Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy, the oldest host still working in the park; she is a woman who discovers her entire life is an elaborately constructed lie.
Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay, a host; she is a madam. Like Dolores, she also discovers that her life is an elaborate lie.
Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe; a host; Head of the Westworld Programming Division and programmer of artificial people's software.
James Marsden as Teddy Flood, a host; he is a newly arrived gunfighter who is looking for Dolores to rekindle their relationship.
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Armistice, a host; she is a brutal and ruthless bandit, and a member of Hector Escaton's gang.
Luke Hemsworth as Ashley Stubbs, the head of Westworld security, charged with monitoring host and human interactions and ensuring the safety of the guests.
Sidse Babett Knudsen as Theresa Cullen, Westworld's terse operations leader, responsible for keeping the park from sliding into unscripted disarray.
Simon Quarterman as Lee Sizemore, Westworld's narrative director, whose artistic temperament aggravates his co-workers.
Rodrigo Santoro as Hector Escaton, a host; he is a wanted gang leader bent on survival.
Angela Sarafyan as Clementine Pennyfeather, a host; she works for Maeve and is one of Westworld's most popular attractions. Lili Simmons portrays another host fulfilling the same role when the original Clementine is decommissioned.
Shannon Woodward as Elsie Hughes, a rising star in the Programming Division tasked with remedying odd behavior in the park's hosts.
Ed Harris as the Man in Black; a rich, sadistic veteran guest of Westworld.
Jimmi Simpson as William, a reluctant first-time visitor to Westworld, joining his future brother-in-law, Logan. Initially dismissive of the park's more lascivious attractions, he slowly uncovers a deeper meaning to the park's narrative.
Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford, the founder and creative director of Westworld.
Ben Barnes as Logan, a long-time guest. His hedonistic romp through Westworld is equally motivated by self-indulgence and a desire to help his future brother-in-law, William.
Clifton Collins Jr. as Lawrence / El Lazo, a host; he is a charming but lethal outlaw, with a knack for maneuvering and negotiating the various criminal elements of Westworld.
Tessa Thompson as Charlotte Hale, Delos' executive director of the board overseeing Westworld, seeking to enforce the board's control on Ford.
Talulah Riley as Angela, a host that welcomes newcomers to the park, later reassigned to be a follower of Wyatt's. Riley will be promoted to series regular for the second season.
Louis Herthum as Peter Abernathy, Dolores' father. Herthum will be promoted to series regular for the second season.
Ptolemy Slocum as Sylvester, a lab tech working in Delos.
Leonardo Nam as Felix Lutz, a lab tech working in Delos who has a major connection with Maeve.
Oliver Bell as Young Robert Ford, a host made by Arnold Weber to resemble Ford when he was a child.
Warner Bros. had been considering a remake of Westworld since the early 1990s and after the departure of studio executive Jessica Goodman in 2011, the project was again under consideration. Jerry Weintraub had been pushing for a remake for years and, after his success with HBO's Behind the Candelabra, he convinced the network to greenlight a pilot. He took the project to Jonathan Nolan and co-writer Lisa Joy, who saw the potential in the concept to make something far more ambitious, and on August 31, 2013, it was announced that premium cable channel HBO had ordered a pilot for a potential television series version of the story, with Nolan, Joy, J. J. Abrams, Jerry Weintraub and Bryan Burk as executive producers.
HBO later announced that Westworld had been taken to series and that it would premiere in 2015. In August 2015, HBO released the first teaser, which revealed it would premiere in 2016. It is the second series based on Crichton's original story after the 1980s Beyond Westworld, which aired only three episodes on CBS before being cancelled.
