The North Carolina native came to our attention 13 years ago for her Golden Globe-nominated turn in the controversial Thirteen. Since then she’s played everything from Mickey Rourke’s estranged daughter in The Wrestler to a Vampire Queen in True Blood to a post-apocalyptic survivalist in Into the Forest.
At the same time, she’s had a plethora of hairstyles and looks—from goth to pinup to rocker—and relationships with everyone from Marilyn Manson to Brit actor James Bell to L Word star Katherine Moennig.
Now she’s back in HBO’s ambitious new sci-fi/western series Westworld (Sundays at 9/8c), an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel and his terrifying 1973 film about a futuristic theme park gone amok.
With the series premiering this weekend, we asked her about playing a complex humanoid/prairie innocent named Dolores, a bunch of heavy A.I.-related stuff and which actor made her cry on set. Hint: The dude won an Oscar.
“If you were put in a place like Westworld, what would you do? I would like to think that I would not be violent or seek vengeance, and not play that game. But who knows? I don’t.”
Much like Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Westworld focuses on a theme park, but here moneyed “guests” get their whims catered to by artificial “hosts” like Dolores…
The show is science fiction but also very much science reality because everything is being based on real technologies that scientists are working on right now. Think of environments changing themselves and adapting to what we want. But, at the simple level in Westworld, a guest can visit the brothel, you can get a girl or guy—because there are no rules. And, yes, it is the Wild West. But it’s also not.
How is it not the Wild West?
It’s a recreation of the Wild West, but it isn’t the Wild West. Why would a woman want to go back to the Wild West as we know it? But Westworld is different, as you can be whomever you want. So if you want to be a gunfighter or the woman in the saloon wearing the corset, or a woman who is a gunslinger, you can. You can break all of the old rules and traditional roles. You can tie a dude to the train tracks if you want because everything is turned on its head.
Why do you feel “guests” want to play villainous roles at this theme park?
Westworld is a game and such a deep look at all our inner demons and what lives in all of us—and what it brings out of you. I love the show because it asks, Why? Why is this entertainment? Why is it more fun to play the villain? Why is doing the nice stuff boring? And that’s really what we’re exploring.
Would you personally go visit a place like Westworld, which seems very male-oriented?
I would be arrogant and lying if I said that part that villainous element isn’t in everyone in some way. Does that mean we’re broken as a species? Because no matter who you are, there is something there in you that everyone has. And if you were put in a place like Westworld, what would you do? I would like to think that I would not be violent or seek vengeance, and not play that game. But who knows? I don’t.
Creator Jonathan Nolan says what intrigued him was seeing Westworld through the A.I.’s eyes. What horizons does that push?
One of the show’s themes is, If these machines are modeled after humans, what if one day they did develop some sort of consciousness, and then looked at humans: Would they still want to be modeled after them, what would that mean for humanity, and what would they do with that kind of power?