There are always a few shows in the midst of PALEYFEST that are not currently airing, did not recently end, or are about to premiere. These panels can often stutter to find momentum, and while this weekend’s WESTWORLD event may have started off slow, much like watching the watercooler series, once the train was moving it was impossible to not get caught up in what the audience was watching.
Moderating the event was Entertainment Weekly‘s Jeff Jenson, who sat down with creatives Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and Roberto Patino, and cast members Ed Harris, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, and Jimmi Simpson.
While Nolan is the showrunner, writer, and director on the series, fans of Westworld may have been better off if he hadn’t been there at all! This is not to say that Nolan was not enjoyable to watch, hearing him answer simple questions with seemingly circular answers gave great insight into how his mind works and why it pairs so well with HBO series. The downside is that Nolan is so well-trained to not give any real information away that often Jenson’s questions about the mysteries within the series were met with silence from Nolan.
It’s arguable that Jenson shouldn’t have wasted time asking those questions, but he may have had a better shot with Joy, Nolan’s co-creator and writer (as well as wife). Joy’s excitement over her creation was palpable and she even noted that Jenson should simply direct his questions to her if he wanted real answers. The only time Nolan gave up real information happened in the midst of the two hours, and his tone was calm and matter of fact. When asked if Newton’s character, Maeve, got off the train in the finale of her own choice or because of a written narrative, Nolan said, “That was the first decision she’s ever made… you’re seeing the birth of free will there.” It was shocking! He wouldn’t say earlier if Delores’s actions regarding Ford in the finale were her free will or not. He would’ve even give away one song that would appear in season two, but the Maeve revelation was dropped with surprising ease. The audience sat in stunned silence and Nolan appeared to shrug it off.
In truth, every creative question should have been directed to Joy and Patino as well as Nolan. Patino’s perspective of working on the series was little heard, but Joy’s interjections were welcome additions. So much of the early part of the evening was dedicated to talking directly to Nolan that is stifled the conversation, but as Jenson opened up to everyone else the event quickly picked up.
Often times with PaleyFest the audience dictates the focus. At last year’s Better Call Saul it was all about the writers’ room and Vince Gilligan’s approach to creating a series. Shows with younger audiences like Pretty Little Liars or CW’s superheroes tend to focus small spoilers, to get fans excited. Westworld isn’t airing anytime soon and Nolan is too tight-lipped for spoilers. It also took years to get the first season off the ground, so there would be no analysis on the inner-workings of the writers’ room. The night was at its best instead, when the stars of the show (particularly Wood and Newton) led the conversation.
Wood appeared as much a reluctant leader of the cast as her character on the show but her confident in the work beautiful to watch. Time and again, each actor praised one another for their incredible performances. The creators said they cast performers using sides similar to the “analysis scenes” in the show, but were not interested in what the performers did as the hosts were in character, but in the moments in between when the hosts were void of any personality software.
Current events also hung over the evening. While no one on stage cited any specific event, Newton pointed out that she is an activist and usually when she goes to work she has to put personal politics aside and do her job. Westworld is different. “I was an activist every single day I went to work. I was a part of the solution every day,” declared Newton. The show has taken criticism for its gratuitous depictions, which are rampant on both dramas and comedies on premium cable networks but Newton said, “That was the point. Look at where we are and is there a way out of this?” Her passion for her own character and the show’s themes were evident, and part of why audiences love Newton and Maeve so much.
Newton and the rest of the cast praised Wood in particular for leading the show and giving such an all-star performance. While Wood seemed somewhat out-of-place being put on a pedestal, she also didn’t shy away from the position. It was fantastic to see a woman in this position to not just quietly take a compliment but say she “rose to the occasion” openly. No matter where Delores goes in season two, she is clearly in good hands.
As the night wound down, the conversation again turned to the creatives and the use of music on the show. In fact, many of those attending the panel brought record albums of the first season score for the creatives and cast members to sign. Nolan was, as usual, tight-lipped. Throughout the night he had mentioned his dislike for the internet spoiling storylines and didn’t want to give anything to the public that could kickstart more online fodder. Joy did not have the same distrust in the public and, though she would not say the specific song, told of how their young daughter had influenced the addition of a song choice with her current viewing habits. How interesting would it be for Frozen‘s “Let It Go” to play while Delores is on another rampage? Unlikely for Disney to allow that to happen, but that would be my vote.
Emily is a writer and television obsessor. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed.
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Emily J | Staff Writer