Evan Rachel Wood is a mercurial actress and human. Her filmed breakthrough was in her Golden Globe-nominated role in the edgy movie Thirteen. Since then, in over 25 movies, she’s played all sorts of intriguing roles from Mickey Rourke’s estranged daughter in The Wrestler to a Vampire Queen in True Blood to a post-apocalyptic survivalist in Into the Forest. Simultaneously, she’s lived her life according to her own rules. She’s worn a dazzling array of hairstyles, outfits and looks—from goth to pinup to rocker and glamor queen—and had relationships with everyone from shock rocker Marilyn Manson to Brit actor James Bell, with whom she shares a son, to L Word star Katherine Moennig. The girl likes to change it up. And she does so again in HBO’s visually stunning new series, Westworld, which is based on the original Michael Crichton novel and terrifying 1973 movie about a theme park full of robots run amok. Wood plays a beautiful humanoid/prairie innocent named Dolores, who may initially seem like a damsel in distress, but is much more complex than that. She talks to us about the fears and hopes of artificial intelligence, and about playing an A.I. in a realistic way. Westworld, which premieres on HBO on October 2, also stars Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, and James Marsden.
—Prof Stephen Hawking, one of Britain’s pre-eminent scientists, has said “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” What did you think about this topic going into playing an A.I. in the stunning new series Westworld?
—-Initially, I was terrified about the concept of A.I. and a little against it. I thought, if they do take over and we become obsolete, what’s going to happen to love, will there be art? So, I went to speak to some futurists and they didn’t think it will be like Terminator type A.I. creatures tromping around the Earth, setting things on fire and mass destruction.
—So what do they envision?
—They were saying that the theory is that it would be like before for us, when we couldn’t even comprehend what the world would be like now. They (the A.I.) are going to be so advanced, like our technology today is to 50 years ago, and we won’t be able to comprehend the type of art they’re going to be creating. It would be outside of our realm. And, I can’t even imagine the type of love and empathy they’ll be expressing. They’re going to be modeled after us, and have all these things but they’re going to go so much farther than we could imagine. They’re thinking that the world will actually be better.
—HBO’s Westworld was based on the original Michael Crichton novel and 1973 movie was about a theme park run amok. But this series, although described as a sci-fi western, seems more real, why?
—Our Westworld is science fiction but it’s also very much science reality because everything is being based on real technologies being worked on right now by engineers and scientists. Think of our environments changing themselves and adapting to what we want. Eventually, our phone will be part of our hand, that’s just what’s going to happen. Or with chips in our wrists for smart technology control. Virtual reality is going to expand and become a bigger part of our everyday lives.
—So what happens to us humans?
—[Laughs] I know, I was thinking that sucks, if it means the human race is pretty much done. But they were trying to assure me that it’s actually going to be the next phase of evolution. It’s a theory, of course. But it gave me comfort [laughs] as opposed to some terrifying reality. But we’ll see, everything is increasingly happening faster and faster. And, one of the show’s themes is, if these machines are modeled after humans, then if one day they did develop some sort of consciousness, and then looked at humans, they may not want to be modeled after humans. So, what would that mean for humanity, and what would they do with that kind of power?
—Tell us about your A.I, character Dolores?
—She’s the one, the host, you go visit the Theme Park to fall in love with, and have that experience with, and be heroic with. Again, there’s something for everyone in the Park. And that’s what makes Dolores unique, because they built her so that people can fall in love with her, she’s something special. She initially goes through a lot of abuse, but there’s an inner strength that she finds, and through playing her it led me to some inner resolve I didn’t know I had. And I’m eternally grateful for it. I’m so excited to be on her journey because she’s my favorite character I’ve ever played. Playing her has changed my life. When the first season ended, I went and grabbed creator/producers Jonah and Lisa Joy Nolan and wept.
—So what are the challenges of trying to play an A.I. in a realistic way?
—It was so fun but also so challenging, and as an actor it’s like the acting Olympics. Jonah Nolan and I worked really closely together to figure out what this looks like, as we’re just inventing this. How would they move, what are the little shifts going to be, what are the flickers — does she blink in the sun, does she breathe or sweat? — and what are the things that are going to separate us from humans? How far do we go? I think we came to this great place where the subtleties are what are really unsettling.
[All photos courtesy of HBO, and this interview was in part published at MadeMan.com and Hellomagazine.ca]
Ashley Jude Collie regularly blogs for the Huffington Post, and has an upcoming novel, REJEX.