Ben Barnes on That Crazy 'Westworld' Finale and What's Next for Logan
People used to yell things at Ben Barnes on the street and on the subway, conflating him with his character Logan on Westworld. (Being on the train, especially, provoked a lot of Westworld taunts, including "Freeze all motor functions!" as he walked down the aisle). But now, after Sunday's finale, he's hoping to hear some new and original lines. "Instead of, 'You're such a dick!' they could yell, 'I'm sorry your father mistreated you!'" he suggested. "Or, 'I'm sorry Logan felt so sad and alone! Do you need someone to talk to? I'm here for you! As we should all be for each other in this day and age!' That's what I want people to shout."
The actor might get his wish. As we watched Logan hit rock bottom this season -- deserted and abandoned by friends and family -- and then be transformed into artificial intelligence, the character won a lot of empathy points. Gone was the one-dimensional version of Logan we perceived in Season 1, and in his place, a flesh-and-blood character (and then a digital consciousness) which made a huge impact in only a few scenes.
Barnes chatted about what it took to play the down-and-out Logan and the System itself, how he snuck in a Game of Thrones reference, and how he might be able to come back in Season 3.
Thrillist: Did you get to watch the finale?
Ben Barnes: I did! I actually watched it last night. And Shannon [Woodward, who plays Elsie] sent me a screen capture during the finale of me by the pool, and she said, "You'll always be my Ferris Bueller," because I look exactly like him with those sunglasses on! That made me smile to no end. I somehow managed to avoid all excited cast members' spoilers, and everything I shot was so, so out of sequence, so the rest was all fun surprises for me. I remember the night we were shooting the balcony scene with the drugs, Evan [Rachel Wood, who plays Dolores] was very excited about having recently sort of figured out the Charlotte Hale of it all, and the escape from the park, and she was bouncing around, trying not to tell me about it. That's one of her most endearing qualities, her passion and wanting to share. It's kind of a barometer for how good the twist is, how effervescent she's behaving. But I wanted to watch it week by week, and enjoy the ride, and face those episodes with the same look of awe and bafflement that everyone else has to.
You could have said, "Since I'm playing an all-knowing A.I. entity, you have to tell me everything."
Barnes: [Laughs] To which they would just say, "Well, if you're all-knowing, you already know!" There is no trickery to be had with [co-creator/showrunner] Jonah [Nolan]. He's far too smart to manipulate in any way, even with humor. I tried that tactic in Season 1 -- if I'm funny enough, they'll give me little breadcrumbs. I remember sidling up to them at the monitors at one point, and saying something like, "So I was thinking of referring to myself by my second name. What's my second name again?" And they just sort of looked at me with one eyebrow raised as if, "We know that you don't know your second name, and you're not going to know until the second season, which, by the way, you don't even know you're in yet." So yes, that was certainly a fruitless quest. I imagine playing chess with our showrunners is very frustrating. They're always three steps ahead.
So what did they tell you?
Barnes: A few things, because I was playing this System, but now it makes much more sense, having watched it. They gave me enough information to help me service the story, without having me know too much, and get too much inside my own head and feel like I have to deliver a performance that encapsulates the history of human consciousness. That would be a terrifying prospect for anybody!
Honestly, I didn't have anything to model it after, because I didn't really know that's what I was going to be doing until a day or two before. So it was more about listening to Lisa and Jonah about their separate expectations -- but I did make sure that I called one and then the other, because you always get something different. They're such a perfectly balanced and complementary pair of people in terms of their approach. Often I'll find that I'll get the more cerebral, scientific, straightforward-if-you-can-keep-up explanation from Jonah, and then I'll have to call Lisa to get the kind of slightly more empathetic, human version from Lisa. Although they do both switch over! They're both prolific in both regards.
But normally, I'll have to look for both sides. Jonah was explaining to me about the collection of human consciousness, and Lisa was explaining more about how they wanted it to come across, which is a sentient version which has a decent slice of the Logan that we knew. The System was obviously designed by his father's company before his father's real death, and that's why the System takes the form of Logan, because his son was his core drive by the time he died. And so they wanted enough of old, real Logan, not the fun park Logan. Old, real Logan mixed with a sort of grace and sort of confident expository knowledge of a godlike, all-knowing creature who had studied millions of years worth of data about human consciousness. So they basically just said that, and, "Go!"
What did you think about how the System views humanity?
Barnes: I'm still reeling from how it's possible to argue that the hosts are more truly free than the human beings because they have the potential to change their core drive, and humans can't seem to get away from their magnetized, determined path. I find that fascinating, because as the human beings watching, we are the hosts. And there's got to be some sort of teachable moment about how we've got to work harder to change our drives. That's what I've been thinking about since I woke up this morning! [Laughs]
I was pleased that I shot the scene where my father decides to abandon me for good a little while before the scene of the System observing them. I remember shooting those scenes on the same day that I shot the scenes with Dolores in Episode 2, where I'm sitting taking the futuristic heroin or opiate or whatever it is, so it was nice to have that perspective when we came back to shoot the Forge, when we were up on the same balcony looking down at the pool. If you had told me at the beginning of the series that I would be doing scenes with Bernard, that would have been something that would have shook my brain to the point of despair, because I wouldn't have been able to work out how it was possible, because of the timelines! It's confusing enough to try to piece together the timelines after watching it, so you can imagine what it's like trying to do it when you're filming something out-of-sequence which is already structured out-of-sequence. It's a real Rubik's cube.