Abrams suggested that the show be told with the perspective of the "hosts" in mind. Nolan took inspiration from video games like BioShock Infinite, Red Dead Redemption and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to deal with the narrative's moral component on a spectrum. During the research, the films of Sergio Leone provided reference points for the characters and visuals, novels by Philip K. Dick informed them about dilemmas concerning artificial intelligence, and for world-building and interlocking narrative, they consulted the Grand Theft Auto games. Nolan explained the show would explore why "violence is in most of the stories we like to watch, but it isn't part of what we like to do" through the characters known as guests, who give payment to satisfy those urges. The autonomous existence of non-player characters in video games influenced the approach to the individual storylines in Westworld that are reset in a continuous loop. A recitation from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet—"These violent delights have violent ends"—is made part of the show as a virus trigger within the hosts that alters how they perceive their existence. The series explores ideas about the bicameral mind by Julian Jaynes, about the existence of two separate minds—one that gives instructions and another that performs them, and how consciousness comes from breaking down the wall between them by exposing the individual to new kinds of stimuli.
Costume designer Ane Crabtree approached her work by focusing upon the actual historical attire of the Wild West from the 1850s to 1890s for inspiration, rather than Western films. Fabrics were custom-woven, dyed and printed for any actor with a speaking role to capture the intricacies of the costumes (most of which were manufactured from scratch in Upstate New York and Los Angeles). Hat designs were described as the most challenging part of the process.
The 1973 film also included a Roman World and Medieval World, but Nolan has counted these out. However, he has met with George R. R. Martin to discuss a Westeros-themed setting based on Game of Thrones characters. Ed Brubaker served on the writing staff as supervising producer, co-writing the fourth episode with Nolan.
The story has been planned to last up to five seasons by the writers and producers.
The ten episodes of the first season were reportedly produced on a budget of approximately $100 million, with per-episode budgets somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million to $10 million. HBO and Warner Bros. Television shared the cost of producing the series; HBO reportedly also paid an undisclosed licensing fee to Warner Bros. Television for broadcast rights.
Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood were the first cast members formally announced, taking on the roles of Dr. Robert Ford and Dolores Abernathy, respectively. Jeffrey Wright, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Woodward, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Angela Sarafyan, and Simon Quarterman were all announced as cast members in August 2014. James Marsden and Eddie Rouse were also added to the cast. Ed Harris was cast in a key villain role, known only as the Man in Black. Other roles were filled by Demetrius Grosse, Kyle Bornheimer, Currie Graham, Lena Georgas, Steven Ogg, Timothy Lee DePriest, Ptolemy Slocum, Thandie Newton, and Miranda Otto.
In July 2015, it was announced that Otto had departed the show due to her commitments to the fifth season of Homeland and she was replaced by Sidse Babett Knudsen. Additionally, three others were cast; Eion Bailey, Jimmi Simpson and Clifton Collins Jr. Bailey was later replaced by Ben Barnes. Talulah Riley was revealed to have a role as one of the hosts after her ex-husband Elon Musk had stated so on Twitter; Riley will be promoted to series regular for the second season.
After the last episode of the first season was broadcast, Nolan and Joy revealed that they had operated on a strict need-to-know basis with most of the actors, in order to "keep the story as fresh and present for them as possible." For example, in Wood's case, they gave her strange acting directions without explaining why, and it took a while for Wood to infer she was actually playing five distinct characters within the same host: four different behavioral modes for Dolores, plus Wyatt. However, Hopkins was made aware of Ford's general story arc up front (at the time he was pitched the role) to ensure he could fully convey the complexity of the character in his performance. Even with that foreknowledge, Hopkins was initially given heavily redacted scripts, and he had to insist on access to entire unredacted scripts.
Early on it was decided that the series would be shot on 35 mm film with assistance from HD taps, despite increasing difficulties in acquiring film stocks from the remaining manufacturers. For a softer look, the filmmakers used Arri Zeiss master prime lenses with their coatings removed. The series was primarily shot on Kodak motion picture film, which was processed by FotoKem in Burbank and scanned by Encore Hollywood to create digital intermediates of all takes suitable for use as dailies. The final cut was delivered to HBO in 2K JPEG digital format for broadcast and to Warner Bros. Television as a cut negative for archival purposes.
Since much of the series is seen from the hosts' point of view, Steadicams were used to film the whole first season, except for a couple of scenes in the last episode, where a handheld camera was used as a metaphor for hosts who broke free from their programming and acted of their own free will.
Filming for the show's pilot episode took place during a 22-day period in August 2014 in and around Los Angeles as well as Moab, Utah.
