There are close to a million things that happen between the ideation of a television show and the screen—actors and directors sign on and off, production is delayed, the scripts change, and so forth. So for a show that is in most basic sense is about artificially intelligent robot “hosts” fighting back against the humans who oppress them, Westworld's resonance with the #MeToo, Time’s Up, and March for Our Lives movements is uncanny. The reckoning happening in Westworld—made emphatically apparent by the trailer for season 2—feels like a spooky parallel for the reckoning in our lives.
At the eye of the resistance in Westworld is Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores, a robot farmer’s daughter who “wakes up” and (spoiler alert) enacts this show’s equivalent of a Red Wedding at the end of the first season. Now, it's apparent that Dolores seizes a leadership role with the other hosts in Westworld and fosters a rebellion. In the season 2 teaser that aired during the Super Bowl, Dolores says via voiceover: “We’ve lived by your rules long enough. We can save this world. We can burn it to the ground, and from the ashes build a new world—our world.”
Dolores is one of the more fascinating women characters in TV of late, and the role, Wood explained, has had an impact on her personally. In February, Wood appeared before a House Judiciary Subcommittee in support of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act. As she testified about her own experience as a survivor of sexual assault, it was difficult not to draw connections to Dolores. In fact, Wood revealed, on the day she testified on Capitol Hill she wore a locket containing a picture of her Westworld character. Here, Wood teases what to expect from season 2, and explains how #MeToo may or may not have shaped the future of Westworld.
Westworld has become a phenomenon. At what point after signing on did you realize that this show was going to be huge?
I knew I was going to be on a really cool show, but I had no idea just how deep the themes would run. I didn’t know how significant Dolores would be or what she would symbolize until about episode 4 of season 1, and that’s when I had a mini panic attack and realized what was on my shoulders, and also feeling so grateful that they trusted me to bring Dolores to life. Last season, I was running around on the set saying, "You know, this show is going to explode.” But this was before a lot of people believed all my theories. It was like I was the Man in Black on the set—I knew there was a deeper game here and the show would blow up. And now I think people believe me more.
How did your approach to “season 2 Dolores” change from “season 1 Dolores"?
Oh my god. It was a trip coming back for all of us to season 2. There was a lot of letting go that we had to do. Dolores is awake now. She can’t be the same as she is in season 1. She was still stuck in the dream. There was a letting go of that pure version of her that I knew and loved so much. I went to [the show’s co-creators] Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy at the beginning of season 2 and asked who Dolores is now, and they said, “Well, there’s never really been a character like this.” And that’s the part of the show that makes it so fun to work on but also terrifying. I really showed up to work on the first day this season and thought, I have no idea what I’m doing!
A character that has never existed before…. So how did you act your way through that?
We would do three different takes of different levels and versions of her, playing around with where she is now until we found it. And we did that throughout the entire season. Everyone would do their scenes at least three different ways to see where we wanted to end up. So I’m curious to kind of see who she is. We still want to root for Dolores on some level. But she is much more intense and ruthless this season, for sure.
In the trailers for season 2, we see Dolores in some modern clothes. Were you excited to get away from period costume?
It was exciting to be in different wardrobe for once. But again, it was bittersweet. Dolores’s blue dress has become a second skin to me. I’ve been in it for three or four years at this point. But I did look forward to seeing all the different sides of her. It dawned on me last season that she can really be whoever she wants to be. Which is exciting—we are probably going to be reinventing ourselves every season on this show. You can never get too comfortable with Westworld. We all feel like we’re clinging to this ride for dear life. Also, the new clothes are really cold! I miss my dress with the long sleeves! We shot at the end of 2017 in L.A., and it was freezing and windy. I told the showrunners, “I will never forgive you for not giving me a jacket in season 2.”
You mentioned that blue dress, which has become an icon for your character. Does that make you hesitant to wear that color in real life, on red carpets or just personally?
It’s actually made me wear it more! Blue looks good on me! If you look in my closet it’s all black and brown and purple. But I think because I spent so much time on horseback or in the desert my wardrobe has actually gotten more cowboy-like. I’m definitely getting into the culture.
There’s a great shot in the season 2 trailer of you riding a horse and shooting a gun at the same time. Is this season more active?
Absolutely. I think I’m still recovering from filming season 2. It was extremely physically demanding. There was more action. That was actually my first day back at work, after a year off. I showed up and they asked me, “You can gallop and shoot a gun at the same time, right?” Luckily I’ve been riding my whole life, but that was my first time doing it. And I’ll probably never have to do it again!
How involved are you in stunts?
That shot was me. Whenever we can, we all try to jump in and do as much as possible. Ed Harris hates using his double. Like, if there’s a wide shot of a field and he’s a black dot, it’s actually him doing it. I think we all feel like that on some level.
Dolores is not a damsel in distress. At the end of season 1 we see her really take control of her destiny and drastically change the course of the show’s plot. How significant was that to you as an artist, to play a role like that?
It’s life-changing. I don’t think I realized how much it would change me until I was doing these scenes and I felt the impact that the words had on my psyche. That is what strikes me about her—she gets knocked down but always gets back up and fights harder. I’ve definitely taken that with me. When I testified before Congress I wore a locket with a picture of Dolores in it.
How did that feel, to testify before Congress?
Very surreal. I was really shaky. I felt like I kept my composure until I took those steps into the House. The last thought I had was, I wish my mom was here. I did that slow-breath cry and thought, You have five minutes to say what you need to say. You can’t be out of breath. And once my testimony was done, that’s when I broke.
It’s funny to hear you use “broke,” an acting term, to explain something so impactful.
Well, you have to laugh! I felt like I had a place to put the pain and not be alone in it anymore. I didn’t realize how healing it would be until I was done. I shook for about five days afterwards, mainly because I felt like my body was releasing years of silence and tension. It was amazing.
You mention pain. There’s a great moment in season 1 when Dolores talks about how she doesn’t want the park’s owners to wipe her memory: “The pain is all I have left.” Would you say Dolores’ journey is intertwined with your own?
Well, it was a really personal theme for me. I felt a lot of loss in my life, whether it be the loss of a dream, or [of] family or a person. I felt like that what she was saying was a conclusion I had arrived at myself. Sometimes the memories are all you have. For me, I try to remind myself that things happened that were good. I have had the exact thought of missing somebody, or the loss of somebody, and I just remember how lucky I am to be able to feel that, because it means you really care about something. And it also means I’m alive. I don’t want to erase pain. Pain is a part of life and what makes you alive and part of your journey. That moment was significant because it showed Arnold she was becoming aware. It was a really evolved way of thinking, to not be afraid of the pain.
All this talk about pain, and a moment of reckoning. I have to mention that the timing of this show with the #MeToo movement is uncanny. How does that make you feel to be a part of Westworld right now?
It’s a trip for all of us involved. We filmed season 2 while the #MeToo movement was happening, and season 2 is about reckoning and uprising and pushback. It’s relevant now, but it’s important to recognize that it’s always been relevant. People are listening in a different way now, and that might be the difference between this season and last. It’s not new—but the way we are looking at it is different.