Westworld’s Daniel Wu on Episode 6’s Big Reveals and His Special Bond With Thandiwe Newton

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·13 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The post Westworld’s Daniel Wu on Episode 6’s Big Reveals and His Special Bond With Thandiwe Newton appeared first on Consequence.

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Westworld, Season 4 Episode 6, “Fidelity.”]

Daniel Wu is no stranger to strange genre tales — the veteran actor has been working constantly over the past few decades on a mix of Hong Kong and American productions, notably starring in the bonkers AMC martial arts drama Into the Badlands for three seasons. Thus, he was more than ready to take on a significant role in Season 4 of Westworld, playing Jay, the leader of a group of human “outliers” who are scrambling for survival in a world now controlled by the robotic “hosts.”

As Wu explains to Consequence via Zoom, there was no question of him turning down the job, when Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy asked him about it after the two of them worked together on her directorial debut, the 2021 film Reminiscence. “I’m a huge fan of the show to begin with,” he says. “And so it was a great opportunity for me. I said yes without even knowing what the character was going to be.”

Wu’s time as the human version of Jay came to a close with Episode 6 of the season, after getting murdered by a host replica of himself. Of course, he also plays his host replica, who goes on to attack his longtime ally C (Aurora Perrineau) before a knife to the head from a just-revived Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) stops him. But, as he reveals in the below interview, transcribed and edited for clarity, that doesn’t mean the end of his time with the show. He also reveals how that knife stunt was done using practical effects, and why he and Newton have a special connection across projects…

First off, just huge congratulations on getting to get murdered by Thandiwe Newton. That feels like a life goal right there.

Again, actually! In Reminiscence, I get killed by her as well. I was joking with Lisa Joy, I said, “This should be a theme — that everything we work on together has me and Thandiwe, and she kills me.”

I was guessing that one connects to the other, but was Westworld happening first or did Reminiscence happen first?

So yeah, I did Reminiscence first — I think they shot that in the hiatus between Seasons 3 and 4. So I got to know Lisa Joy through that experience and I really just loved working with her, her and Jonah [Nolan]. They’re both great people.

And with Lisa, there was a bond there because she’s Asian-American and I’m Asian-American. There was so much commonality there. I’ve worked on many projects in Asia with Chinese directors or Hong Kong directors, and I’ve worked on many projects here with American directors, but I’ve never worked on a project where the director was the same background as me. A Hong Kong director doesn’t have the same experience as me growing up in America, but she did. She had a tiger mom, and I kind of had a tiger mom — we had all these cool collective experiences that we could vent about.

So we really bonded on Reminiscence. I had a really fun time working with that group of people. And when Season 4 came around, she just texted me and goes, “Hey, do you wanna work on Westworld?” I go, “Hell yeah.”

When you did actually get some details, how much were you told about your character?

I mean, I was not told a lot. I was told I was a human, I was part of a resistance that was against the hosts and that this timeline, or this season, would be a slightly different push forward ahead from the previous seasons, so we’re dealing with some new characters, but also with older characters who’ve been kind of rebooted in some way. So I knew a very rough idea, but I had no idea that my character was going to become a host until probably about halfway through filming it. That’s the glory of working on television, you never know what’s going to happen to your character arc until you’re in it, you know?

Episode 6 does include a pretty significant bit of Jay’s backstory. Was that something you were told in advance about the character, or were you just finding that out on when the episode script came out?

I had a really detailed discussion with Lisa before I started shooting my first episode, because I wanted to know, like, what is his backstory? Who’s this guy? Like, yeah, he’s a leader of this outlier group of humans, but how did he get there? How did he become this person? So she told me that there was going to be a flashback with a younger Jay and his story about his brother — Jay was an outlier, but his brother wasn’t and his family got taken. So he saw the effects of that and that clearly affected him and really created this anger and hatred in his heart towards hosts, and what they were doing in trying to take over humanity. So that became the fire for who he became as a man.

Key to the episode is younger Jay’s declaration that he doesn’t want a sister, which leads to him later being exposed as a host by C. What did that character choice mean for you, especially in terms of how you interacted with Aurora?

That flashback scene, that was when they were young. They’ve spent probably like 10 or 12 years together. And they’ve developed a relationship that they are like a family — he becomes the leader of this rebel group and she’s probably second in command to it. And so they worked together a lot and they were like a family, like brother and sister, although he never really said that.

I think Aurora’s character, Frankie or C, knows that even though he doesn’t say that they’re like a family, they’ve grown up together. They’re both angry because they’ve both lost family members to hosts. So they’re both fighting for the same thing, the same common goal. Clearly, that relationship is a strong, strong bond. It’s just that he has this deep-seated pain, or trauma, from his brother being taken. So he doesn’t want to consider anybody else a family member besides his real brother.

That’s a really interesting way of thinking about it because he can say he would never call her a sister, even if they do have something resembling a familial bond. In terms of making the switch from human to host, was there anything you looked at in terms of reference material, just in terms of making that choice really play in the moment?

Well, it was interesting because again, I didn’t find out until much later into this series. And so then I went straight to Jeffrey [Wright]. I go, “Hey, when did you find out you were gonna be a host? Was it a last minute thing? Or did you know from the beginning?” He goes, “I didn’t know while filming the pilot, but after we filmed the pilot and started the season, I knew that was part of my arc.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.”

But yeah, in the beginning I was like, oh, I wish I knew from the beginning that I was going to be turned. But now that I think about it in retrospect, I think it’s actually a good thing that I didn’t know, because then I didn’t affect the character beforehand with any kind of Easter eggs or hints that he might turn into a host. And I think that’s better for the character because it is more shocking that suddenly, you know, you find out that he’s a host.

