Roundtable Interview with Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan

Westworld took audiences by surprise when it debuted in 2016 and quickly become HBO’s most watched freshman series ever. With twists and turns that constantly leave viewers on the edge of their seats, this dark odyssey is essentially about the evolution of sin and the dawn of artificial consciousness. It is set to return to HBO April 22nd for what I’m sure will be an outstanding ten-episode season two.

In a roundtable-style interview, Angela Sarafyan sat with myself and four other journalists and gave us the scoop for next season, as well as an inside look on what makes her character Clementine really work.

Did it feel different going into this season actually knowing the show you’re making as opposed to not knowing, as you did at the beginning of last season?

You know what’s weird? I guess, yes, because in the sense that before it was all in your imagination and now you can see what it looks like. To be received so well was such a wonderful thing, but actually I had no idea what season 2 was going to look like [either], so the mystery continued… I had no idea where the characters go and what would happen. It wasn’t what I expected. It really wasn’t. I haven’t even seen episode one yet, so I can’t wait to see it. They sent it to me, I just chose not to see it. I want to experience it with everyone else. I think there is something cathartic in that, where everybody in the world is watching it, you’re watching it,  and you’re like, “Shit, is that what I look like? Is that what happened?” Then you kind of live through it [again] every week.

Do you follow along in real-time with some of the fans that are tweeting about it?

Like reading what they write? Yes! I love seeing it, like on Reddit–I mean the thing with the posters and how they saw every single detail. Like when they found the code and then that went to [the other world]. It was just so funny. I remember Jonah (Jonathan Nolan) was talking about how he wants people on Reddit to write season three and he’ll just produce.

So, you got to be a part of that little gag they did for Reddit?

Oh yeah! The Rick rolls. It was really fun. Jonah was like, “Can you learn to play this?” He told me the night before. I was like, “Sure!” Then I just practiced, because I [already] play the piano, so it was just a matter of getting the notes and that’s why you see me like [extremely focused]. I was really focused because I didn’t have time to prepare it so I was like, “Come on, don’t make mistakes now Angela.”

What was the vibe on shooting season two as compared to season one?

It’s just a matter of creating relationships, like my relationship with Maeve is love; it’s just friendship and the person you trust. Having that to base season two on was kind of like… if you’ve loved someone, you’re connected to them always. I loved having that and being in the Mariposa in all of season one and Sweetwater and the relationships there. I didn’t see where season two would go but the [vibe on set] was like a family. We felt like family and it was just nice to see everyone, because I like the people I work with, so I feel so grateful every day that I get to work with them. It just felt good. Even if we had to wake up at 3am and drive an hour out. I’d wake up sometimes — my call time was at 3 so I’d wake up at 2 — and drive to the desert and I would just be so happy to see everyone, because they’re good people. I think that comes from… I’ve said this before, but Jonah and Lisa (Joy) are so humble and so kind and brilliant, it’s just a rare combination. Everybody under them kind of reflects that, I think.

Where does Clementine’s story start in season 2?

Maybe you might see some things in season two that might reflect a little bit of that freedom [that you see at the end of season one]. In episode one, I don’t even know if I can talk about it.

There’s still a lot of mystery to the show. I guess if you look at a show like Lost, where it went on a lot of seasons without really revealing anything, do you feel like now, after seeing a bunch of season two scripts, slowly more stuff is starting to be revealed as season two goes on?

Yeah, I would definitely say that, and I would also say that more questions come up with it. I think that how Jeffrey Wright described season one as a “kitchen sink drama,” I concur, because season two kind of just… I don’t know how to explain how unexpected some of those things are that happen. I needed explanations from Jonah, literally talking in between [scenes] trying to understand with Lisa like, “What does that mean?” It’s kind of [beyond] anything you can imagine.

When you have questions on set do you feel like you get them answered?

I think so. I think what they do is a kind of interesting way of directing — where usually you get all of this information and you’re kind of thinking about it and basing everything off of it — in this case, they almost direct by not telling you everything, so whatever information you have you start to create with that. I love that, because then you don’t realize that you have just the right amount to make this episode real, which will then inform the next and the next. There’s something liberating about that, because I trust them and I think that they won’t steer us wrong. They have a clear vision. I think they’re so creative that even they themselves get surprised like, “Oh, maybe we can do this!” In the moment, they’ll think of something and I think that’s what’s exciting.

What would you say, as an actress, is the hardest part about doing a show like this?

I would say it’s not hard for me at all. I had such a great time. I know it was really hard for the crew, like they worked crazy hours. I think it’s an impossible thing to shoot 10 movies in a short time and they were able to accomplish that in a very successful way. For me, it was just pure joy to go to set and to see everyone and to work and to be in her clothes and to daydream about Clementine and her world. I just… I loved it. It’s like a fantasy world you get to live in for hours. Sometimes it can be hard on you, but I think when you do what you love you’re actually fed more than you’re tortured by it.

I know you can’t spoil much, but what can you give us about Clementine’s role now that she’s been removed from the Mariposa?

