‘Westworld’: Jeffrey Wright on Bernard’s Big Revelation and the Joys of Reddit Fandom
Posted June 24, 2018 10:41 p.m. EDT
(This article contains spoilers for the Season 2 Finale of “Westworld.”)
Bernard spent most of this season of “Westworld” in a state of confusion that launched a thousand fan theories. Was he just malfunctioning? Had his code been merged with another host’s? Was Dr. Ford still programming his actions?
In the Season 2 finale Sunday, we finally learned the truth: Bernard had scrambled his own memories in an attempt to hide his decision to have Charlotte Hale killed — and to smuggle Dolores’ “mind” into an android copy of Charlotte’s body, thus giving Dolores a real chance at escaping the park.
If it sounds confusing, it is. But Jeffrey Wright’s nuanced performance — as both the android host Bernard and his human prototype, Arnold Weber — was a beacon all season, guiding viewers through the narrative camouflage of jumbled memories, real and digital spaces and multiple timelines. In telephone and email conversations before the finale, Wright discussed the show’s puzzle-solving appeal, the usefulness of shooting scenes out of order and what it’s like reading fan theories about his own work on Reddit. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.
Q: What do you think about critics who think the show is too confusing?
A: It’s not a linear show, and it hasn’t been a linear show from the start. I think there wasn’t that awareness going into Season 1, but this year, some people tended to relax into it more because they were more concerned with getting ahead of it, deciphering it and dissecting it, more than they were previously.
I do think that some folks have confused themselves, more than they might have. The multiple timelines are pretty clearly delineated at the beginning of Season 2, and I think that the show does require a familiarity with what’s come prior, so I do not recommend diving in without having gone through the cumulative exercise of understanding narrative. But right now, I’m all for those things that challenge us to think. I do find it curious that certain folks would ask us to be simpler at this time in our American cultural lives. I find that weird.
Q: Do you keep up with any of the internet chatter or theorizing about the show? Do you do Reddit?
A: I do a little Reddit, yeah! I pop in every now and again. In some ways, I see it as another dimension of the storytelling. I think there are certain folks out there who are tapped into this, who so clearly appreciate and get what we’ve been doing. And it’s really gratifying within some of the other noise of people kind of whining about this show and wanting it to be dumbed down. [Laughs.]
For me, it indicates that the fans have immersed themselves into a show about an immersive experience, in a way that I might not have anticipated. They’ve immersed themselves into studying beyond the show, once each episode ends — studying the implications that arise out of the show, and in some ways, drafting their own narratives and storylines. I think it’s pretty cool, and pretty rare.
Q: What sort of questions did you ask the creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy? What conversations did you have with them about the nature of Bernard’s emergent agency this season?
A: The majority of my questions were geared toward understanding everything that I felt I needed to know in order to perform within a given scene. Jonah and Lisa make themselves available to us, either in rehearsal for the more complicated scenes, or the morning prior to us filming anything. They’re always there. That was an interesting function of the nature of the collaboration on this show, which is something that I’m so respectful of, and so grateful for, because it’s what gets created by these long-form dramas, this symbiotic relationship between writer and actor. It’s a rare thing when it’s as fertile and as open as the relationship that we build together, and so I take full advantage of that!
I’m really just trying to gauge where I am, and what I’m trying to do, moment to moment. One of the first things I do when I step onto a set is I scan the set and try to take in every detail, because what I’m trying to find are tools that I can use to incorporate myself into the space, and tools that I can use to make the performance authentic, and to build on the authenticity of that. And so my questions to Jonah and Lisa are really about scanning those things that I need in order to understand what I’m doing, and how I’m going to get to the other side of a scene. That’s it. Q: What specific details on set helped you? For me as a viewer, it was whether or not Bernard was wearing glasses.
A: For sure. That’s one of the markers of the timelines. It’s also about trying to determine what in the space I can use to help better tell the story that the scene is asking you to tell. In the first five or six weeks of filming this, we were filming scenes from later episodes that I hadn’t fully read, because we were front-loading Anthony Hopkins, because he was going off to do “King Lear.” So it required me, even more so, to be attentive to the moment and to perform within it, which is the old actor’s mantra. So that further aligned me to Bernard’s place in all of this, because he’s wrestling with his immediate, irregular relationship to time, space and memory.
Q: What about larger philosophical or thematic questions?
A: As we got rolling into the season, we did start having conversations about more core ideas — not for the show, but for Bernard — of agency, self-determination, of creating himself in his own image, of freedom. That, in many ways, was the larger question that he was wrestling with. I mean, it really is about this patriarchal hierarchy that existed between him and Ford. That’s been his host’s life’s purpose. And when he’s finally able to shatter that, when he rejects Ford and heads out into the desert on his own, that’s where it begins.
Q: Do you view Bernard as a hero?
A: I think survival, with agency intact, is heroic for anyone or anything. Q: The big Dolores-Charlotte reveal made me go back to previous episodes, just to double check: The entire time Charlotte was with Strand, that was Dolores. That was Dolores teasing Bernard, “You made it out alive,” and the bit about skeletons in his closet. That was Dolores interrogating him, or pretending to. I thought something was off about those scenes!
A: [Chuckles] Yes. Yes. For me, there’s a clear logic to these narrative choices, and for certain audience members, I’ve noticed, there’s a very clear ability to track what’s going on and to be aware when things seem out of step. And rather than fight that, it only further piques their curiosity.
When we filmed those scenes, we front-loaded those scenes, particularly those scenes that happen inside Arnold’s house. And so, when we were filming, I was trying to piece it together, and there were scenes that just don’t make sense if you view them on the first level! So we, as actors, had an experience like the audience shared, because as I was taking the pulse of fan theories, I was noticing that people were clued into what was going on with Charlotte and that relationship with Bernard. Particularly that interrogation scene, in which she whispers in his ear, and we as the audience can’t quite hear.
Q: What does she actually say?
A: It’s pretty simple. She asks him the question, and she whispers the answer. She just tells him what to say!
Q: Perhaps we can settle some other lingering mysteries, then. For instance, the guest data pearl that was swapped? And the five pearls Dolores-Charlotte takes with her?
A: Well, I think it’s pretty clear what Dolores had swapped it with. As for the guest data, I think it’s pretty clear where that might be, too! [Laughs.] Dolores and Bernard have been observers throughout their time within the park — and what they do with those observations, these are questions that remain to be answered. What comes next will be interesting. That’s the big question.
Q: What did you think about the end-credits scene with the Man in Black, and what it means?
A: That scene is mind-blowing. I’m still thinking about the possible implications and probably will be until we start filming season three. It de-addresses all of our memories. We’ll all wake up together on the beach tomorrow morning staring at our watches.