This interview features a discussion of plot points that occurred in episode five of Westworld.
In the most recent episode of Westworld, Evan Rachel Wood’s previously passive robot, Dolores, sheds her modest, feminine, rancher’s-daughter get-up for pants, and decides she’s done being in distress. “You said people come here to change the story of their lives,” she tells William (Jimmi Simpson) after offing the men who were attacking him. “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.” Five hours in, it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for since the oldest host in the park slapped that fly in the premiere.
All this comes as Dolores’ romance with William blossoms—Wood said she and Simpson got applause after they filmed their first kiss—and the mystery of the series deepens. In the sin den known as Pariah, Dolores’ visions grow more vivid and disturbing—she sees herself amid a crowd of revelers and in a fortune-teller’s lair. Additionally, an isolated conversation with Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) reveals she’s potentially in contact with the park’s long dead co-founder, Arnold. The A.V. Club spoke with Wood about her character’s turn.
The A.V. Club: Dolores articulates the fact that she’s no longer a damsel. What was it like for you to say those words?
Evan Rachel Wood: Oh my God. When we shot that, it was so funny. Not funny—I mean, like, funny-strange because I, personally as an actress and as a person, am so used to having to play the damsel, that when we were shooting that scene, and Jimmi looked at me and said, “Dolores, run,” I ran. Then I stopped myself, and I turned around and I went, “Oh my God. I’m so used to running.” We as women never get to stand and fight back like Dolores is about to do. I got teary-eyed because it shouldn’t be a novelty. It shouldn’t be that rare, and I shouldn’t be like, “Oh my God, I actually get to stay and fight.” So it really mirrored my personal experience. I think a lot of women can relate to that. So it was a huge moment.
AVC: We do often find women in situations where they never get to stay and fight, never get to rise above victimization. What do you think about the fact that this show is sort of dealing with that narrative and that arc?
ERW: It’s all a commentary on that I think. Which is why in the beginning, when people were very concerned about the violence against women, I encouraged people to stick with it because it was going somewhere and there was a reason why. It’s all a commentary on gender roles and women and having to be the damsel or to stay on the ranch or to stay at home. This one is going against her programming, going, “No, fuck that. I’m not going to be the damsel anymore. I’m going to write my own story.” What’s amazing about this show, and what it gives us permission to do, is to be kind of superhuman. Because at the end of the day, she’s not a male and she’s not a female. She’s evolved past that. She’s a very highly advanced being, and so I think it’s really going to knock down a lot of stereotypes and a lot of gender roles and be a neutral party. It really, again, just gives you permission to transcend any preprogramming. I have to go through that arc with Dolores, and I didn’t know what my arc was going to be. We found out episode by episode, and the more it went on, the more I felt a change in myself and allowed myself to be strong and to get angry and to access emotions that I don’t normally, and I think a lot of women don’t because we’re kind of conditioned not to. It’s freed me in a way, and it made me find a strength in myself. I literally cried on Lisa Joy’s shoulder when it ended. Just, “Thank you.” Because those roles are few and far between. What an amazing opportunity. It was an honor and a privilege to get to bring it to life, and I hope she gives other people the strength that she’s given me as a survivor and as a human. I don’t even mean to make it just a woman’s issue because obviously it’s men and women, but it certainly is an epidemic with women.
AVC: We see you changing out of the blue, Alice In Wonderland-type dress. What was it like for you putting on the cowboy clothes?
ERW: I was so excited, man. I was so excited. I really was. But you know, it’s funny. When I first got in that blue dress, I’m such a tomboy by nature, I was like, “I can’t believe I’m going to have to wear this for eight years.” Then once I got into the pants, I missed the blue dress. There was something about it. We bonded hardcore, and every time I put it on, I’m just immediately Dolores. That’s a tough dress. That dress and I have been through some shit. It’s held up, and there is something really powerful about it. I love the contrast of this side of her coming out, this tough fighter coming through this sort of Disney princess. There’s something really powerful about that. But I was really excited to get some pants.
AVC: Did you only have one dress, or did you have multiple versions?
ERW: We had, I think, two “Hero” dresses and then one that we could get bloody.
AVC: As you were performing, you were as much in the dark about what’s going on as Dolores is and as we are. What was that like?
