Comic-Con 2019: ‘Westworld’ stars explain how they keep track of the series’ twists

"Westworld" stars Jeffrey Wright, left, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Tessa Thompson and Aaron Paul.
“Westworld” stars Jeffrey Wright, left, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Tessa Thompson and Aaron Paul.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Jeffrey Wright once kept a spreadsheet. Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson bartered for details over dinner. Evan Rachel Wood pumped Aaron Paul for information.

Yes, the stars of “Westworld” are sometimes as confused by HBO’s intricate sci-fi western as you are.

“It’s like playing a game of Clue,” said Wood, who plays Dolores, an A.I. “host”-turned-revolutionary at the titular theme park, when the cast of the series dropped by the Los Angeles Times studio at Comic-Con on Saturday morning. As Newton added, each performer is “primed” differently for filming by showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy — and so understands only a particular piece of the puzzle.

“I didn’t know if she was not telling me, or if she genuinely didn’t know,” said Newton, who plays former Westworld madam Maeve Millay, of her dinner with Thompson. “I think every day, I come up to Aaron on set and go, “OK, but seriously, what’s your story?’ ” Wood chimed in.

Another important clue? Variations in the characters’ wardrobes, which indicate not only plot developments, but also shifts between the series’ multiple timelines.

“Oh, so these shoes are for the time after I go to — oh, right! And then I meet up with — yes!” said Wright, who plays Bernard, the protégé of the park’s founder, mimicking a conversation with the costume department. The trick, as Wood pointed out, is to pretend to wardrobe that you know more than you do, and let them fill in the blanks. Or employ Thompson’s strategy: Ask innocent questions.

“That blazer’s from which timeline?” said the actress, who plays Charlotte Hale, executive director for the theme park’s corporate owner.

Though the cast may laugh about establishing a dedicated Slack channel for sharing juicy morsels from the plot, they’re confident enough in the series’ creative vision to “surrender,” as Wood said, to its twists and turns.

“It’s a complex show. I think it requires focus. It requires thought,” Wright said, insisting that he never feels “lost.” “I think that’s a valuable thing now, in an age of consistent dumbing-down ... Too often, we don’t accept ambiguity enough. We want this finite answer.”

Season 3 of “Westworld,” slated to premiere in 2020, features newcomer Paul as a disaffected construction worker who meets Dolores after she escapes into the “real” world. Following sharp criticism of the “opaque and frustrating” second season, showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have promised “less of a guessing game” this time around. That said, a certain amount of mystery ties into the series’ central themes.

“There are so many ideas to explore about the nature of being human,” Thompson said. “I find being a human very confusing.”