Wood spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Sam Eckmann about what changed with Season 3 of “Westworld,” playing such a complex character and what her Emmy recognition has meant for her.
Gold Derby: As a fan of the first two seasons, I have to admit I was a little nervous when I saw the trailer for Season 3 and I was like, “Oh god, we’re out of the parks and we’re in the real world. Am I ready to leave the parks behind?” I’m wondering, did you have similar hesitations about that? What was the biggest change in terms of opening up the world that way?
Evan Rachel Wood: I think one of the fun, unique things about the show is that it’s always reinventing itself. I know it’s the vision of the creators to wipe the slate clean every season, in a way, throw away the sets and start over with a new set of rules. But I think we all were always under the impression that we would eventually be leaving the park. I know we were all eager to see the world outside of the park to get a better idea of where we were and what we were dealing with, but of course it’s daunting because we loved the park, we loved the Western element of the show but I think what’s so cool about it is the dichotomy of both. It’s the old way and the Old West and now it’s the new way and this new version of the Wild West, this digital version of the Wild West, which we’re experiencing sort of in a way now. It’s just very heightened in “Westworld.” But I was excited to see who she was this season, to see who she was in a modern world and to see Dolores slightly out of control. Season 2 she was on a mission, she was very eye-on-the-prize, nothing could get in her way but now she’s in new territory. Everything is unfamiliar. She’s learning and growing with every experience but again, she’s still 1,000 steps ahead of everybody else, so seeing how that all played out I was excited for.
GD: Yeah, and the creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, just create this very sprawling narrative with really grand and complex themes. What do they talk to you about? Do they sit you down at the beginning and explain the world to you as you enter the season?
ERW: They do, and they have such a poetic sensibility, too. Everything that they do is really there for a reason. Even the idea of these two main characters, Maeve and Dolores, being pitted against each other in Season 3, the idea behind that being corrupt systems take the good people that are slaves to those systems and turn them against each other. That is how corrupt systems stay in control. So the metaphor of the two of them fighting I thought was quite beautiful and really poignant to where we are now and this idea that we’re not in control of our destinies we talked about a lot, really delving into… obviously, consciousness is one of the main themes of the show but I think this season was really about destiny and whether or not we are truly in control of it or not and whether or not we really are free and also this idea of a revolution. I think so many people are torn when they watch Dolores as a character, mainly because she’s doing what needs to be done to be free but that’s not always beautiful. It’s not always heroic. It’s not always wrapped up in a pretty bow. It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s violent. It’s scary. Change is frightening. So I think she embodies all of these things where her goal and her motivation behind it is actually quite noble. She’s fighting for an entire race of beings that will be wiped out if she doesn’t do something while at the same time having to be at the head of this violent revolution, so again, exploring the fact that there really are no heroes or villains in “Westworld.” I think that confuses people sometimes. It makes them feel all kinds of things, especially this season, I think.
GD: Yeah, you sometimes think, “I’m gonna root for her or should I be fearing her?”
ERW: Absolutely. Absolutely.
GD: Her master plan as it goes on is really teased out in the show. For you as an actor, do they let you in on parts of the plan beforehand so you know going in or do you find out week to week?
ERW: I find out episode to episode. I have a general idea but we really don’t know the big surprises. We find out in the same way that the audience finds out, which makes the show twice as hard to work on. Normally, you’re given your arc and you’re able to craft something and piece something together and see where you’re going and plot it out, and in this, you really just have to live in the moment and surrender to the creators, which sounds like I’m a host (laughs). But it is kind of like that. You just have to have faith in the showrunners, which we do, because we know they’re never gonna lead us down a path that isn’t gonna make sense later. It keeps it fun. It keeps it interesting. It keeps it fresh. It keeps you on your toes but it is very difficult. It’s very difficult to step off the ledge and free-fall when you don’t really know where you’re going and you have to really believe in your choices and hope for the best. It’s scary at times. It’s scary to work on the show as an actor but luckily, everybody’s in the same boat, so we’re there to catch each other.
