’s premiere who flitted from the shadows to save Christina from a panicked, unstable and now dead stalker Peter Myers (Aaron Stanford).
Shepherded to the “sublime” at the end of season two, it looked as if Teddy’s time in the HBO series’ universe had come to an end. But with his return, it seems like Marsden’s fan-favorite character got some kind of sentient upgrade while he was away for season three.
Teddy also retains the same personality as the host Dolores and audiences fell in love with — even seemingly carrying memories from the duo’s potential former lives.
Following Marsden’s return, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to the Westworld star about when (and how) he learned about his planned return, his and Evan Rachel Wood’s characters’ role reversal (and Matrix “vibes”), as well as getting to work with the actress again.
When did you know you were going to be the Morphius to Christina’s Neo?
I’ve heard a few people drawing that parallel, that comparison. (Laughs.) I don’t think I was ever told exactly that was going to be the model, but it’s very difficult not to see that. I will say this: Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] scheduled a meeting with me at the beginning of season two. They sat me down in the office and said, “OK, we got good news and bad news.” Wasn’t even that — they didn’t say good news, bad news. They said, “OK, so here’s what we’re going to do. We want to bring you in on our big idea and part of that big idea is Teddy stepping away for a little bit. I think if we do this right when we bring you back…” — I exhaled and was like, ‘OK, good’ (Laughs) — “it will be really profound and be a very cool opportunity to play something different and also hopefully get the audience standing up in their chairs to say, ‘Yes, he’s back.’” So we went over the whole arc of season two: Teddy struggling to realize or agree with Dolores’ new motive and ultimately halfway through season two, he gets changed. She reprograms him and then his end in the season two finale, “The Passenger,” where it takes his life and we say goodbye to Teddy as we know him. Then they said, “But in season three, you’re going to go away, do some movies, do whatever you want, but then we need you back.” And that’s all they told me. So the dynamic between Christina and Teddy this season, I did not know that it was going to take on these sort of Matrix vibes, but it’s a fun thing to play.
That dynamic between them is different from the one we saw in the Westworld park at the start of the series.
So yes, in season one, Teddy was the one in the dark — basic and stuck to his loop — and she was the one that was getting some layers pulled back and having her existential awakening. Now we find Christina feeling like she’s a bit in the dark and Teddy is the one — you just get the feeling that he understands, or we feel like he remembers that other world and that other Teddy and that other person, Christina, Dolores, whatever you want to call her. There’s a familiarity there and he’s the one with the understanding. He’s the one with the intellectual clarity to start to slowly and gently unravel her world for her. It’s a great thing to play because it was completely opposite of what we were doing in season one. In the beginning of season two, she was doing her best to usher Teddy into sentience. Now it’s the roles have reversed and Teddy is trying to help her understand who she really is, what she’s really doing and what world she’s really living in.
Seeing Teddy have so much control after where he had been was really kind of powerful, but then we see Christina technically has control over their reality. We also see Teddy saying and doing things — thinking of the lipstick roll, here — that mirror his storyline with Dolores or acknowledge they had a past life as different people. Is this Teddy’s new loop or is this who he really is — as a human or some sentient code?
I have learned not to speak in absolutes on this show. One just not to ruin anything, but also because I’ve been wrong myself before. (Laughs.) I mean, yes, it feels like there is a human feel to their exchanges this season and part of that comes in that opening scene where we’re on our date. Lisa Joy was like, “I want this to feel contemporary. I want this to feel like a contemporary date and you can kind of shed the Teddy thing.” With the exception, of course, there’s certain moments, like when he says, “I feel like I’ve known you lifetimes.” It’s like he’s looking at her with memory, right? The feeling the audience hopefully gets there is that, OK, well, he seems to remember. That seems to be a Teddy that remembers all of their history if he’s in fact speaking to Dolores. Even Christina, when she looks at him, there’s something that registers on a very, very deep level that she might not be able to define just yet. I can’t speak to whether they’re humans or hosts through it. At this point, I think part of the joy of watching this show is not having everything tied up and answered right away. It’s trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. And it certainly is a puzzle box of a show. Christina’s maybe even more of a puzzle box this season than she’s ever been. I think that’s going to be really satisfying when season four comes to a close when we get a lot of those answers and those “Aha!” moments.
Do you feel like you get to play him a little bit more tangibly this time around? Like you get to play him with your own free will?
That is the approach and, look, all I do is let the script be my guide. If the scenes are Teddy revealing to her that she is a god in this world and she can change the narratives of these characters that are surrounding her, what I’m playing is the feeling of someone from her past reaching deep down inside her to pull something out and make her realize something. That’s the feeling behind my approach as an actor. Almost like you are trying to get someone who’s lost, who’s suffered amnesia, to just desperately awaken them and make them remember. I think that once she starts to trust Teddy, you start to see them be comfortable with one another again and yet keep enough mystery and ambiguity going behind Teddy’s speech and actions that he’s not absolutely answering every question. It’s like, you’re going to ask me, “Christina, who did this to me?” And I’ll say, “You did,” but I’m not going to elaborate.
What’s it like working with Evan again and to bring back that romance?
I love working with Evan and we just have such fun. It’s great chemistry together. She’s so good, and it makes my job so much easier watching her having her existential crisis all over again — and her having even the most subtle realizations is just like … She’s a living, breathing work of art. Just masterful at saying everything without even speaking. Our goal was to make the audience see and register their familiarity with one another, and that connection, but I like that this time around, I get to play something different. That’s one of the great things about Westworld is we all get to. You’ve seen what Aaron’s doing this season. There’s so much jumping around and that’s part of the fun of it. Hopefully the audience is enjoying seeing them together and him slowly gaining her trust and gently, like I said, ushering her into her realizations and her powers — the powers that she has over these people living in this world. I can’t go more macro than that over what the big picture reveal is there, but I like that the audience is getting to see them together, paired up again, with a slightly different dynamic and obviously a different time period.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Westworld airs new episodes Sundays on HBO.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter