Evan Rachel Wood on how Anthony Hopkins blew her away but her 'Westworld' character changed her life

By Ashley Jude Collie

Evan Rachel Wood has been wowing audiences since her Golden Globe-nominated turn as good girl-gone-bad in Thirteen, but it's her life-changing role as A.I. "damsel in distress" Dolores on HBO's new series Westworld (premieres Oct. 2) that has the 29-year-old raving. Set in a futuristic theme park, Evan says that despite the fact that the series is science fiction, “it’s also very much science reality because everything is based on very real technologies that engineers and scientists are developing today.”

With a strong cast of co-stars that includes Thandie Newton, Ed Harris and James Marsden, the mom of one tells us what it’s like to work with Anthony Hopkins, strong female characters and why Dolores is the best role she’s ever played.

Evan Rachel Wood stars in HBO's new series Westworld. Photo: © PA

What was your initial take on Westworld's highly realistic A.I. world and it's human-like robots? To be honest, I was a little scared about the concept. I’m thinking that if they’re like Terminator-type creatures stomping around, creating mass destruction, then that really sucks [laughs]. I mean, I was thinking, 'What if they do take over and we become obsolete, what’s going to happen to concepts like art and even love?'

So you sought out some experts to try and calm your fears? I did. I spoke to some futurists and they were saying that they’re going to be modelled after us, and have all these things, like art and design, but they’re going to go so much farther than we could imagine. They’re thinking that the world will actually be better - that it’s 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.

What were the challenges for you as actor playing a non-human? It was so fun but also so challenging, and as an actor it’s like acting Olympics. I spoke a lot to creator Jonah Nolan about this: Do I squint in the sun, do I breathe, do I need to sweat? What’s going on and how am I processing things because the more you learn about what they’re capable of, the more as an actor you have to think about what you’re doing and processing. And, it turned into a ballet of energetic shifts, which is just great material for an actor.

Evan co-stars with actor James Marsden. Photo: © Bell Media

But Dolores isn't just the innocent prairie girl? She’s like a ball of sunshine, I feel for her. But in spite of the things they do to her, 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. I’m so excited to be on her journey because she’s my favourite character I’ve ever played. Playing her has changed my life.

What was it like working with Sir Anthony Hopkins? Like a dream come true. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. You know he’s a genius, but when he’s doing it front of you and with you, it’s like a great band you’ve heard of and you just have to see them live to really appreciate. He took my breath away, literally. And he’s so good in his role as the park’s creative director.

Tell us one moment you had with him? Okay, I swear this is true, but before the first scene we did together, the first thing he said to me, and he did it in that accent, was “Hello, Dolores!” And I almost had a heart attack. Because we all know that Hannibal voice with him saying, “Hello, Clarice!” And, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is where my life has led me.’ He was amazing and it was an honour.

Evan says playing Dolores was a life-changing role. Photo: © Bell Media

How did you get on with Emmy and Golden Globe winners like Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright? I’m just blown away, working with Ed, Anthony, and Jeffrey, and the entire cast. But especially those guys, it was a dream come true. Here’s something funny. During one take with Jeffrey Wright’s character, I had to be in this almost hypnotic state, and I almost fell asleep for a few moments. And Jeffrey was checking to make sure I was there in the scene. And my eyes flutter awake. [laughs] ‘No, I’m here!’

Thandie Newton is a firecracker of a spirit, how was it working with her? I love Thandie. Both of us are mothers, and I think we’re naturally drawn to strong characters, which both of our roles have to be because of what we’ve been put through. But we were so happy that the women on the show are on an equal playing field. These are revolutionary roles for women embedded in the series. And generally what we’re doing with the female characters is pretty incredible.

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