There were lots of laughs, quite a few curse words (thanks, Thandie Newton) and a white-hot secret preview of HBO’s “Westworld,” Season Two, but like the enigmatic show itself, Saturday afternoon’s creator/cast presentation at South by Southwest felt like a lot of beautiful, intriguing pieces that didn’t fit together in any way you could expect or that made much sense. At least until billionaire Elon Musk showed up at the end (more on that in a bit).
It certainly wasn’t for lack of love from the audience. A nearly full Ballroom D at the Austin Convention Center hosted show creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy as well as actors Evan Rachel Wood, Newton, Jeffrey Wright and James Marsden, who all got huge love from the crowd (particularly Newton when she first appeared).
As moderated by Wired’s Jason Tanz, the panel opened strong with an exclusive clip previewing Season Two (which starts April 22) that drew a wild reaction, particularly a parting shot featuring a Shogun world and Newton in warrior garb. The creators asked attendees not to shoot or share the clips, which they promised were not available anywhere else yet.
But the panel started drifting off track when the actors all admitted that despite their love of the show and excitement for whatever’s coming, they have no idea what’s happening in the story from episode to episode and are sometimes angry at plot turns they don’t see coming.
“I have never wanted that little control in my life. It’s the dopest shit,” said Newton, who drew laughs every time she let out expletives in her British accent. She also got a big reaction by making an unprintable sexual suggestion about Marsden (which Wright concurred with), and with random fan-style excitement about “Westworld” itself. “My butt was clenched the whole time!” she said after watching the preview clips.
Nolan and Joy said that the writers have tried to create a stronger blueprint for the show going forward, as the movie it’s based on didn’t provide much guidance beyond the initial idea of robots at a western theme park. And Wood said she’s drawn strength from her character Dolores. “She’s become this beacon for me of this strength I didn’t know I had,” Wood said.
But because the show is so layered in secrecy, there was very little revealed about where the story is going or how far beyond the locations of the first season it will go.
And just when it seemed the panel would wind down into a typical celebrity fest with everyone praising each other for how fun it is to work together, the subject of female empowerment came up and Newton launched into a lengthy and horrifying recounting of the charity work she’s done with V-Day. The subject turned to women in countries who are raped in front of their families and the cycle of violence that’s perpetuated when their sons are drugged and converted into warriors seeking to avenge those crimes.
It was a jarring shift in tone made much worse when Tanz, grasping for a topic change, asked next about the show’s soundtrack. He recovered enough to return to Newton for his next question, asking how people can help the charity. She seemed just as flustered and floored to be asked that and was only able to point to the V-Day website.
There was more about the TV show after that, but it ended up feeling like a prelude to an appearance by Tesla/Space-X founder Elon Musk, who worked with Nolan and Joy on a short film about the Falcon space project.
The very impressive video drew an even bigger reaction than the “Westworld” cast, especially after Musk gave an emotional short talk about mankind’s future off of Earth.
It was an inspiring end to what turned out to be a really weird SXSW panel. But, very likely, not as weird as “Westworld” Season Two will be.
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