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‘Westworld’ Showrunners on How Their Show Is ‘Inspired by Art’

There may be nothing in Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan’s Warner Bros. office that better exemplifies the overall design of their space than a pair of custom Pop! Funko figures their assistants commissioned. These vinyl figures, which not only feature the married co-creators of “Westworld” but their family as well, perfectly depict their personal and professional inspirations. “Other people’s artwork has a reciprocal effect on ours,” Joy says. “Our show is inspired by art, and then we see the fan art that’s out there that has been made for the show, and that takes it to the next level. It’s wonderful being a part of this chain of creative influence.”


On the office coffee table sit a number of books — ranging from the photography of Edward Curtis to the prints of Kilian Eng to “Blood Meridian” and poetry — from which Joy and Nolan draw visual inspiration for their high concept series. The combination of these books represent the “collision between the west and the future.”

“We did this road trip across the west when we were at the outlining stage for the pilot, and we drove out to Lake Powell, north and south of the Grand Canyon, and explored some of Utah,” Nolan says. “In part of that trip we went to Santa Fe and found a couple of original prints from Edward Curtis. The pictures are timeless. They capture a moment before you feel the end of the west, if you will. The pictures here were very inspirational for us and the show in terms of the look and feel.”

Another photography book, “Dreamland,” depicts cityscapes and textures of the west that Nolan feels are equally as important as source material for the show. “The idea with the show being in whichever indeterminate future we’re in is that there’s a sense of nostalgia for a simpler time, but there wasn’t really anything simple about what was happening at the turn of America. It’s when the whole country was being built with all of this reckless abandon. The sheer scope and vast, unspoiled land with people pouring into it — we came back to that for inspiration,” Nolan says.

Joy, on the other hand, gravitates to Eng’s work, which she first found online and thought were “fantastical works.” “He blends the landscape with engineered humans, and there’s this element of gazing — these creatures looking at themselves and trying to understand themselves and their landscapes,” she explains. Joy likes Eng’s work so much she purchased a piece to hang in her living room.

Similarly, Joy keeps a lot of poetry close by because she feels that informs the key character of Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins). “Dr. Ford’s character is so poetic and so versed and educated in literature and culture. Because of the way he speaks, I found it inspiring to read poetry and think about those poems — because he would have read those poems and been inspired by them,” Joy says.


On the same pre-series road trip, Joy and Nolan spent some time in the Navajo Nation, where they kept seeing kachinas in stores and museums. These dolls are hand-made by Native American craftsmen, and therefore each one is unique. “We were so struck by the beauty of them and the intrigue of the characters,” Nolan says. Eagle-eye fans of “Westworld” may have noticed Joy and Nolan used kachina imagery with Maeve (Thandie Newton) as she started to have memories of her previous programming.



In addition to family photos, Joy and Nolan keep a number of mementos from their children in their office, including postcards that Joy creates for them when she is on set long hours, as well as a prized note from their daughter on what she wants to be when she grows up. The answer? A purple stegosaurus. “What I love about it is her unfettered determination to be the thing she wants to be when she grows up,” Joy says. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t think it would really be possible. A writer was as abstract and elusive a goal as stegosaurus, so it kind of reminds me, whenever I look at it, how lucky I feel to be doing this job.”



After Joy and Nolan completed the first season of “Westworld,” their producer Noreen O’Toole’s husband Dave made them a mechanical Lego horse meant to invoke the horse in the opening credits of the show. “It’s just a beautiful piece, and we’re always looking for these iconic images for the series,” Nolan says. This piece became the second in a collection on their desk, joining a mechanical Lego representation of Sisyphus, which Joy points out “is perfect for anyone who works in the TV business.”


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