13 Takeaways From the Westworld Panel at San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic-Con attendees froze all motor functions as they watched moderator Reggie Watts dig into Westworld with a panel in the convention’s prestigious Hall H. Executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy joined cast members Shannon Woodward (Elsie Hughes), Luke Hemsworth (Ashley Stubbs), Angela Sarafyan (Clementine Pennyfeather), Ben Barnes (Logan), Jimmi Simpson (William), Jeffrey Wright (Bernard Lowe), Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores Abernathy), Ed Harris (The Man in Black), James Marsden (Teddy Flood), Thandie Newton (Maeve Millay), Rodrigo Santoro (Hector Escaton), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Armistice), Simon Quarterman (Lee Sizemore) and Tessa Thompson (Charlotte Hale) for a meaty conversation. Here are insights from the discussion:

1. The Nolans Researched Video Games
For Westworld writing inspiration, both Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy looked to video games. “Jonah used it as a chance to play Red Dead Redemption a lot,” said Joy with a laugh, to which Nolan replied: “Greatest excuse ever: ‘We have to play these. It’s research!’” Joy described an experience playing Grand Theft Auto: “I was hugely pregnant, [playing this game where I was] cruising around Miami, eating popcorn thinking, this is a weird job we have.”

2. Another Source of Inspiration? Poetry
Influence also came from literary sources. Joy expressed a love of poems: “Last year ‘Leda and the Swan,’ the [W.B.] Yeats poem really spoke to a lot of what our protagonists were going through. This year I’ve been reading [William] Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’ and that’s really resonant.” A smiling Nolan summarized the sentiment: “Smart stuff for her; Grand Theft Auto for me.”

3. The Music Is Meaningful
The series’ iconic player piano is more than just a prop. “It’s this perfect encapsulation of what the show is about,” explained Joy. “The mix of the old and the new, the classical, artistic creation with this mechanized, produced quality to it. Using the piano was the perfect way to repurpose and re-contextualize contemporary music but in an old-timey way.” Nolan added that “using familiar pieces of music is a way to evoke specific emotions. What we’re trying to do is slowly reprogram the human population.”

4. Secrecy on Set Was Serious

Many of the actors were unaware of where their character’s storylines were going, a situation that Simpson called “the greatest acting lesson I’ve ever been given. I had to focus on what was happening right then.” Newton also appreciated the approach: “It was altruistic not to tell us everything, because some of the storylines and things happening to the characters are so huge.” Newton added, “You just want enough as an actor to have enough to digest.”

As Wood started to piece her character's journey together, she looked to Nolan to help digest the story. “I went to Jonah and said, ‘I can’t figure out who Wyatt is… I’ve turned over every rock but mine.’ Jonah just laughed, shook his head and walked away. I questioned it!” Wright had a different strategy: “I just went on Reddit.”

5. But Wright Knew Bernard’s Twist Early
Unlike his costars, Wright learned of Bernard’s true colors early on. “I knew it would be an interesting foil to play,” said Wright. “I’m starting to understand the opportunity as an acting exercise. There are interesting ideas about perception, reality, consciousness. And I’m still learning.”

6. Ed Harris Appreciates the Story Detail
When asked how the series attracts such a broad audience, Harris credited the creators’ passion and precision. “Jonah and Lisa have spent years developing the series. Their passion translates to us actors.” Harris compared Westworld’s multi-faceted narrative to Game of Thrones and added: “I think anything that is paid attention to that much is worthy of attention.”

7. Maeve Found Determination Through ‘Chaos’
Newton maintained that leaving the train was not Maeve’s first conscious choice – she was making choices with the clinicians before that. “Her conscious decisions come from chaos,” Newton pointed out. “When you think about nothing in moments of chaos, that’s where gifts come from – although you may not associate this soulful place with hardware.”

8. Dolores Let Wood Spread Her Wings
Wood got emotional when discussing how much the Dolores role means to her. “Dolores is such a gift to be given,” Wood said. “It’s so fulfilling because a lot of times, as women, you feel like your wings have been clipped, but this was like someone had given me f**king condor wings, and I got to take off and fly.”

9. Marsden Sees the Best in Teddy
“Teddy and Dolores represent this romantic core, hope and purity,” Marsden said. “I love how these hosts represent sometimes the best of what humanity is about.”

10. William’s Black Hat Moment Was Super Emotional
Both Wood and Simpson pointed to the moment where William dons the black hat as challenging. “We had built this love story together and really were invested and cared,” said Wood. Neither actor wanted to admit the relationship was doomed until this scene. “We couldn’t look each other in the eye that day,” said Wood.

11. Nudity Made Things Memorable
Thompson admitted to being nervous about filming in cold storage. “There was a combination of fake nude people and real nude people,” Thompson recalled. “I was nervous about looking down, which I was doing constantly. It was the kind of thing where you dread something and then you just do it.”

Barnes chimed in on nudity while shooting too, calling out Logan’s finale moment: “Until you’ve ridden a horse balls to the wind, as it were, you will not know true terror or joy.” Hemsworth followed up with a duly noted request for the Nolans: “I want to ride a horse naked.”

12. Physical Scenes Were Favorites
Watts asked the cast to share favorite moments, and Harris offered the finale’s physical show-down between the Man in Black and Dolores. “When I read the scene where Dolores beat me up, I was tremendously excited. It was the joyous experience I had. Evan was so excited to do that.” Sarafyan had similar feelings about Clementine’s aggressive moment in episode 6. “When I read the scene where Clementine is in the lab and beats the s**t out of that guy, I wrote Lisa and Jonah to say ‘thank you for this.’”

13. Newton Is All-In for Season 2
When asked about hopes for her character Maeve next season, Newton offered few specifics. “For the first time in my professional, and personal life too, I have complete trust and faith in what these people are writing and where they are taking the show. I’m excited to see where it will go,” she said, adding: “It’s an extraordinary feat to get to surrender and trust.”

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