Part of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s m.o. with HBO’s Westworld is breaking archetypes, especially when it comes to redefining the roles of females in westerns, i.e. the pioneer girl or the call girl. With each season, Thandie Newton has increasingly become a force in breaking the mold. Her Maeve Millay, once a madame who entranced guests at the cowboy park, has transformed into a samurai-turned-freedom fighter who has thrashed against her calculating, greedy Delos Corp masters and continued to crusade against them in the real world in season 3.
Originally tasked by season 3’s new villain, the French Serac (Vincent Cassel), who is looking to take over Delos, Maeve is sent on an assassin mission to take out her robot pal Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who is looking to free the entire world from Serac and the control of his supercomputer Rehoboam.
Maeve winds up becoming more ally than foe, despite doing major damage to Dolores in the penultimate episode. We spoke with Newton immediately following the May season 3 finale about Maeve’s arc in season 3, and what’s to come in season 4, as well as her role in Joy’s upcoming Warner Bros. sci-fi movie Reminiscence, which is currently in post production. As Maeve, Newton won a supporting actress drama Emmy last year (she’s been nominated twice), and has clocked two Golden Globe supporting actress noms for the part.
I hope you’ve been doing well during this time.
I am. We’re all okay, we’re all okay. It was pretty crazy. I was in Montana shooting a movie and had to get back within 24 hours before the lockdown in the states, so that was crazy.
After saving the world with Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul) at the end of season 3, what’s next for Maeve? Do you think she’s going after her daughter, who she left behind in the Valley Beyond? Is she partnering up with Caleb to keep the free world going?
Thandie Newton: That is interesting because we haven’t committed to anything. I mean, we had Dolores, who was on a mission to destroy humanity during season 2, and that purpose we know motivated a huge amount of what Maeve was doing in season 2, which is to get her kid into the Valley Beyond before Dolores left everything.
So her motivation has been keyed into Dolores. So, when we arrived in season 3. Maeve has no interest in being animated in any way. She doesn’t want to be alive in robot-form or any other form, because her whole life is a construct based on others’ pleasures or addictions or whatever. She doesn’t want to be a part of it. The most powerful thing she can do is to remove herself, and I loooove that. It’s like that scene in Crash where the character that I play said, ‘No, you’re not going to save my life.’ It’s, in fact, the power is…well, three seasons, like Maeve’s entire arc.
So for her to be pulled back into the web of human, you know, sucker-y is not something that she’s interested in. The only thing that kept her there was the threat to the people that she had successfully managed to liberate in the Valley Beyond. But even that was…it was hard for her to really know whether Serac had the key. Even at the end of season three, we don’t know who has the key to that domain.
So I think you know, that is still open as an idea, a scene…well, not scene but, you know, a reason. I mean, basically I feel like this as a performer to a degree is that Maeve needs to have a reason to be doing anything, otherwise she’s coasting. She’s bored, she’s not putting her heart into it. And Maeve’s cool when she’s not putting her heart into things because it gives her this kind of superiority, which I think people really do love, because she’s got nothing to lose, right?
So I’d love to see…I would love to see Maeve with more intent on what she’s doing, with more purpose. I think that it’s not just that I want to be the character, I think that she defines and represents an entire…she personifies freedom, you know? A freedom that has yet to be truly understood. We’ve had this, you know, this crazy new world mapped out for us with this current season, where the best way to harness the energy of the world and keep humanity safe is to give everyone a role and a purpose, and keep everyone satisfied. But the only way to do that is to imprison or suffocate the outliers, which I thought was such an interesting premise, and I think we’re going to see more of whatever that means. Who these outliers are, I don’t think it’s what outliers represent. Are they the connection to the unknown, the spiritual world? Because that’s not something that Westworld has ever dealt with, which is the spiritual, you know, so it’s very much, but it’s either…the spiritual in Westworld are the robots.
But it’s still harnessed in a human perception of what that is. For me, Westworld, one of the things I actually love about the show is that I feel like the robots, the AI are metaphors for the dispossessed, the forgotten.
I mean, look at it right now, with what’s happening in the world: it’s this focus on the true champions within humanity, which are the people that work hard and are not there for greed, are not even entitled to anything that greed can bring, right?
