Technological advancements and conveniences like smartphones and autonomous cars make our lives easier and are becoming more common. For actor Jeffrey Wright, who plays Bernard on Westworld, these innovations are synonymous with the thinning line between humans and technology. Spoilers alert below!
HBO’s Westworld series is about an adult amusement park where guests can realize their deepest fantasies with human-looking androids named “hosts”. In the first season, Wright plays Bernard Lowe, the park’s chief programming officer who discovers that he has more in common with the hosts than he realized.
Now more than ever it seems that we are experiencing a fantastic dystopian perversion.
The first season revolves around the theme of reality and consciousness and the fact that the difference between humans and hosts lies in who controls the hosts, and what has been written into their programming. In season two those questions will intensify even more.
Digital Trends spoke to Wright about the second season, which he sees not as dystopian but as an ever-closer reality. For him, the nature of the Trump administration, accepting that we have a dependence on technology and it is something that creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy take advantage of to make the series more real.
The first season was supremely complex and if you think you can understand the minutiae of the second season on Reddit, Wright says: Good luck.
Digital Trends: With Westworld gearing up for season two, were you surprised by its success, or was it apparent from the beginning to you and the rest of the cast that you were working on something that would be special?
Jeffrey Wright: We knew we were working on something special from season one, but you’re never sure about it until you know what the audience’s reaction has been. It was good to know that the work of what we were doing was appreciated. We are also fans of the series and the work we have done, as well as the script and what each one sets apart from the series. It was a gift. I’ve been working in this industry for a long time and opportunities like this are rare. It is an opportunity that requires people with certain skills and there are people in every corner of this organization who are working hard to provide a new, compelling and relevant story. It is a dream job.
Westworld is part of this new trend of dystopian series such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Mirror, which are also popular with international audiences. Why do you think these stories are so popular now?
Now more than ever it seems that we are experiencing a fantastic dystopian perversion, in particular due to the leadership in the country and the dialogue in the public sphere. But Westworld is talking in such a way that technology is transforming us and we are transforming technology and that may or may not be dystopian, but that is the reality.
Now more than ever it seems that we are experiencing a fantastic dystopian perversion.
So when Michael Crichton wrote this story in 1974 and shot the movie it was an interesting premise. The movie was too, but I don’t think people at that time were prepared for the metaphor built around this technology. Now, we all understand it. (Laughs)
So, we are struggling with this relationship that we have with technology and at the same time with the metaphor that the hosts become people and try to discover who they are consciously or with some level of consciousness … That they try to free themselves from the routine that it was not made by them is a metaphor that we can see through a particular character. Even though the series is futuristic, and it is science fiction, it also provides space for humans and even synthetic human spaces that are attractive to our audience.
It is interesting to mention that we see through one of the characters, presumably you speak of your character Bernard,… where the convergence between human and android, as well as our technological dependencies are seen through them. How have you played your character in season two, after the big reveal in season one that completely changes the character base?
Well, the changes for me are reflected in Bernard. At the beginning of the second season, he is a different host than he usually was. He’s a little late to the party as Maeve and Dolores did it earlier in the first season. Bernard is just emerging and is struggling with his health as he shot himself in the head at the end of the first season. So there is a combination of factors. There is what you do not know about the world around you and the unknown about your place to occupy while your system does not work quite well. So you are at an interesting time. Guide the audience to understand about the park and its history, which will help them understand themselves. She is back on that journey but now she is much more psychedelic and there is more at risk. Their discovery leads us to an understanding of why we are where we are and where we are.
Bernard is still very important in the series, but little relevant in the first episodes of the new season compared to the last episodes of season 1. Something that surprised us is the fact that Bernard, who was created from Arnold, whoever created Dolores and we could discover more connections between them. Does that affect the relationship and its evolution in the second season?
Ah, we explore that as we go. We explore many levels of that relationship.
Is there something about Westworld that has changed your day to day?
When I started working on this, I was always curious about the ways that technology is being used. Not necessarily by consumers, but by those who control and own that technology. It’s a current question and it’s something that is explored in season two. When I was filming the second season, I had strange experiences with my phone. It was like I woke up in the morning like a puppy licking my face. He was very in tune with what he was doing. So, I hope we ask ourselves interesting things about our relationship with these things and entities.
Besides Bernard, you’ve played other interesting roles, like artist Jean Michel Basquiat, Martin Luther King Jr., and you’ve been in other movies with great actors. What has been your favorite and what ranking does Bernard occupy?
Well, I like the ones I play at all times. I have worked on many projects of which I am proud. I have worked with incredible artists and the group now is the best. It is a different story than Basquiat or Angels in Amerixa, Machurian Candidate or Boardwalk Empire. But for me it is challenging, provocative and the best job I have ever done.
Before the first season premiered, you had an interview with Digital Trends where you complimented Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy on their cinematic way of writing and how fantastic co-workers they had been. Did they mention the secrets of the story from the beginning? Or were you in the dark until the changes happened?
We do not have primary sources with this series. There was no book series or British version of the series that we were trying to replicate. These stories played by Michael Crichton come from the head of Nolan and Joy. There are many things that they know and that we do not know. (Laughs) It all depends on your way of thinking. But they are very generous with the collaborators and are always available to us if we have to fill a gap. So one of the things that I do before I start recording is have asked the questions that I had to ask. This last year we read scenes without having read the rest of the episodes for logistical reasons. Sometimes Evan and I wonder what episode we are filming. (Laughs) We didn’t know exactly where we were but when they were available we would attack them with questions until we were satisfied. To play Bernard it has helped me not to know since Bernard is trying to understand everything. That worked for me.
How long did it take before you knew that Bernard was a host and what was your reaction when you found out?
Bernard is a host?
Yes, it’s an Android (laughs)
It is? Wow. Wait, I have to think about it (laughs). No, I knew from the second episode. I didn’t know it when we filmed the pilot episode. But when we started full production, Lisa Joy told me about it apart from the rest of the cast.
I think one of the interesting things about Bernard is that he is a lens on what the audience thinks of the story in the first season.
That must have been crazy. Bernard is a beloved character in the series. Were you surprised by the reaction of the audience?
Well, I’m a Bernard fanatic. (Laughs) So it’s gratifying that others are as well. I think one of the interesting things about Bernard is that he is a lens on what the audience thinks of the story in the first season. So he is beloved because we depend on him for information and because he is a tragic figure. I hope we can continue to entertain fans of the movie in a fun and provocative way.
Hundreds of theories about the series and its history can be found on Reddit and many of the theories turn out to be true. Do you ever research fan theories? Were you impressed by any?
Some did, some did not. I wish you good luck this year.
Westworld explores big tech trends like artificial intelligence and androids. Are there any trends you’ve seen that you think can be explored at Westworld?
What worries me the most is who owns the technology and why. There is a lot of concern about our privacy but the good thing is that at least the government is working on it and they have a responsibility to keep us safe. Corporations are in the spirit of profit. So that’s my focus when we talk about technology and information.
The second season of Westworld premieres on Sunday, April 22.