GD: One of those big surprises this season was the identity of who’s in the pearls and I kept theorizing all these things about who’s in the pearls and I was, of course, wrong and was hitting myself afterward.
ERW: They love to lead you down a path.
GD: One of the cool things about everyone being a Dolores, who had those pearls, is you didn’t really have a lot of scenes with Tessa Thompson beforehand and this season, you get this really beautiful tender moment and it’s kind of refreshing to see these two characters who maybe haven’t been tender in a while get that intimate moment together. What was that like shooting with her?
ERW: I was really excited when I found out. They did tell me who the pearls were and they told Tessa. They didn’t tell anybody else, not even the crew because we needed to know when we interacted with one another in those scenes how we were responding to each other. Again, I just thought it was really poetic that she’s holding herself, that she’s giving herself pep talks, that she’s telling herself, “I know how smart you are, I know how capable you are, I know that you can do this.” So these scenes were so intimate and I think people’s initial reaction was, “Oh, this must be a love interest,” but it was herself, and it was her being intimate with herself. The hosts, their bodies are not who they are. It’s their pearls, it’s their code. So these are just kind of shells, husks, so even when they’re taking their clothes off, there’s nothing sexual about it. There’s nothing weird about it. It’s just a frame for them. I think that was another thing that really threw off the audience but that’s what’s so amazing about the show is you have to shed your programming and think outside the box a bit. But I love that she was able to have that moment because Dolores can be very stern and very hard to read. She’s pokerfaced ‘cause she has to be, but Hale, we call her “Halores,” is really one of the only people she let her guard down with and so I think you see a much more relaxed, much more tender Dolores, but at the same time there’s also this weird power dynamic. Even though it’s herself, there’s still a hierarchy with the Dolori and she’s kind of at the top, so we’re exploring power and pathways and power imbalances and are our choices really our own, and even though these are parts of Dolores, they all deviate from the same path ‘cause they’re different parts of herself. So I thought it was a really fascinating thing to explore. I was doing the same thing. I thought she was gonna take a bunch of ninjas, and, of course, if you want something done right, do it yourself (laughs).
GD: Another new addition this season was Aaron Paul and you and him have such amazing chemistry to watch and you have, I would say, the bulk of your scenes are with him. Did that chemistry come on instantly? What was it like suddenly getting this new scene partner three seasons in?
ERW: I was excited. I’ve been such a fan of Aaron’s work. Obviously, we all know how talented he is. I could sort of tell by watching him that we had similar acting styles and I was right, we both have a very similar work ethic in how we approach characters. We like to have fun on-set and keep things light and keep the energy up, keep people’s spirits up. It’s a really, really hard show to work on. The hours are absolutely brutal. The timeframe in which we have to do everything is very small, so we really, really push ourselves to the limit. So he was a wonderful addition to have. He’s just one of those people that lifts everybody up, while turning in these insane performances, and he’s able to turn it on and off really quick, which I think is a necessity on this show. You have to be able to turn it on at a moment’s notice. He was wonderful and I loved their dynamic. I loved that once again, “Westworld” steers clear of stereotypes. You always think they’re gonna go one way and then they go a different one. I think everyone was shipping us at the beginning of the season but really, it’s a more maternal relationship, it’s kind of a Sarah Conner-John dynamic where she sees something in him that he’s unaware of and I think she needs to protect him at all costs. We never really know Dolores’s full plan, but I did love that people had the wrong idea about her and I think we do that to survivors a lot. We pass a lot of judgment onto them and we can be put off by them and attack them but if you really look underneath, the reasoning why they do the things they do and why they fight as hard as they fight, it makes sense. It does baffle me sometimes. I still hear people going, “Why does Dolores not like the Man in Black? Why is she doing all this?” You forget that she had 30 years of torture and she’s not free, and if you were her, you would do the same. I deviated, this question was about Aaron. But yes, he was absolutely wonderful and I cannot wait to see where his character goes next season now that we have seen the center of his maze.
GD: One of the highlights for me too that you got to do together was that huge car chase. You get a lot of action set pieces on the show. Do you enjoy doing the stunt work?