And I think we’re looking at that. We’re looking at how power can corrupt. I really dig those metaphors. Who’s that goddess that has the scales? Themes. We’re going to be looking at gray hat more than black hat, white hat. Now it’s going to be the third eye, maybe it’ll be the third eye.
Does Maeve have a greater sense about the data at Delos? She’s been able to mess with the simulation earlier on in the season. Is there a whole other side of her head that knows there’s chaos going on at the company?
Newton: Yeah, I do think that she knows that stuff. I think she has a very strong sense of all of that, but it just doesn’t matter to her, whether Delos is over, Westworld over, or the hosts gone. The only thing that mattered really was Hector, that relationship, and that’s been crushed. But even that’s not really a surprise, it’s just like it’s something she has to tolerate. I mean, it’s interesting. I think Hale is a very interesting character this season. She kind of takes us all the way back to the beginning when she becomes Dolores, and she’s like ‘Why did they just take our emotions away?’ As she’s changing and being seduced by emotion, she’s aware of it. It’s that awareness. It’s what I love about the robots, the AI, is that they have awareness of what’s…well, not all of them, but when they become conscious, as they start to break down, they have this awareness, and they’re able to comment on their consciousness, which I think is just a very nice way of pointing it back to us as people to say, ‘You have the ability to be aware about the decisions that you make. Don’t think that the decisions that you make are automatic or that they’re coming from your deepest heart.’
You know, we’ve all been influenced, we’ve all been manipulated, and I do think that Westworld is –Jonah (Nolan) will continually say that it’s entertainment– but I think that just knowing them as I do as well, it’s just we need to check in with whether or not the things that we believe, think, fight for are things that we genuinely believe or have we been manipulated into this place?
I do think that they’re (gadgets) trying to sort of sever us from this potential future where everyone is just wonderfied. It’s what we’ve been talking about with brave new worlds, you know? It’s like we’re going to become obsessed with the things that we built and they’re going to end up, because we’re lazy. We’re going to become lazier and lazier and lazier. I mean, honestly, the kind of gadgets that you can get to peel a fucking potato? It’s like can we not peel a f***ing potato? Can we not wash fucking dishes?
And literally in this whole COVID awfulness, we’ve been here, I’ve been cleaning like a demon every day. It took me a week or longer, a month before I realized that I was a better dish washer than the dishwasher. You know, but that sucks. It’s like I’m in this constant battle with the dishwasher where I’ll look at the shit coming out and the f***ing crap on my cutlery and be like I didn’t pay you to do that, you know what I mean? We’re basically asking to have a deficient caretaker if we’re going to hand over so much of what we need, scenery.
How do Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan prep you before a season? Do they let you know Maeve’s entire arc before a season, or rather episode by episode?
Newton: Well, so Lisa, myself, probably for Evan, too, because we talk to each other and Tessa, they let me know what I ask and for me it’s what’s you said, ‘the arc’, the main artery of what I’m going to be doing, and then some greatest hits in there as well. Things to make me kind of go, ‘Ohh, thanks.’ But at the beginning of the season, not all the episodes have been finished. I mean, only the first couple when we start are finished, and I don’t want to put pressure on them to tell me stuff because it will change and I don’t really want to have to commit.
The one time — and I really learned this from season 2, because I was speaking Japanese, there was a need to know ahead of time because there was a lot of dialogue in Japanese. So, we pressured them, but only because it really was necessary. I did my due diligence, I learned my Japanese, it was really cool.
But as is the way with all of these things, that dialogue changed because things change and because they want to keep making it better and better and better and they’re making it better and better until the day before we shoot. As a result, I had to change my Japanese and this gave me more work to do. I don’t mind working hard but when it’s something like that which is really about excellence, I needed to try and make it as good as I could possibly make it, to make it believable. Maeve as a host, in her position she should speak fluent Japanese. So I actually gave myself more work. That in a nutshell speaks volumes about every kind of; all the arcs in the show.
If we pressed them to tell us ahead of time too much, we end up preparing stuff that will change and it’s not worth it. We’re good actors, we act on our feet, and we know our characters. One of the great things about long-form TV is you come to know your characters really well, so you can be more spontaneous, you can do things with very little preparation. Someone like Anthony Hopkins, that’s not how you would treat Anthony. He’s an older man. But for us, the other actors, there are no stories of any of us getting pissed because things changed. It is part of what makes the show great, is that it’s a movable feast.