ERW: It helped. It helped inform the performance. I understand why they kept us in the dark because, knowing how the season ends, there are a lot of things that, had we known subconsciously, we may have given it away or overplayed. Because Dolores is supposed to be in the dark about so much, it helps that most of the time I was questioning why I was doing certain things. But we trusted the writers and showrunners so much because they’re so brilliant and the writing’s so incredible. It really was like playing Marco Polo, where you just kind of followed their voice and they would lead you to water. Later on, everything started kind of making more sense. But we would also just sit and talk about our theories all day. I felt bad after awhile. I couldn’t stop throwing theories at [Jimmi Simpson], and eventually I was like, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I will stop talking about the show. I promise.”
AVC: Have you been keeping up with what people have been saying online and their own theories?
ERW: I think my favorite theory so far is that I am actually a robot. That’s pretty great. In real life.
AVC: Evan Rachel Wood is a robot.
ERW: Evan Rachel Wood is a robot, yes. And some of them, there was one person in particular that was so sure, wrote like a whole thesis, and tagged the whole cast. He was like, “Here’s my theory. And remember I said it first.” He was so proud. And it could not have been farther from what we’re actually doing, but it was cute. I love that people are getting so passionate about it because I went through a million different theories, and they would keep changing and evolving. The running joke on set was that everyone at some point thinks that they’re Anthony Hopkins. Like, “Guys, I think I’m Dr. Ford. I’m Anthony Hopkins. That’s the twist.” We love all of the theories. Part of the fun of that show is figuring it out.
AVC: In this episode, you walk through that orgy. What was it like having that around?
ERW: There were days on episode five where Jimmi and I just could not—I was flabbergasted in the best way. But I had to go to the corner every now and then with my iPod and zone out because I also have to walk through that just stone-cold, not reacting to anything, and it’s not like I get to go to set before shooting and check everything out. So I’m seeing all this stuff for the first time, and I’m just blown away. It was just unreal and wild, and we just kept kind of laughing and couldn’t really believe what we were seeing. It was wild. It was really wild. Because I describe Pariah as “the Vegas of Westworld.” If you’re already in a place that’s lawless with no consequences, you put that on steroids—that’s Pariah, and man, did they deliver.
AVC: Before the show aired, a report came out about extras having to sign contracts that made viewers think, “Oh my God, what is this show? Is it just going to be all sex all the time?”—
ERW: There’s really barely any sex in it. But there is a lot of nudity. And it was always described to me as being done in a way that was supposed to be kind of sterile and mannequin-like and dehumanizing. Yeah, you don’t register it as overtly sexual or gratuitous or anything because of the way it’s done.
AVC: Did you have any hesitations before going in about the nudity involved?
ERW: No, not really. I knew it was necessary for the show, and they were so considerate and explained it to me in-depth before anything happened. And Lisa Joy is so incredible, and she’s always on set making sure everyone is okay and being respectful. We have a zero-tolerance policy on that set. If anyone is inappropriate or makes you uncomfortable, they’re literally gone in two seconds. It’s no joke. It’s very professional.
AVC: Now we have these sort of multiple Doloreses at play. There’s the innocent, Sweetwater Dolores. There’s fighter Dolores. There’s Dolores being analyzed. And there’s the dream Dolores. There is a theory out there that maybe there are two Doloreses. Certainly some events in episode five might confirm—or if not confirm, might add fuel to those.
ERW: Time will tell.
AVC: From an acting standpoint, now that you have multiple personalities, how do you approach that?
ERW: It was really the dream role, and when they first cast me, and I started playing Dolores and all I knew was the analysis mode and her prairie-girl character, I thought, “Yeah, of course I can do this, and I’m good at it, but why did they pick me?” Not because I’m not capable, but I’m also kind of a tomboy, edgy, so I was curious. And then as the season progressed, I went, “Oh, because they need a jack-of-all-trades.” I realized it was because I was going to be playing so many different versions of myself and different shades of Dolores and different characters, dark and light, and so I just got excited because that’s the dream.
AVC: How do you do that? Is there any sort of technique for approaching all these different facets when you have to switch back and forth?
ERW: It’s strange. [For a] lot of the analysis stuff, I just kind of go into a meditative state and try to relax as much as possible and zone out. I shift focus in my eyes so that I’m actually looking past the people that I’m talking to. I actually fell asleep during one take with Jeffrey Wright because I relaxed myself so much. I just stayed so still that I just nodded off, and kind of snapped back into it in the middle of the scene. Jeffrey’s just looking at me going, “You all right?” And I kept going. But I honestly don’t know. What I normally do as an actor in playing different roles, I just have to do in a span of three seconds sometimes, so I think I’m lucky that I’ve been doing it so long that I can do it rather quickly.