Westworld’s James Marsden On Teddy 3.0, And What He Knows
Given that this is a show about immortal, sentient robots, death means relatively little in Westworld. But one character has died more than any other at this point, James Marsden’s Teddy, clocking in reportedly at 4,000+ deaths, more than any other hosts during his ill-fated time in Westworld. But the last one seemed to stick at the end of season 2, given that he was gone for all of season 3.
Here in the unexpectedly great season 4, however, Teddy is back, and for once, seems to know a whole lot more about what’s going on than Dolores herself. While fans previously theorized that Dolores saved Teddy’s pearl from Westworld, we still know little about truly who this version of Teddy is, the full extent of what he knows, and what he’s planning next. So I tried to get James Marsden to tell me. Here’s our conversation:
PAUL: One thing I’ll say to start here is that I know this is Westworld, which has like the most mysteries of any show on TV, so I know there’s a bunch of stuff you can’t talk about yet, but I’ll do my best here.
JAMES: But you’re gonna do your best to test me.
PAUL: Yeahhh, I’m sure you’re used to this by now.
JAMES: I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what I can talk about and what I can’t.
PAUL: One thing I’m curious about is if you knew that you’d be coming back in a future season when you died in season 2, or if it was a surprise that you were asked to return for season 4?
JAMES: That is something I can answer. I sat down with Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan at the beginning of season 2 before we shot any frame of film, and we not only discussed my arc for season 2, and the exciting journey that Teddy gets to go and that I do as an actor, which is a fun one with the big switch right in the middle of the season. And then beyond that, they let me know that “we’re gonna do something that’s going to be really powerful with the story we’re telling: Have Teddy go away for a while.” To which I went “like, for good?” Nope, with specificity, they said he’d be back in season 4, but you won’t be in season 3, and we believe that with the show, there needs to be stakes. The idea of taking away one of the beloved characters is going to make the audience upset, and hopefully if we do our jobs right, when we bring you back in season 4, they will be standing up in their seats and clapping. And that’s just sort of the perverse little game we play with our fans (laughs).
PAUL: So they have this mapped out pretty far then?
JAMES: Yeah, they did. I will say, they didn’t go into specifics of what I would be doing in season 4 or how I would be coming back. Just that “you will be back in season 4.” They’re very good at putting a limiter on what they can say to even the actors.
PAUL: So how different of an experience has it been returning to the show now that it’s just not a Western at all and now you’re in this modern city? What’s that transition been like?
JAMES: I mean it’s been fun. It’s definitely strange, because it’s all the same familiar faces just without all the dirt and dust and horses. But a welcome one, to be honest. It’s been fun to bring shades of Teddy into this season, but also speak in a very contemporary way. The first scene you see us on the date, Lisa Joy was like “I want this to feel like modern day conversation. I don’t want any western affectation in your voice. Just like you are a modern guy. There’s a feeling to this with him that he might remember things from the past (laughs).
PAUL: That’s actually my next question here. I know you have to…hedge a little. It’s kind of a simple question, but in Westworld it’s pretty complicated. What can you tell us about this version of Teddy? We know he’s a guide for Dolores, but he seems disconnected from Bernard and Maeve, like he’s not part of their plans. Is this old park Teddy?
JAMES: Well, I think it’s important that we say that there has to be a certain level of mystery to him, and that has to stay through the season. My goal as an actor approaching this was well, how much of Teddy’s still there, and I’m not even going to question who he is, where he came from, is he rebuilt, is he a host, a human, whatever. I’m not even going to think about that. I’m reading the scripts, and here’s my objective. My objective is to gently open Christina’s eyes to the world she thinks surrounds her, and her powers within that world. And do it in a trusting and gentle way that feels like a friend. Like an old friend. And that’s it. That’s how I’ve approached everything so far. We’re up to what, episode six?
PAUL: Yeah, I watched the screener before this and was like ‘’Oh no, he’s not in this!” But I assume you’ll be in the next one,
JAMES: (laughs) Right. Well I can tease the next couple of episodes…episode 4 was such a bomb drop on so many different levels, and riddled with crazy intense action that it afforded us in 5 and 6 to lay more groundwork for what’s to come. 5 and 6 are a little bit the calm before the storm. So there’s a little tease. I think…right now, he’s a calming, supportive presence that Christina trusts, and somehow connects with on a deep level that she definitely doesn’t understand yet. Whether he knows everything or just…some things, there’s a mystery basket that some things have to fall into.
PAUL: Plenty of those in Westworld, I’ve found.
JAMES: Yeah, in episode 5, she can say who did this to me, who built this? And his response is, you did. Teddy can say that, but he’s not going to expound on that. Because that’s what Westworld is, it’s a puzzle box. It’s a slow burn and I think that we’re on a really good track this year to do something really cool and powerful and get the fans really excited and very satisfied.
I often worry, am I not being specific enough, am I being too convoluted? Everyone enjoys a puzzle, but they also need to have satisfaction of figuring it out, or at least having it come to you. So I think we’re on track to make fans really happy with the direction we’re heading, and yes, a lot of this still has to stay in that mystery box. But what I want from fans so far this season is to enjoy seeing them onscreen together again, at least for the first couple of episodes, there’s an ease to them, they’ve been through such hell in season 2, and it’s nice to see these iconic Westworld characters back up onscreen together, even though they’re wearing leather jackets now and have red hair and modern dresses. So yes, his purpose is to usher her into this existential awakening.
PAUL: So this is kind of an old question and I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer this yet, but I remember you were talking about your season 2 exit, and you were asked if Teddy was one of the pearls smuggled out of the park by Dolores. And now that you’re back in the flesh, is that something you can answer yet, or is that still supposed to be a mystery?
JAMES: Oh god, yes, a mystery (laughs). That would be a big mess-up by me.
PAUL: Okay so that is something that will come up, at some point, probably.
JAMES: Yeah, I mean we want those theories, we want those questions to be asked. It’s frustrating because that’s not like answered yet, but it will be. At least we feel like it should be, and I believe that it will. And I say believe because it ain’t a fact that it will. I get fooled even on this show.
Thanks to James Marsden for speaking with me. My final theory? (That no, Marsden didn’t reveal). Teddy was built and scripted as a failsafe by Dolores/Christina using his old pearl and memories to inform her of what was really going on, given that he does not seem to be connected to the old host brigade, nor the human resistance, nor Hale. But we’ll see!