Talulah Riley on That 'Westworld' Robot Party and Her On-Set Bra Battle
As we learned in "Reunion," the second episode of Westworld's second season, Angela has done much more than just greet guests seductively as they enter the park: She's also had to make herself sexually available to potential investors out in the real world. As Talulah Riley, the actress who plays Angela, explained it in a recent phone interview, that's more than enough to make anyone have some resentment issues and join a rebellion like the one started by Dolores. Riley, 32, who has studied physics and engineering for fun in her downtime and was twice married to Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, talked to us about the show's deeper themes, her trouble clasping her bra on set, and why kissing co-star Ben Barnes was weird.
Thrillist: Let's talk about the robot party in this episode. Even at that early point in the show's timeline, Angela seems to be aware that she's a host. She's taking part in the sales pitch and even seems amused by it.
Talulah Riley: You know what? Presumably, if the robots are sentient, and they kind of have emotional reactions to things -- I mean, we've seen Maeve have an emotional reaction to her daughter -- humor goes along with the rest of the gamut of feelings and thoughts. But from the first season, this has been one of the most interesting things about Angela, that she was the only robot who knew she was a robot. And Angela does seem to have some awareness of the business side of things, really. She's been programmed specifically to be the greeter or to do the sales pitch, but how much of her self-awareness is programmed in? I suppose she can't be fully sentient yet, because of the time period, because we're very far away from the robot uprising.
What's it like to shoot a scene where everyone except you has to freeze all motor functions?
Riley: It's quite funny! I always feel sorry for everyone who has to stay quite still, kind of like that game you play when you're kids, Dead Lions, where everyone has to not move at all? It was like the grown-up version of that. Luckily, Angela could move.
Did you tease the other actors and try to make them break?
Riley: [Laughs] I would not dare. I absolutely would not dare. But Angela -- not the character, but the actress [Angela Sarafyan] who plays Clementine -- she's a good friend of mine, and she was there in that scene, so that would have been the only person I would have been tempted to make funny faces at. Luckily, she was at the piano, and not facing me. Ben [Barnes], he and I have known each other in the UK since we were 17 or 18 years old, so that was a weird scene for us, because we had to kiss at the end of it! It was horrible! [Laughs] I mean, not horrible, he's not a horrible kisser, I just mean being friends made it awkward.
How awkward was it to shoot the orgy aftermath?
Riley: Ah, that was fine, because he was just asleep in bed with his eyes shut. The awkward thing was that I couldn't do the clasp on my bra, because that's not how I put a bra on! I usually clasp my bra in the front, and then whip it around. I literally couldn't do up the clasp on my bra, and it was really embarrassing, so they had to leave the camera rolling while I was fiddling around. I felt so sorry for everyone on the floor, who must have been getting really exasperated at the fact that it was becoming like a stunt, and I couldn't make it work. It's really fiddly! It's a lot of robot pressure!
What are your feelings about doing nudity on the show? Do you tell the showrunners, "This is what I'm comfortable with showing, and this is what I'm not comfortable with showing?"
Riley: Lisa Joy is actually incredibly sensitive to that, and really nice, and she found me beforehand, and we had a chat about it, and she was really great. It was a night shoot, it was being shot at a ridiculous time, like 2am or some ungodly hour, and she showed up to make sure I was OK. That's the most naked I've ever been on film, and it was entirely comfortable. How much can you see?
It's more from the side, from a distance, and then your back.
Riley: Oh, cool. It didn't feel like anything at all, really. I felt super comfortable. The most uncomfortable thing was not being able to put on a bra properly!
Dolores and Angela share a look in that moment, almost like Dolores had been spared this aspect of having to be sexually available to the guests and investors, and Angela is conscious of that.
Riley: I don't know how conscious she is at that point -- I think it's purposefully ambiguous whether she knows what's going on or not, in that moment. But later, yes, Angela is clearly extremely resentful and seeing things like this moment goes towards explaining her resentment, and why she acts the way she does this season. One can imagine her being really angry about being [a sex slave]. I would be! And now, Angela is very focused on the character of Wyatt, she's very pro-Wyatt, in terms of her alliances.
The human guests at Westworld, meanwhile, are in danger of Angela and Wyatt's reckoning, because they can't get security reinforcements until the Peter Abernathy host has been handed over, which underscores how the park is really a huge personal data-mining operation.