Will Charlotte and Maeve clash or cross paths in season 4?
Newton: Oh, there’s definitely something going on there. Definitely. I mean I say definitely but I’m just a fan, like try to imagine. But yeah, I mean, Hale, is fascinating to me now, as an extension of Dolores. I mean, it’s really interesting, isn’t it? It’s like the apple falling far from the tree and all that. It is really interesting that Dolores has spawned these children basically because they very quickly separate themselves from her. I mean, I loved that evolution and they start with Hale just so distraught and clinging to her creator, Dolores, and by the end she wants to destroy her creator. It’s an interesting trajectory. So yeah, I’m fascinated in how Maeve will, if she plays into that.
And you know, Maeve’s relationship with Caleb, that’s interesting, too, because we’ve had very little of that. I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as Caleb just continues the work that Dolores is doing. Although why has Dolores put him in that position? Is she really that interested in humanity having a leader? Why? Is it just an experiment for her? Step out to pop up to a whole other planet and start doing shit over there? I just think it’s worlds within worlds. So, I’m talking to Lisa in general at the very, very beginning, all those years ago, they have stuck to their initial plan of where this is going. In fact, they’ve been able to continue that, and I know that because there are times when we think, God, that character isn’t back and oh, my God, why would they get rid of that? And it’s because they are so connected to what their intention was in the beginning. They’re not swayed by audience appeal or fandom or any of that. They want to tell a story that they imagined a long time ago and they’re going to stick to it, and I love that.
So, Reminiscence, Lisa Joy’s sci-fi movie; that’s all complete?
Newton: It’s so good. Yes! Clever Lisa. Oh, my gosh, she’s such a good director. It was really such a pleasure. Hugh Jackman is the nicest man in the world, such a lovely person, and it was a real…to be on a set where they were literally innovating new technology in front of our eyes. This isn’t like stuff that they did like afterwards in CGI, we were literally working with the technology on set. I can’t really say any more than that.
Normally CGI’s always put on afterwards so there’s always a disconnect, even though we try really, really hard. But this time we were actually interacting with…it was so wild. It’s beautiful, beautiful and I think that’s going to bring a kind of depth of feeling and substance that is new. I felt like there was never going to be another moment like that, to be around something so new. And also, literally we’d be on set not knowing if it was going to work because it was like the first time ever. It was great being in New Orleans. It’s futuristic, imagining the future which you know, especially nowadays with what we’ve all been experiencing for the last few months, it’s preoccupation with the future. It makes sense to me now in a way that it really didn’t, sci-fi and everything. I was thinking to myself the other day, I thought shit, man, I was doing Mission: Impossible 2 (in 2000) and that was about a virus in the states! My character injected it to try and keep it away from being taken by you know, the baddies, and at the time it was just such an alien concept. But I was thinking about it, like, shit man, it’s real now. That’s something so outlandish.
And then God’s Country…you had to shut down…
Newton: Oh my God, it’s the best script. Oh, God, I just f***ing love that project. We had to shut down two weeks before the end. It was painful, painful because it’s a really…it takes a lot. It’s a little movie but God, it’s so good. So yeah, the idea is to finish it when we can. At the time I was miserable ending it because we were just on a roll. It was so positive and I don’t want to make it with any other crew or and then as soon as you break down, you have no idea what to come back to. You don’t know where it’s going to be or with who. Both the writers and the director are really talented [Julian Higgins director and co-writer; Shaye Ogbonna co-writer). And it’s actually quite nice to have a big gap because they’ll come back with even more energy and enthusiasm. I went from Westworld to Reminiscence, straight into God’s Country. I’ve never done that before. I was pretty shattered. We do what we have to, don’t we, babe? When we love something we just got to find the energy.
And during COVID-19, how have you occupied your days?
Newton: I’m trying to help medical professionals get the protective clothing they require. It’s really big and every day that’s what I’ve been doing, so my day job has changed, but it’s a privilege to be able to help people on the front lines who are working so hard and putting themselves at great risk. I just want to try and help reduce that risk. That’s my latest project. I don’t think the need for that is ever going to go away. What we do now is going to help future generations not be in such dire straits as a lot of people find themselves right now.