SXSW 2018

Westworld Team Talks Season 2 and A.I. at SXSW Panel — With Help From Elon Musk


There were plenty of surprises at the Westworld SXSW 2018 panel, including a peek at Season 2 and a visit from SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (yes, you read that right). Series creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were joined on stage by Evan Rachel Wood (“Dolores Abernathy”), Thandie Newton (“Maeve Millay”), James Marsden (“Teddy Flood”) and Jeffrey Wright (“Bernard Lowe”) for an in-depth conversation with Wired’s Jason Tanz about what’s next for the hosts of Westworld and what’s to come in the artificial realm that’s quickly becoming our new reality. Here are the biggest moments from the talk.

Season 2 will turn the tables.

Fans of SXSW were treated to an exclusive first look at Season 2. As the footage played before a packed ballroom, Evan Rachel Wood pumped her fist while cheers echoed throughout the ballroom. The response was overwhelming. “I think I speak for everyone when I say, ‘Oh shit!’” Tanz declared.

James Marsden hinted at the hosts’ new motor functions, “The identities that have been created for them are being replaced by the identities they choose for themselves”; while co-creator Lisa Joy offered insight on the season’s moral code and themes: “There are no clear answers, no clear ‘shoulds’ in [our characters’] paths… I think Season 2 becomes a shifting lens on where our sympathies lie.”

It was “like Christmas” to get back to work.

On gearing up to film Season 2’s episodes, Evan Rachel Wood said, “It was like waiting for Christmas to come... But it was also daunting,” she continued. “We didn't really get to know what was in store.” Thandie Newton concurred, “I could not f**king wait. It was like, ‘Can I come home now?’”

Jeffrey Wright praised “mad scientists” Nolan and Joy: “I think I speak for all of us when I say working with them — helping them realize their vision — is as satisfying as it gets in the work we do. It’s completely fulfilling and challenging to help them flesh out, or, synthetically flesh out, these characters,” he joked.

“Playing this role completely changed my life and transformed me.”
— Evan Rachel Wood
on playing Dolores Abernathy

Strong female parts like Dolores and Maeve “are f**king normal.”

Though Westworld is run by men, moderator Tanz acknowledged the most powerful characters are females. “How does it feel,” he began, “to play such strong female roles in this kind of construct and, not to put too fine a point on it, this day in age?” Newton threw her hands up and shouted, “Normal! It feels f**king normal!” igniting a wave of applause.

Wood wholeheartedly agreed: “Playing this role completely changed my life and transformed me. I just testified in front of Congress and I was wearing a locket with Dolores in it. She’s become this beacon for me of a strength I didn’t know I had and I hope she does that for other people, too.”

There’s a violent reality to the human cost of technology.

Thandie Newton, who volunteers for V-Day, a nonprofit organization that works to end violence against women around the world, spoke about our use of tech and the human toll it’s taking in wartorn countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She spoke of the fight over coltan, a mineral used to manufacture batteries and electronic devices, and the militias that are raping and pillaging local villages to get to it.

“These women have died again and again and again. Their psyches have been destroyed,” Newton said with a hand to her chest. “When I was playing Maeve, I would think about them. Maeve is a robot, she’s entertainment. She gets to die and come back. These women die, and they have to stay alive.”

“I think we’d be lucky if this was the A.I. apocalypse… but I don’t think that’s where we’re headed.”
— Jonathan Nolan
on Westworld and the ethics of A.I.

Jonah Nolan warns of the “A.I. Apocalypse.”

When the topic of artificial intelligence and ethics arose, Tanz relayed an audience question: what advice do the Westworld creators have for those creating these technologies? “I think we’d be lucky if this was the A.I. apocalypse… but I don’t think that’s where we’re headed,” said Nolan. “Sadly, I think we’re headed for this networked moment of artificial stupidity, which involves algorithmic manipulation of social media. And we’re in it.”

The next frontier is here.

Before the panel concluded, a surprise visit from Elon Musk brought the crowd to its feet. Musk and Nolan worked together on a short video that chronicled SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launch on February 6, 2018. After playing the video, — set to the tune of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” — Musk spoke to the audience about the power of humanity and his vision of expanding humanity beyond our planet.

“This guy called Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, an early Russian rocket scientist had a great saying,” said Musk. ‘Earth is the cradle of humanity but you cannot stay in the cradle forever.’ It is time to go forth and become a starfaring civilization, be out there among the stars and expand the scope and scale of human consciousness. I find that incredibly exciting. That makes me glad to be alive. I hope you feel the same way.”

Westworld Season 2 premieres April 22 at 9 pm. For more Westworld coverage at SXSW 2018, follow #SXSWestworld and @WestworldHBO on Twitter.

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