ERW: I really do. We have amazing stunt coordinators that have been with us since the beginning, so we really trust them and because of everything we’re doing, there’s a lot of guns, there’s a lot of stunts, there’s a lot of animals. You have to be incredibly careful. I’ve never felt in danger on the set, knock on wood, but I do enjoy doing the stunts. I think Aaron does too. Aaron was really dangling off the side of that construction site, which was just terrifying. I am a black belt in Taekwondo so I was really excited to start fighting. Those fight scenes with Luke Hemsworth and Thandie Newton, I think she enjoyed it too. Thandie and I are such good friends that it was hard not to laugh sometimes. It’s just so far from who we are. But she was absolutely wonderful to choreograph with and to figure out the dynamic of those scenes and to fight while acting at the same time. They’re not just fight scenes. They’re incredibly loaded and the wonderful moments that Thandie and I got to share where we lock eyes and get to have dialogue in between pummeling each other, it was actually really powerful. It was really emotional. But I do enjoy it. The first few times, and then after you’ve done it 10 or 20 times, you’re a little tired.
GD: I think with Thandie’s character, Maeve, fans have been waiting ‘cause you’ve had scenes together but people have been like, “I really want them to team up,” and that’s not quite happening. They’re pitted against each other, but at least we get this battle of the century. But you’re right, what’s underneath it and the actual dialogue and emotion under it is so powerful. Did that go in a satisfying way for you? Did you have those similar things like, “I hope I get to work with Maeve”?
ERW: Thandie and I were always talking about, “Oh, I can’t wait ’til we get to team up,” because we just figured that’s what’s gonna happen and then of course we get the material for Season 3 and we realize, “Of course, the system has to pit us against each other first,” ‘cause that’s what happens. Obviously neither of them really wants to be fighting one another. They both have a different just cause. But it was satisfying and I think there’s still more. We’ve got one episode left and I think we’ll see even more of their dynamic unfold, which I’m really excited about and which was incredibly emotional to film. Thandie’s such a wonderful scene partner. I can’t say enough good things about her. All the actors on the show are so incredibly giving and so present when you work with them and it’s hard not to just fall into it. But I am excited for more, yeah. I hope there’s more (laughs).
GD: We all do. And you’ve been nominated at the Emmys twice for this role in the lead category, which is quite a feat for an ensemble show to be make it into the lead categories. What does that continued recognition mean to you?
ERW: It means a lot. This role has meant so much to me. We’ve been doing the show for five years now. Like I said, everyone really pours everything that they have into this. Ask anybody, any department that works on the show, they’ll tell you it’s probably the hardest thing they’ve ever worked on. That recognition and the recognition for the rest of the cast and the crew I think is incredible and it’s well-deserved. It’s special for me because I love this character. I love everything about her. Sometimes I love to hate her (laughs). I love all of the different elements. I love that she’s certainly not one-dimensional and there seems to be infinite possibilities for her. She’s fiercely intelligent. She’s very strong but she’s incredibly vulnerable. She’s versatile. She’s everything all at once. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here and I’m just every day so grateful that I’ve been able to embody her and bring her to life and play her. I think she’ll be one of the crown jewels of my career, for sure.
GD: Before I have to let you go, you were just renewed for Season 4, so congratulations. Do you have any sort of wishlist, hopes and dreams for where Dolores could go next in a Season 4?
ERW: I love Dolores now, I love all the different iterations of her even if they’re difficult at times. But I would love to see her original, the original Dolores again, her original make and model. I think that’s her core code. I think that’s who she really is. I know she was merged with Wyatt against her will so I would love to see her being able to choose who she is and what she wants to be and see that sweet side of her again. I think she’s had to bury it for so long to get her mission completed. One day it would be nice to see Season 1 Dolores, the one that we originally fell in love with. I miss her sometimes.
GD: We’ll hope for her return when it comes back in Season 4.
ERW: I mean, it’s gotta happen eventually, right?!
GD: Cross your fingers for a happy ending.
ERW: Yes. Oh god (laughs).