And it wasn’t like he was secretly a host for that long.

Yeah. Right. Even the awareness of Human Jay, he comes across the replicate of him in the stairwell and then it’s over for him, he’s dead, he’s gone. So there’s no time for him to think about it. There’s no transformation. It’s not like Aaron Paul’s character, where he suddenly realizes he’s a host, and that there’s like many [of him]…

That episode’s crazy because of the many versions of Caleb and what he has to deal with — he’s going through this existential crisis of who he is now or what he is, because he’s no longer human, but is he’s still the same person? It’s the same theme that this whole show has been talking about for four seasons. Whereas my character, it’s like bang and done, and now you’re a host. So there’s no questioning anymore. It’s a contrast in terms of how they discover who they are.

This is just me describing it from the cheap seats, but in the moment where Jay confirms that he’s a host, it feels like there’s almost like a little glee in it. Like, you suddenly start seeming like you’re having a lot more fun.

Yeah. It’s always fun to play a bad guy, you know? And the dialogue kind of took it there. It was on the page when I read it. And clearly this host still has the memories of the human Jay and maybe stuff that he never said to C, like that he’s annoyed that she keeps trying to talk to her dad on the CB. It’s like, “Why are you doing that? He’s clearly not alive anymore, and he’s not gonna respond.” But he kind of kept it on the inside.

But Host Jay processes that information differently and throws it right back in her face, going, “What are you, stupid? He’s dead.” He relishes being able to say something that he’s been holding in all the time as a different person. So the interesting thing about him going from a human to a host is that as a host, he’s a totally different person, but those memories of his past are still there. So he clearly knows his history and his relationship with C, but he flips it on his head because now he’s trying to kill it.

What was it like getting to go full Terminator?

It was fun because, because for three episodes, I’m trying to be this hero and all of a sudden it takes a left turn and I’m the bad guy. It was a lot of fun as an actor, and it was unpredictable for me. Even for me as the actor playing it, I was like, oh, whoa, this is a total change here. That’s fun.

I was expecting it to go down a certain path — I had been wondering, like, what’s the future timeline for Jay, if he is still the leader, and where is it going with this group of people? All of a sudden, it just took me out. I’m like, oh, okay. I’m no longer that guy anymore. And now I’m dying.

But that was the other thing with Lisa. I was like, “Oh, I’m dead now.” And she goes, “No, you’re a host.” I go, “What do you mean?” And she goes, “Hosts can always be brought back.” I’m like, oh, okay. Interesting. All right, got it.

I was wondering if I should ask whether you’re hoping to come back, down the line.

I don’t know yet. But she keeps hinting at me that hosts always can come back. So I hope I get to, because I love this show. It’s amazing. It’s one of my favorite shows — there is so much content out there and this is one of the shows that really sticks out for me, since Season 1.

Daniel Wu Interview Westworld
Daniel Wu Interview Westworld

Westworld (HBO)

As an actor, you’ve been trained to react to things like taking a fake bullet to the chest — but what is it like to take a hit to the chest and have to brush it off like it’s a bug bite?

It is hard because the squibs are actual little explosions, and there is noise, there is stuff. So you have to hide your initial reaction to it. Because there’s anxiety. I’ve been hit with squibs many, many, many times, but there’s always that anticipation — it’s like firing a gun. Like, right when you pull the trigger and then when it bangs, it is startling. So when these six things on your chest are exploding, it is startling, but then you gotta keep it under control because, you know, this host is a bad-ass and he’s not supposed to be affected by that.

What was involved in the actual on-set execution of taking a knife to the head?

Oh, super, super complicated. So, you know, I always assume that since there’s so much CGI in the show like, oh, that’ll be CGI. But that was a practical thing we did. There was a silicone piece on my head that had this magnet in it, and the knife piece had the opposing magnet on the other end of it. I was like, wow. In this day and age with CGI and stuff, you figure they’d just do that.

Also the practicality of doing it — I had to turn around, and Thandiwe had to hit me right there. It’s not a complicated Into the Badlands fighting scene, but it’s a scene that definitely you have to be careful about because even though it’s a cut-off knife, it’s a blunt object coming right at your eyes. It requires a lot of trust.

Well, you’ve already had all this experience being murdered by her.

Yes, exactly. “Here we go again, Thandiwe!”

Looking forward, you’ve got American-Born Chinese coming up. Is there anything else you’ve got to tease?

We literally just finished filming that. So I’m looking forward to that. I think it’s releasing at Chinese New Year, at the end of January next year. That was just a really fun project to work on, to work on a project with fellow Asian-Americans with a lot of people who I’ve admired, but never got a chance to meet or work with. That includes Michelle Yeoh, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, but then also being support for the main characters, these two new young actors played by Ben Wang and Jim Liu, these two guys, they’re the heart and soul of the thing, these young up-and-coming actors. It was cool, as older actors, to watch them grow in this series.

And prior to COVID, I had spent 20 years working in Asia — I was doing one project a year there and one project a year back. But because of COVID, I didn’t want to quarantine, so I didn’t do that. But I think I’m doing a project in Hong Kong at the end of the year.

Westworld Season 4 airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET on HBO.

Westworld’s Daniel Wu on Episode 6’s Big Reveals and His Special Bond With Thandiwe Newton
Liz Shannon Miller

Popular Posts

Subscribe to Consequence’s email digest and get the latest breaking news in music, film, and television, tour updates, access to exclusive giveaways, and more straight to your inbox.