Last Saturday at the Pollock Theater the Carsey-Wolf Center hosted another Script to Screen event for the sci-fi western television series “Westworld.” After screening episodes 5 and 6 of this show there was a Q&A with the episodes’ director: UCSB alumnus Fred Toye.
For those unfamiliar with the show, “Westworld” takes place in a not-so-distant future where people can visit a realistic theme park filled with human-looking robots called “hosts.” In this park, visitors are immersed into the world of the Wild West and are given the opportunity to play out storylines as law-abiding cowboys or rule-breaking criminals. The show focuses on the hosts as they struggle with their identity and on several humans as they struggle with controlling the hosts. It’s an exciting series that brought about an interesting discussion from the director, so as a warning, this article will contain some spoilers.
As a casual fan of the show, it was interesting to go back to episodes five (“Contrapasso”) and six (“The Adversary”) and see all the foreshadowing of future plot twists. It was especially interesting to watch a television show on a large screen with surround sound speakers and a sizeable audience. It was also great to learn about the behind-the-scenes work that went into developing the show.
Toye primarily discussed the process of filming these episodes from the point of view of a director. He described the technical aspects of filming, ranging from planning out big action sequences to staging smaller, more intimate scenes.
He mentioned that he often ran out of time when filming episodes, so a lot of scenes could either not be shot or only be filmed in one take. One of the most important scenes, involving one of the major plot twists of the show, had to be filmed in one take with no cuts. In this scene, one of the characters thought to be human is actually revealed to be a host. In one shot, the camera had to follow the character as he walkex passed an empty wall, then pan back to the wall to reveal that there was actually a door leading to the truth of this character’s identity. Toye could have easily ruined that moment with a bad take, but it’s now one of the series’s most memorable scenes, leading up to one of its the most shocking plot twists.
Toye also described what it was like to work with the show’s talented actors. He spoke highly of all of them, emphasizing their commitment and strong preparation for their roles.
Thandie Newton plays one of my personal favorite characters, Maeve, a host who has started to question her reality. Her role is arguably one of the most difficult, considering the complexity of her character and the number of nude scenes she’s in. However, Toye said that Newton “could not have been more prepared and excited to play the role.” That clearly shone through in her performance.
Jeffrey Wright also gives a great performance as Bernard, the Westworld’s head engineer. As mentioned above, the sixth episode includes a mind-bending revelation about Bernard. According to Toye, Wright is a great actor who is very open to direction. During the big revelation, Bernard “turns off” or immediately freezes, which was a mannerism Wright worked hard to develop. Toye mentioned that some of the greatest actors will “rehearse right in front of you,” which was what Wright did when figuring out how to approach the big reveal for his character.
Most notably, Anthony Hopkins plays the character Robert Ford, the co-creator of the hosts and co-founder of the Westworld park. Ford is also a very complex character, with unknown intentions and gray morals, and Hopkins does an excellent job bringing the character to life. Toye described Hopkins’s acting process, which involved a lot of thinking, rehearsing, and collaborating. He stated that Hopkins’ main concern was that “he didn’t want to look like Hannibal Lecter,” but with time and thought, Hopkins managed to make Ford a unique and memorable character.
Aside from talking about the show, Toye also spoke about his path toward becoming a director. After graduating from the film and media studies program at UCSB, Toye became a production assistant and then a film editor for nearly a decade.
Eventually, he ended up working as an editor for JJ Abram’s show “Alias.” After working on this show for a few seasons, he became a co-producer and director for several episodes. Currently, Toye is an executive producer and director for the show “Designated Survivor.” It’s unclear whether or not he’ll continue working on “Westworld,” but he seems more than willing to still be a part of the series.