With where things end in season one, I think what was great about this season was that I got to play other parts of her and kind of discover all of the facets of Clementine. I think you’ll get to see that she’s not just defined by being a saloon girl, she’s more than that. I remember my acting teacher, he would say, “These Shakespearean characters, they can be scholars, even if they’re 16.” I think that kind of stands for the things that maybe Juliet says that are very scholarly and yet she’s a 16-year-old girl in love with a man she can’t have. I think some of these characters have that similarity, in that there’s much more than just that.

Were you able to bring in some of your own ideas for your character in this season as opposed to last season?

I think both. I think I was able to, because they give you the freedom to play. I was able to do that both last season and this [one]. Because some of the things that I get to do this season aren’t defined yet, you use a bit more of your imagination, you have some freedom.

That’s where we’re at in the world. We’re at a place where we are with art and with filmmaking and with fighting and marching for our rights and fighting for a better world.

What do you think this show has to say about the world we live in today?

I think even in season one it was a real reflection of where we’re going in the world and society with technology and artificial intelligence. I was watching a panel with Elon Musk and he was talking a little bit about that and he said something wonderful–he was talking about inspiration and he was saying that when they flew the rocket out of earth, and landed it to show that rockets can be reused, and that possible life can go to Mars or even around the globe, and the idea of living to progress in a good way.

I find that Westworld shows themes that are violent, and show humanity’s side of destruction, but at the same time there’s this drive to grow and to find your voice. I think with Clementine, specifically, I found that in season one. I found her as a woman finding her strength, even though she was set-up in that laboratory. I think she literally fought back, and with what’s happening with the Women’s March and this unity with women, I find that very moving, because it’s for the women who can’t walk. It’s for the women who are still in what could be domestic violence or abuse emotionally. And for men and women both, because I don’t think it’s just women getting oppressed, even though it’s well known it’s that way. But I think bullying goes both ways, and I think it’s for them; those marches. I think the show, in a strange way, has women as the leading characters, women are the heroes, we’re the ones starting a revolution. I think that, with that diversity intact and with also our cast and everyone that works on that show, there is a growth.

Season two continues that same conversation but even further. That’s why I love to do the show. I remember, again back to my acting teacher, he would talk about Clifford Odets and he said something about doing Waiting for Lefty. At the end of that play, because it was during the oppression era, everyone that was in the audience stood up and said, “Strike!” with the actors on stage. I think that’s where we’re at in the world. We’re at a place where we are with art and with filmmaking and with fighting and marching for our rights and fighting for a better world.

How does Maeve and Clementine’s profession factor into their feminism?

It’s interesting, because in that time actually being a prostitute was a woman who works. She had a higher rank, it wasn’t looked down upon. If you watch “Once Upon a Time in the West,” that’s who she is. They’re building, they are leaders. I looked at it from that point of view. I thought being a feminist doesn’t mean hiding your femininity. Actually it means really taking that space and saying, “Yes, I’ve got curves. I’ve got boobs and an ass and I like it.” It’s saying, “I will enjoy what is given to me and there’s nothing wrong with that.” When I was 15, for example, I remember my body started changing and I was walking down the street and some guy honked and whistled. That was my first experience [recognizing my feminism]. I remember turning around and yelling, “I’m fifteen!” and I just kept walking. I thought that would make you close off, and Maeve and Clementine tell you to celebrate it. I found that in season one.

Now we’ve found our freedom and let’s see what we can do with it

If the first season was more of a coming-of-age for them, this season is more like an “I’m here, I’m going to go forward?”

It’s more of a “Now we’ve found our freedom and let’s see what we can do with it.” You can quote me [on that] *laughs*

Did you watch the original movie?

Of course. I remember I watched it before my audition. I watched it, I read the book, I started looking at AI. I was looking at the behavior and the things they were doing, it was crazy. I remember thinking, “How do I make that look real?”

Do you feel like being a part of a show like this has changed your approach to acting?

Yes, I’ve not only changed as an actor but as a person. I felt very fortunate, because I was able to use Clementine to live out some dreams that I’ve had. She’s a very strong character in her vulnerability, and I got to explore that. I think that I found that when you find the right filmmakers they know they won’t steer you wrong. It’s made me a stronger actor knowing that I can trust them. I’ve had a few experiences like that and this is definitely one of them.

Do you have any favorite Reddit theories that didn’t pan out?

I had a funny experience. Terry George, who did Hotel Rwanda, he saw episode one and I happened to meet him and he said, “Bernard’s a host” and I said “What?! No, he’s not!” and he just insisted that he was and I couldn’t ask him how he knew, so I was just like “No, you’re wrong.” Jeffrey (Wright) didn’t even know he was a host in episode one of season one, but Terry did. I thought, “There are so many brilliant minds that can see things before we can even see them as actors.” Writers are very different minds and I feel like some of the people on Reddit are the same way. They’re like detectives.

What’s your relationship like with the rest of the cast?

A lot of people fly in from Norway, so when we’re together it’s kind of like you hold those moments and then they’re gone. But every time we’ve met with the rest of the cast, it’s really nice and it’s so loving. We care about each other as people, as well. It’s all very positive and good vibes.

Make sure you check out Angela as Clementine on the Westworld season two premiere, which airs on HBO April 22nd! You can follow Angela on Twitter and Instagram.

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