'Westworld' Women Say Their Roles Are Game-Changers

by Taylor Ferber
John P. Johnson/HBO

HBO's latest sci-fi sensation Westworld takes women's roles, like a brothel owner, for example, and makes them empowering as hell. Actors Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores) and Thandie Newton (Maeve) not only say these characters are some of the greatest they've ever played, but they claim these characters have made waves in breaking the mold for all women on screen. On the show, Dolores is the oldest host (read: robot) in Westworld — innocent and pure until she starts realizing there's more to her identity than she realized. Maeve is the sharp and wise madam of the Sweetwater brothel. Together, the women behind these characters praise the caliber of the show, for it empowers them every day on the job, both on and off screen.

During the show's panel at PaleyFest in LA over the weekend, Wood tells the crowd she had no idea what she would be on "the greatest show of all time" by taking on Dolores. After speaking with creator Jonathan Nolan, Wood says she realized this was more than a show. "[It's] incredible. She's my favorite character I've ever played," the 29-year-old says. "It really changed my life." In addition to what Dolores represents, Wood explains why the behind-the-scenes process she experienced was an empowering rarity as a female actor.

John P. Johnson/HBO

"We found out so close to shooting what was going to happen. When we were in those moments, it was so raw and fresh," she says. Wood explains why being trusted with such layered material is so fulfilling for her. She gets to prove what she can do and be taken as a seriously artist. "It was amazing to have the opportunity to really not know too far in advance... I hug [co-creator] Lisa Joy and Jonah, just weeping, for a season with them," she says. Thus, the hybrid of a complex role and acting process is unlike anything the actor has experienced thus far in her 23-year career. "This role is just — these don't exist. Especially for women. It was really life-changing getting the opportunity to do it."

Newton says she had a different process when getting on board — namely being told that nude scenes would be a substantial part of the job. She explains that, ironically, the role gave her even more of a fire to continue being an activist for women. "I'm like, 'Do you know I fight violence against women? Like, that's what I do in my spare time,'" the 44-year-old recalls thinking when Nolan and Joy approached her. She says she was skeptical, assuming the nudity would be unnecessary. "And then they told me: To the set up to the series, [it] had be to history as it is."

The actor admits she and the cast were "terrified" when promotion for the show began and comments were made about gratuitous nudity and violence against women. She explains its intention: "The point we're trying to make is: Look where we are, and is there a road out from here?" Not only is it important for people to see, but to move forward.

John P. Johnson/HBO

"Here we are right now at a crossroads. I think Westworld will be part of the solution, not the problem... it's tough out there," the actor explains in regards to female roles. Rather than leaving her activism behind like she used to when stepping on set, Newton now feels the power to create change through her acting.

"When I [used to] go to work, I [would] have to just be the actor... with the work I do in my life, trying to empower women and men, I had to leave behind," she says. "[On Westworld], I was an activist every single day I went to work. I felt part of a solution every single day."

These two will undoubtedly continue breaking down barriers with the return of the show for Season 2, hopefully, with more badass females by their side.