Westworld: “Violence was something we had to address”

Executive producer Lisa Joy on the challenges of Westworld


HBO needs a game-changer, and Westworld looks like it fits the bill. Featuring an all-star cast including the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood and Jeffrey Wright, and featuring the kind of high-end production values the studio are renowned for, Westworld takes place in a theme park populated by incredibly lifelike robots, where guests can come and indulge their whims – whatever they may be.

Back at the TCAs, we spoke to co-executive producer Lisa Joy about the evolution of the show, its already-controversial use of violence and more…


What was it that most intrigued you about the idea of updating Westworld?
The thing that most intrigued me about it was the idea of going from the host’s, point of view and being able to explore so many different angles as to what the West is. When I used to watch Westerns, I could admire the craft, but I never really loved them, they never spoke to me. Maybe because I’m first generation American, I’m a woman, and I just didn’t see myself reflected in that. Here was a chance to take this pluralistic approach to who owned the West.

It wasn’t just that stalwart, male hero – there were many, many people who comprise the West. I wanted to look into their personas, and just flush them out and really dig deeply into it.


Beyond the themes surrounding artificial life that the original film epitomised, what themes does the TV series explore?
We explore paternal love, romantic love but also the basest part of human nature. That includes violence and sexual violence, which have sadly been a fact since the beginning of human history. So when we were tackling the project about a park in which the premise is you can come there and do whatever you want, whatever desire you have with impunity, without consequence, it seemed like it was an issue that we had to address.

Sexual violence, for everybody on our team, is an issue that we take very, very seriously. It’s extraordinarily disturbing and horrifying. And so in its portrayal, we really endeavored for it to not be about the fetishisation of those acts. It is about exploring the crime and establishing the crime, and the torment of the characters hopefully with dignity and depth.


What would you say the biggest challenge of the new series is?
Part of the challenge of the first episode is that if we want the hosts within the park to connect with viewers, then we have to let the viewers start with them and the delusion that their reality is real. The more you empathise with them, the more you understand them. It’s like a Rorschach test for the viewer – some people will be like, “Dolores is so sympathetic”, and some people will be like, “It’s a videogame, who cares?”


Westworld has a pretty impressive cast – how did you go about choosing them?
We were incredibly fortunate – we had, in our mind, this list of dream actors who could play the roles and they felt the same way. It’s a really difficult challenge for all of our actors. For instance, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton)’s character both have to be completely human and completely appealing, completely sympathetic in a period-piece nestled in another period-piece while also being a robot. That is not something that’s easy to pull off for any actor.

Westworld will air on Sky Atlantic from 4 October 2016. Read our full behind-the-scenes feature in issue 124 of SciFiNow, on sale now.