'The Peripheral': Chloë Grace Moretz, Jack Reynor talk 'Westworld' comparisons, avoiding a dystopian future
The Westworld comparisons were inevitable.
A new stylish, futuristic sci-fi series on Amazon based on William Gibson’s popular 2014 cyberpunk novel, The Peripheral deals with simulated reality, the perils of technology, multiple timelines, consciousness, human nature, powerful structures and exploitation. It’s also produced by husband-and-wife power duo Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who previously brought us… Westworld.
“The Peripheral Aims to Fill the High-Concept Sci-Fi Void Westworld Left Behind,” reads one recent headline. It’s “Tailor-Made for the Westworld-Weary,” claims another.
The show’s cast and creators, however, want it known there are clear, major differences.
“I think it’s a huge leap from the Westworld world,” says Chloë Grace Moretz, who stars as Flynne Fisher, a young woman living in rural 2032 America who, along with her brother Burton (Jack Reynor), pay the bills by playing VR games to help rich clients level up. The siblings soon discover, though, that their present is connected to a post-apocalyptic London circa 2099 through a future technology called “quantum tunneling,” or time travel through data transfer.
“The closest thing is that they’re both sci-fi,” Moretz continues. “But I think the difference is that this is a really human story. This is about real human struggle on a daily basis. And yes, there is technology. We have robots and technology that is highly, highly progressed. But at the core it's human morality and ideals that we're kind of struggling with and tugging with. So I think it’s close in that they're brilliant minds in sci-fi, but I do think it is quite different in the best way. It’s definitely so much warmer.”
“There are some obvious similarities in terms of the subject matter,” says Nolan. “But it feels very different. And I think in part that's because of Gibson's almost granular level of exploration of these worlds. I think on a thematic level, this one deals with the idea of colliding realities, but comes at it from a level that's maybe a little more immediate. And Flynne is very relatable. There's almost nothing in Westworld that's that immediately relatable.”
In the years since its release, The Peripheral has always read like one of those books that would be unfilmable. But "unfilmable" doesn’t seem like a word that’s in the vocabulary of Nolan, Joy and company.
“We love that. As soon as I hear unadaptable, my ears perk up,” laughs Jonathan “Jonah” Nolan, who long collaborated with his brother Christopher on his films (Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar) before going “solo,” so to speak, with the CBS series Person of Interest (2011-2016) and then creating Westworld with Joy.
“And with no one more so than William Gibson. I had grown up reading his books and remember being incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t see any of them. You see the evidence of them in so many other films and TV series. In many ways, we kind of live in William Gibson’s universe. But no one had the guts to actually put it on camera. And I think the biggest challenge with Bill’s work is that it is so fully imagined, and so ambitious.”
It was director and fellow executive producer Vincenzo Natali who first approached Nolan and Joy with The Peripheral.
“I had the audacity once to try to make his first book, Neuromancer, into a movie, and failed miserably,” says Natali. "But in a sense I didn't fail because I consider The Peripheral as part of the continuum that began with that project. And in some ways I'm sort of delighted that it is The Peripheral, because to me, The Peripheral is about this moment.”
It’s like that famous adage when it comes to sci-fi: It’s never truly about the timelines we’re watching on screen (and in this case, there are two), but the timeline we’re currently inhabiting in real life.
“Yes, it’s science fiction, but William Gibson is known as a speculative science fiction author,” Reynor points out. “Which is a great term, because it speaks to exactly [that] saying. It’s about a future that’s just around the corner, something that’s already just within our grasp. And I think that the 2032 timeline in the show really feels like it’s really upon us. And this future that we see in London, it’s a dystopian future. But it’s one that we potentially have some agency to change.
“And that’s the important thing about the book, and this world: It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. There’s something that we can potentially do about it, if we have the right values.”
The Peripheral is now streaming on Prime Video.