Riley: Yeah. Topical, huh? [Laughs]
Yeah, very relevant to what's happening right now in the real world. What's your take on all that?
Riley: In terms of data collection? I think it's pretty worrying. I think I had a Facebook account when I was a kid, but I don't use it or have it on. I don't have social media apps on my phone. I'm very cautious of getting sucked into something that is basically a Wild West, you know? The internet could have gone a number of ways, and I'm not sure we're headed in the right direction, where it is unpoliced, unregulated, and yet it's where we're spending staggering amounts of time. The average person spends what, two hours a day on social media? Teenagers, nine hours a day? That's a full working day. So this place where we're all going, which I think a lot of people think of as an extension of inside of them, their heads, as a sort of fantasy escape place, actually isn't. It's an industry, like any other. And there are forces at work there. I think it's an interesting time, in terms of the wake-up calls that we're getting.
What do you think about how A.I. is advancing and what that means for us?
Riley: It's sort of a pet topic. I spend a lot of time thinking about it, and talking about it with friends. There's the doomsday scenario, and then there's the best-case scenario, the utopia where humans don't have to work and we all sit around pursuing arts and leisure activities. The reality is, it's not going to be either of those. But my main issue with A.I. is that it should be regulated, just like any other industry, especially because there are the scenarios that are pretty extreme. It's a technology that we don't fully understand how far it can go. But when most people think about A.I., they're really thinking about A.G.I.
Artificial general intelligence. Having a human-level of intellect or cognition, even emotions.
Riley: That. And there are different timescales and ideas of whether or not that is even possible. A lot of people think it is possible, even if the timescale is a decade away, or 20 years away, I think we still need to be thinking about the framework now. Say it is possible to create an A.G.I. -- should we? Just because something is possible doesn't mean we should do it. Human beings, we have sense perception, and our consciousness is very much the result of being embodied, whereas an artificial consciousness, presumably, would be silicon-based, and it wouldn't even think in terms of the way we think of thinking! It's hard to model, really, what could be. And there's the idea that if you flick that switch, it would immediately advance beyond anything we could then do to control it, even if we wanted to at that point. So it's better to think about it in advance. The nuclear model is the best example of how we've managed to keep a lid on things.
Does knowing the science behind the show help you figure any of it out?
Riley: Not really! [Laughs] We only read the bits of the show that we're involved in. The first season, I was watching the show with my mother, and she sort of guessed that Bernard was a robot. But because I was in a scene where I thought I had seen him shot, his brains blown out, I was like, "No, Mummy, you're absolutely wrong. He's definitely not a robot. He's a human. I know this for sure." And then of course he wasn't! [Laughs] That definitely got me for sure. I was definitely confused by season one when I was watching it. I definitely didn't know it was three separate timelines until later on. They said they were going to release the whole plot of season two, right? If they had, I would have liked that!
You actually know a lot of Silicon Valley moguls, like the founders of Google, Facebook, and more. Do you ever talk to them about Westworld?
Riley: Mmmm, no. Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy are also in a similar world or circle, so they're more likely to talk about Westworld, because I still don't actually know where Westworld is going! [Laughs] Especially when it comes to the idea of data collection. The first I heard about it was this season. I don't know if their views are the same as mine, or what the show is going to say or do, but I think it's certainly interesting, and I trust them incredibly, in terms of giving a balanced and sensible view about those things. They're insanely smart and lovely people.
Did you help introduce Jonah and Lisa to Elon Musk, or suggest their collaboration for the Falcon Heavy Rocket trailer?
Riley: They all met at the same physics conference, actually. That was years ago! And now they're all buddies. We're all fans of the same kinds of science fiction.
You're writing a science fiction novel, right?
Riley: It's about what happens when a group of women have political power. I was inspired after the US election, and after I took part in the Women's March in Los Angeles, and I was thinking about, what if Hillary Clinton had won? She would be one of these global leaders, along with Angela Merkel and Theresa May. And what if having these women in charge turned out not to be a good thing? Spoiler alert: having any sort of extreme political ideology in charge is not good. I just turned it in a month ago, and I'm waiting on the first round of edits. I'm so bad at editing!