By Elizabeth Logan. Photos: Courtesy of HBO.
If HBO had a tagline, it'd probably be: "We have the nudity." Shows like Game of Thrones and True Blood have used nudity, often female, often sexual, without hesitation. But it was the network's latest smash hit, sci-fi show Westworld, that got audiences thinking about the naked body in a new way. (Spoilers for *Westworld ahead!)
When we meet Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), she's a savvy woman making money the only way she knows how in a small old west town: as a brothel owner. We soon find out she also takes clients herself, but moreover, that she's really a humanoid robot working at an amusement park. Before she was programmed for sex work, she'd had a "daughter" and a whole other "life." Eventually, Maeve figures this out too and fights back against her captors, usually while she's being "reprogrammed" at night...when she's naked. The symbolism here is stark. In the park, when clothed in the outfit of a sex worker, Maeve is literally a sex object, being controlled by a computer that is in turn controlled by, usually (but not always), men. Underground, when she's in her "natural" state (though in this case it's unnatural; she was built, not born), she's free to act on her "animal" (robot) instincts. To put it bluntly, she's naked when she does most of her murdering, and it's totally badass.
Now, actress Thandie Newton has made it clear that, yes, doing those naked scenes is more empowering than playing the theme park version of Maeve. "I was more comfortable naked because the costume was the most potent objectification of a woman, with the boobs pushed right up, the tiny waist. It's an invitation for sex," Newton said in a conversation with Jed Mercurio, per Us Weekly. "The fishnet tights, the little heels with the laces ... It's all about sensuality. It's about eroticism. It's about, 'Look, but don't touch.' It's all there to make the invitation for sex as provocative as possible and then the promise of satisfaction is practically just there."
She also said, in an earlier conversation with The Daily Beast, that she wore a robe between takes so she could talk to the crew without it being any kind of distraction, and that the atmosphere on set was completely professional. “People treated me with respect, like they were grateful for how committed I was to trying to tell the story right," she said. "When you truly expose yourself, when you truly show that you have nothing to hide, people are tender towards you.”
She also added that some of her character's most emotional moments came when she was unclothed, and it was a welcome break from the usual raunchy TV fare: “We associate nudity with sex," she said. "Not with vulnerability. Not with tenderness.” Season one explored that problem with great dexterity; we an only hope season two gives us even more.
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
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