“Westworld” ended its first season Sunday night. By the next morning, it was already reaping accolades. The big-budget sci-fi series from executive producers and creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy was one of five television dramas nominated for a 2017 Writers Guild Award Monday.
Nolan and Joy spoke to Variety about the finale, their plans for Season 2, and why the show won’t be back until 2018.
Spoiler alert: This article includes spoilers from the season finale of “Westworld.”
How dead is Ford?
Jonathan Nolan: Oh, he’s dead.
Is he “Anthony Hopkins is available for pilot season” dead?
Nolan: Working with Anthony Hopkins on this season of TV has been one of the greatest pleasures and privileges for Lisa and I in our careers. It’s been an incredible experience, and we’ll see where our story takes us.
Did he know before signing on that Ford would die at the end of the season?
Nolan: Lisa and I doled out the information about the characters to the actors in moments, trying to keep the story as fresh and present for them as possible. Obviously sometimes you need to go a little bit further so that the actor is properly equipped. Here because so much of the season is about Ford’s intentionality and his plan for his new narrative, because this is a tragic figure here, it made sense for Lisa and I to engage with him from the beginning to engage with him in this conversation about how this is a scene of television that is in a sense a prologue to the larger story that we’re telling. In this narrative Ford is God. This is the death of God as the jumping off point for our story but also a full meal to itself. We were very straightforward with Tony from the beginning.
We’ve perceived Ford to be one type of person, and at the end he reveals himself to be a different type of person in terms of how he feels about his creations and how he feels about his own life’s work.
Lisa Joy: Only a titan like Anthony Hopkins could have done all the nuance that he embedded in this series. His character in my mind is always a little bit of Prospero in “The Tempest.” You think his plan involves one thing. You kind of underestimate him. Then you see this glimmer of malice and menace that you didn’t anticipate, so he goes to being the villain. Then by the end you realize that this is in some way about atonement for him and that he’s chosen this very difficult road because he believes it’s the only road in which he can atone for the mistakes of the past.
We got confirmation in the finale that the show takes place on multiple timelines, which had been hinted at strongly in previous episodes. How did you settle on that structure?
Joy: I think the key is to let it grow organically from the concept and the characters. Even though it is a very complicated, twisty set of reveals, this is the one show in which it is totally organic to what they’re experiencing. You have a group of hosts who are basically immortal, and the fundamental thing that is holding them back is memory. Unlike humans, who have these imperfect memories — we can’t really conjure events in all the detail they occur — the hosts have a different problem. They’re able to bring back the exact replica of that memory so lifelike and engrossing in detail that it’s impossible to distinguish today from tomorrow or yesterday.
Nolan: This is not the first time I’ve written about amnesiac characters. I remember talking to my brother [Christopher Nolan] about “Memento” and how I was intending to structure that as a short story. I wanted to write it as a deck of cards and then shuffle that to make it completely, aggressively non-linear, because that was that character’s understanding of the world. Here we had the unique opportunity to try to illuminate some of the differences between how an artificial person might understand the world, and especially an artificial person who had been artificially held back in terms of their understanding of the world in order for us to facilitate us being able to do whatever the f–k we want to them.
At this point there aren’t many humans to kick around anymore. Most of them are either dead or missing or revealed to be hosts. Going into Season 2, will you be focusing even more on the hosts, with the humans relegated to either helper or adversary roles?
Nolan: Not necessarily. One of the great things about this omnibus, ensemble storytelling that HBO has mastered is the ability to shift that perspective and find empathy for different people, and that’s something that we want to continue to play with throughout.
Where are you at in terms of work on the second season?
Joy: We’ve started working on scripts and outlines. It’s looking good. It’s looking very ambitious. There’s some surprises and bits of it that you won’t see coming. I’m having fun.
Nolan: It’s an ambitious project, and HBO has encouraged us to take the time and resources that we need to work on each stage of that. I love television. One of the fun things about television is that sometimes you find yourself in this place where you have to wear all these hats at once. You have to write, shoot, and cut simultaneously. We wanted to in the second season spend some more time writing, then switch gears into production, then cut. So we’re not going to follow the annual year-on-year tradition of television. Television’s changing. And the ambition of the project is such that we’re going to take our time to get the second season right.
So a longer gap than viewers might be expecting between seasons.
Nolan: We won’t be on the air until 2018. We started that conversation with the network when were shooting Episode 2 and we realized the complexity of trying to write and produce the show at the same time. We both work in the movie business as well, and in the movie business the best that you can possibly hope for with a film franchise is to turn around another installment in two or three years. So really on that schedule, we’re doing great.
Joy: We’re racing ahead.
Finally, “SW” stands for Samurai World, right?
Nolan: Stay tuned.