This story first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Jeffrey Wright learned a surprising lesson about the impact of his show “Westworld” on the streets of New York after the election of Donald Trump. During the anti-Trump protests that followed the election, the actor found a moment of levity when a policeman recognized him from his performance as the dutiful programmer Bernard and stopped him to ask, “So, are there two timelines going on?”
Yes, officer, there are two timelines, and Bernard connects them. A few days after the encounter, in fact, a new episode of “Westworld” revealed that Bernard was in fact one of the “hosts,” or androids designed to operate the futuristic theme park at the center of the HBO series. On a show that began with a series of seemingly disparate storylines and characters, Bernard was the thread that started to wind them all together, blurring the line between host and human.
“Bernard is a touchstone that helps build bridges between the world of the Old West and the futuristic world,” Wright told TheWrap. “In a way, he’s sort of a subtle Mad Hatter leading the audience through all these rabbit tunnels.”
“Westworld” was HBO’s top hope to retain its Emmy dominance in a year when “Game of Thrones” was not eligible, and it accomplished that task by racking up 22 nominations, tying “Saturday Night Live” as the year’s most nominated program. But Wright is most proud of the way creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and the cast worked together to build to the big reveal that he was playing not one, but two characters.
In the present he is Bernard, but in the past he is Arnold, the co-creator of the amusement park of Westworld; Bernard is simply a synthetic copy of Arnold. Unlike most of the cast, Wright was told about this secret at the start of filming, which allowed him to notice and enhance the subtle differences between the Bernard scenes he mostly performed with Anthony Hopkins and the Arnold scenes he did with Evan Rachel Wood, who wasn’t let in on the secret until the final episodes were filmed.
“It’s not just because of what I do, but because of the collaborative nature of what our work is,” he said. “So much is dependent on collaboration. The way that Jonathan and Lisa weave all the multiple storylines and build the mathematics of the storytelling to culminate much of the season in that moment.”
Collaboration is back for Season 2, due in spring 2018, but this time they are filming with the full momentum (and perhaps, the pressure) of following a successful first season. Wright sees that as a gift.
“We only had the backstory of [Michael] Crichton’s film and the imaginations of our writers,” he said. “Now, a lot of the crypticism has been lifted, and I think the audience is ready to understand who these characters are and where they are in deeper ways that will pull them further.”