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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 May 2018

Evan Rachel Wood on Westworld: 'I literally had an existential crisis after season two'

The actress admits her character’s travails have taken their toll on her in real life too

Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden in Season 2 of 'Westworld'. Courtesy HBO
Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden in Season 2 of 'Westworld'. Courtesy HBO

When season one of HBO’s Westworld closed in late 2016, we were left with the chaotic scenes of an army of “hosts” – the artificial human beings who populate the fictional theme park for the entertainment of its human guests – running amok after the slaughter of the park’s creator, Anthony Hopkins’ Ford, at the hands of Evan Rachel Wood’s character Dolores. Dolores, meanwhile, appeared to be gaining consciousness as a result of tampering with her circuitry and the implantation of several personalities by her creators, Ford and his former partner, the also-deceased Arnold Weber.

When season two kicked off on OSN First HBO this month, Dolores was still on the war path, and revealed that her programming has enabled her to merge her personalities, thus developing her own identity.

The character detail no one seems to have picked up on

Wood reveals that we can expect to see this explored in more detail as the series progresses: “What we see is that Dolores is finally making decisions for herself. I think when she killed Ford that was the first real choice that she’s made, and now, we’ve also learnt that she’s been harbouring this other character, Wyatt,” she says.

Wood admits that with season one ending on such a cliffhanger, she could barely wait to get her teeth into the second series: “I just couldn’t wait to get back to season two to find out who that was, who was Wyatt. Now, we’re seeing all the different layers of her – she’s not just one thing anymore, she’s got access to every side of herself, all the different personalities,” she says.

“She has Dolores in her, that sees only the beauty, and then there’s Wyatt, that sees only the ugliness. They’re constantly at war, and she’s very selective about when she brings each character out, for different situations. But then there’s also another side of her, that she’s creating, which is just herself. Which is what she’s never been able to do – to really define herself.”

Wood says she’s utilised one very simple method of differentiating between which character she’s playing this season, although she seems a little disappointed that so far nobody seems to have noticed: “It’s funny, but no one has actually picked up on the fact that I don’t have an accent this season – not even in the Super Bowl trailer. She has no Southern accent any more. And no one has noticed. When she’s Dolores she has it, but when she is Wyatt, or this new thing, she doesn’t. I think you’ll learn; you’ll be able to pick up on the cues of when she is each thing.”

Being invested in her character

Wood’s character is clearly facing quite the crisis of conscience in season two, and the star admits that the storyline has taken its toll on her as an actress too: “I literally had an existential crisis after season two. I was driving my car, looking around, like ... what are, what is this? Like, none of this is real? What are we doing? You just realise, everything is programming,” she says.

“It’s all learnt! And we call this the real world, but it’s just the world that we’ve all agreed upon to live in together, but it’s not necessarily what’s true for anyone or what’s natural. So it’s weird. We’re not free. You know? We’re in a controlled environment that’s very curated and we’re fed what we’re supposed to be fed, and you really have to search for truth. I think that the show is more open than ever.”

Click below to watch a trailer for season 2:

The actress says that she’s not the only member of the cast who feels the emotional drain of being in a show that deals with such complex existential questions, and indeed one where the characters so often find themselves in deeply unpleasant situations: “The hardest part about this show is that we’re all always so excited to jump back in, but then we remember, ‘oh, right, this never ends well for anybody on this show’,” she says. “We’re so invested in the characters now that when bad things happen to them or when something goes wrong, it really is gut wrenching for us to have to do. Loyalties shift on this show so much and we’re not even aware, that one day you’re like, oh right, you guys are against each other, and you’re like, what? What happened, I don’t like that. It feels like a violation because you’re so invested in everyone.”

'We could accept a lot of our pain as just growth'

It’s been an emotionally trying year for Wood off screen as well as on. In February, she gave evidence to the United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations in her capacity as the survivor of two rapes “many years ago”. The actress admits that she found the experience daunting, but that it was also something she felt she had to do: “I’ve really only told my story to about five people, I can count on one hand, so to go from that to everyone, to the world knowing, it was overwhelming,” she says.

“I don’t know a world in which everyone knows this about me, and it was terrifying to think about what that would mean, and what people would think. But, the fact that I was so afraid to tell my story, and ashamed, just made me want to do it more, because I felt like that it was wrong, and I shouldn’t feel like that, so I said yes.”

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Read more:

Thinking inside the box: how film reboots work as TV series

Anthony Hopkins on his role in Westworld: ‘I find any idea of a utopia or dystopia pretty alarming’

What to expect from the much-­anticipated TV adaptation of classic sci-fi movie Westworld

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Now, the actress hopes that the show can mirror her own personal catharsis: “People are not going quietly into the night. And that’s another theme on the show, that sometimes our greatest epiphanies or stages of enlightenment come from suffering,” she says. “I think pain and suffering have been given all these negative connotations, when really, a lot of times, just like the death tarot card, it doesn’t necessarily mean death – it means change, it means letting go, it means walking away from something.

“And it’s painful, and there’s grief involved, but it’s necessary, and I think if we could accept a lot of our pain as just growth, and something that’s necessary to metamorphosis rather than something to compulsively avoid, than we might be in a better shape.

“Then maybe we wouldn’t have to be completely annihilated before something good could happen.”