Since your mom is a psychotherapist and your father's a professor of psychiatry, can you psychoanalyze Logan a little bit?
Barnes: Well, it's interesting, because I think as we see about the nature of people's core drives, Delos seems like an unloving father. But I think he's attempting a tough love, pushing Logan in the swimming pool like his father pushed him in the swimming pool. In the end, he really does love him. He really does care. But he's incapable of showing it. And Logan, all he wants is for his father to be proud of him. All he wants is his father to show him that he cares somehow.
I only realized this watching the finale last night, but if you look at the second version of Delos in the simulation, just before they come into the Forge, you see him wearing a hat -- and it's very similar to the one Logan chose when he went to the park. It just shows you how similar they are as creatures, and obviously they've been raised by similar fathers. I think Logan is just a bit more sensitive in the end, and I think the way he acts in the park is an escape, and a front. The way William acts in the park is more true to his core, where Logan is actually compensating for a depression, a deep, deep unhappiness, and feeling very alone.
And he has this empty ambition, and he feels pushed into bullying other people, and getting off on the power of that, then behaving like the jerk that we see all the way through the first season. Even though I didn't know all of this back during the first season, I thought, "Even though he's having the most fun out of everyone, this is a deeply unhappy person, to treat other people this way." So that was always in the back of my mind anyway. And then he loses, he has to endure this days-long ride, with no water, brow-beaten and skin cracked by the sun. I think he loses a part of himself on that journey. I think it was always in him to be unhappy, but that was probably a catalyst for him. And then the scene with his dad, which is the moment the dad keeps coming back to, because he knows it's the moment that breaks his son.
What was it like shooting the naked, dehydrated, and sunburned in the desert scenes?
Barnes: It was not what I expected, actually. I had this sort of concept of it being very hot, and sweaty, and I thought it was going to be unbearable because of that. But we filmed it on an extremely cold day, with very strong winds. It was sand-whipping everybody, but everybody else was clothed. And they were very conscious of not wanting any footprints or horse tracks around that tree, so once I sat down there, they sort of raked a good 500 foot in every direction so there were no prints, and I had to sit there for several hours. Actually, I think it really helped me, because after several hours of being sand-whipped and naked, I genuinely felt a little bit crazy by the time we got to shooting the close-ups of Logan's babbling. And I genuinely felt a little bit confused, because I was shaking from the cold and all of that. I sort of felt like I had endured something.
This is a show that plays with time. How can we get you back for season three?
Barnes: Maybe we go can back before they even go to the park?
Or maybe we can get some Logan-Juliet interactions? They seemed close, at least for two characters who never shared a scene together…
Barnes: Exactly! I did get a particular thrill when Juliet and Emily both referenced Uncle Logan. I got a big kick out of it. There is probably only a year or two period when Emily as a child could have overheard some of the adults talking about the park, when those conversations would have taken place and she could have understood. I think that the likelihood is, for my money, they would explore obviously what happened in terms of William's actual human death. That seems something to go back to. And they've opened up a new world with the real world, which is fascinating and scary.
There's a moment in season one where Logan wore what looked like a Hand of the King pin.
Barnes: [Laughs] That was just me being naughty! My job in the first season was to bring mischief to every moment. When we did the fitting for that coat, there was another coat next to it which had that pin on it, so I took that pin and put it on my coat. And I actually thought, "This looks like a Hand of the King pin from Game of Thrones." I thought it would be a fun, mischievous move, because it was lying around in the costume department.
Would you want to be on Game of Thrones? Or one of the spinoffs?
Barnes: All right! I accept. I love that show, and I've worked with Kit Harington and Peter Dinklage before, so that's why I tuned in the first place, to see them and what they were doing. Obviously, I've watched every episode. I feel like HBO is maybe one of the few places where they make television deserving of having a week break in between that insistent, watercooler, "Did you see what happened? What is going on with this?!" versus binging on a countdown, 3-2-1 to the next episode. It's almost old-fashioned, but I think with the nature and scope of both Westworld and Game of Thrones, it's deserving of that wait of a week in between, to watch it that way. It feels more like reading a hardback copy of a book versus reading it on your Kindle.
And it makes you feel more invested. It lends itself to theory culture. Do you pay attention to that kind of stuff, or think about those kinds of things? Like who is in Charlotte's body now?
Barnes: That's a good point. If Dolores is back in her body, who is in Charlotte? Whose pearl is in the Charlotte body that they made at the very end? Of the five pearls? Where's Teddy's pearl? She put him in the System. Maybe her dad? Did she take Peter Abernathy's pearl with her? His was a mess already. I think he's a goner. Like me, we'll probably all be completely wrong. [Laughs]
I think she should just make a Logan body, and put a pearl in there, and I'll play a different character. Otherwise, I'm just genuinely dead and gone! Who knows what they have in store? It's much more fun and much more compelling when you don't know what's coming.
This interview has been edited and condensed.