The visual aesthetic and storylines of HBO’s “Westworld” were influenced by video games, according to executive producer and showrunner Jonathan Nolan, who also revealed that the creative team is already at work on season 2.
Nolan, who adapted the movie for TV with co-showrunner and EP Lisa Joy, was speaking Sunday at New York Comic Con on a panel with Joy and several of the show’s stars. He said the second season — which HBO has not yet officially greenlit — will give the couple a chance to address “things we were not able to touch in the first season,” said Nolan.
The “Westworld” creators (who are married) played a lot of video games as part of research for the show. That included “Grand Theft Auto,” according to Nolan, who also said he’s a big fan of the “BioShock” video-game series, calling it one of the most “thoughtful and literate” stories he’s come across in the last 10 years.
“My wife is the world’s more boring ‘Grand Theft Auto’ player,” Nolan said. “She’s the only person I know who stopped at traffic lights.” Joy responded, “The city looks beautiful if you just slow down and take your time.”
Ben Barnes said his character, the callous and hedonistic human guest Logan, is “on a kind of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ mission of indulgence –- he wants to see how naughty he can get.”
“For me it was certainly very freeing to play someone who doesn’t give a… care,” Barnes said, pausing before asking uncertainly, “Can I say ‘shit’?”
Thandie Newton, who plays the Host android prostitute Maeve in “Westworld,” also called out the video-game feel of the show, something that dawned on her as she watched the second episode: “Suddenly this authentic world becomes a game,” she said. “This is a game, we’re in a game.”
Joy said they wanted their “Westworld” to bring nuance to its android characters, rather than having them simply revolt against their human creators (overseen by Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Ford, the enigmatic uber-puppeteer behind Westworld).
“When we started, and J.J. (Abrams) brought this to us, he said, you could approach this from the robots’ perspective,” Joy said. “It wasn’t just this binary switch going off, and the robots kill everyone… You got to see this emerging consciousness and explore that awakening.”
Newton said that when the Hosts start to piece together the nightmares they’re having — which are memories of past horrors inflicted on them — “they get a strange level of freedom.” The actors playing the Hosts are not just playing robots, but also portraying “the wild, feral craziness of becoming conscious, perhaps we could call it.”
Jeffrey Wright, who plays Bernard Lowe, chief programmer of the Hosts in Westworld, said his character is a little more sympathetic to the Hosts than Dr. Ford, whom he likened to a cross between Walt Disney and Colonel Kurtz (from “Heart of Darkness”). “His (Ford’s) relationship to these things lacks all the empathy and sensitivity that Bernard has,” Wright said. “There’s a tension there we will explore.”
Wright quipped, “By the way — that actor who plays Ford, his name is Anthony Hopkins – keep an eye on him.”
Nolan and Joy didn’t provide many other clues to what’s in store for the rest of 10-episode “Westworld,” not wanting to reveal any spoilers. But Nolan did directly answer a fan’s question about whether the show will encompass the other Roman World and Medieval World, which appeared in Michael Crichton’s 1973 original film?
“No,” he answered, noting with a chuckle that in his years of attending Comic Con he has never given an “answer of substance.”
“Westworld” debuted Oct. 2 to a strong showing, and epsiode 2 was screened at the Comic Con event prior the panel discussion. HBO released episode 2 on Friday through its on-demand and streaming platforms — two days prior to its regular Sunday airing, likely to avoid competing with the second presidential debate.
Other notes from “Westworld” at New York Comic Con:
- Is Ed Harris’ ominous and murderous Man in Black character possibly a Host? Joy seemed to suggest that he is a human Guest as presented to the viewer, saying, “There are some things you can accept in this season.” Nolan, however, swiftly added, “I don’t accept anything.”
- The showrunners and cast talked about a pivotal line in the show, “These violent delights have violent ends.” The line, from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” passes like virus among several Hosts and alters their perception of their existence. Said Joy, “I don’t think that’s the last time you’ll hear that phrase.”
- The player piano in “Westworld’s” title sequence is a nod to Kurt Vonnegut (“Player Piano” is the title of Vonnegut’s first novel), according to Nolan, and is meant to evoke the “the first Rube Goldberg machine to evoke human motion.”
- The show features player-piano renditions of modern-day songs including Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android,” Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” The music is “there to remind you that this isn’t a Western,” Nolan said (he called it a “synthetic Western”). “It’s taking place in some other place and some other time… and, I just love Radiohead.”
- Also as Comic Con, HBO was showing a virtual-reality experience, “Westworld: A Delos Destination,” a 10-minute piece conceived of by Nolan and Joy that takes the viewer from the elegant dressing rooms of Westworld’s entrance into the depths of the Delos lab. The VR experience blends traditional CG content, 360-degree live-action video shot on the “Westworld” set, and real-world object interaction, using Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 and designed run natively on HTC’s Vive headset system using Valve’s SteamVR software.