Filming locations in California included various soundstages, backlots at both Universal Studios and Warner Bros., the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, the Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, the Skirball Cultural Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. The Melody Ranch set used for the town of Sweetwater had been used previously for many western films, such as Django Unchained and The Magnificent Seven, but was significantly upgraded for Westworld by production designer Zack Grobler to portray an idealized version of the American frontier. Green screens were placed around the California sets to block modern objects like parking lots, so that the California shots could be later merged digitally with exterior shots from Utah. For scenes showing the arrival of guests, the filmmakers were able to arrange with the Fillmore and Western Railway for the use of a small train originally built for the 2013 film The Lone Ranger. F&W also provided a few hundred feet of track on which to place the train; then a pusher vehicle was used to propel the train into the Sweetwater set. The scenes in the underground laboratory levels of Westworld's operations center were filmed on a soundstage at Melody Ranch. The lab set used glass walls extensively, which meant the crew had to be vigilant to avoid walking through glass on the rather dark set, and they had to keep identifying and suppressing unwanted reflections. Hawthorne Plaza was used for filming the "cold storage" level where decommissioned hosts are stored.
For the show's large-scale exterior look, the producers drew inspiration from the work of John Ford, who shot four of his Western films in Castle Valley, east of Moab. In early 2014, Nolan visited southern Utah with key crew members and a location scout to explore the possibility of filming there, and promptly fell in love with the place. Location shooting for the pilot episode later occurred over five days in southern Utah, including Castle Valley. Most Utah locations, like Dead Horse Point State Park, were "walk-in" areas where both cast and crew were required to hike in and out with all their gear. Horseback riding scenes were filmed at a private ranch, where the filmmakers were not subject to as many restrictions as when working on public land. To seamlessly blend California sets with Utah scenery, set walls were shipped to Utah so that they could be used to film reverse angles of scenes originally filmed in California. For example, conversations on the exterior balcony of Westworld's operations center were shot on a balcony at the Skirball Center facing towards the center, then reverse angles over the shoulders of the cast members were shot at Dead Horse Point, to make it seem as if the operations center was located on top of the state park's steep cliffs. The train interior scenes were created by mounting the entire train car set on the back of a flatbed truck and driving the truck back and forth along Utah State Route 128.
The 3D printing of hosts was shot utilizing almost entirely practical effects, of which some were polished by the visual effects team. The show used real guns, although they were usually unloaded. Out of respect for the actors and extras involved, filming of nudity was conducted on a closed set, and for sex scenes, a sex consultant was used.
Production was temporarily halted for a couple of months in early 2016 so that showrunners Nolan and Joy could complete the scripts for the last four episodes of the first season. The climax of the first season's finale was filmed at Paramount Ranch in April 2016, with approximately 300 people on set. The crew spent 10 days in May striking the set, which included having to modify structures installed by the filmmakers, such as the chapel, so that HBO's "intellectual property" would not be "violated."
The series' title sequence was created by production studio Elastic, which had previously created the title sequences for Rome, Carnivàle and Game of Thrones for HBO. Patrick Clair acted as creative director for the title sequence, which took about five weeks to conceptualize.
Clair met with Nolan and Joy in February 2016 to discuss its development. He was interested in their decision to approach the show's point of view from that of the hosts, deeming the result an inherent psychological study. Upon its inception, the sequence would translate elements present in the series via computer-aided design. For example, once Clair was sent footage by composer Ramin Djawadi of a player piano in motion, its actual counterpart, situated in the Westworld production office, was photographed and then reconstructed in computer-generated imagery. Nolan also applied the self-playing instrument in reference to Kurt Vonnegut's first novel Player Piano. It was meant to represent the first Rube Goldberg machine to evoke human motion. Clair saw the metaphor behind the player piano—"a primitive form of robot"—as an exploration into the disparity between man and machine "being created to be made redundant." Hosts that were bathed in white liquid struck Clair as a juxtaposition of the grit and grain of the Western genre with its basis in science fiction. Motifs of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man came about from Clair's wish to convey Westworld's depiction of the naked human body.
The sequence commences with the rib cage of a horse, along with a set of hosts manufactured by industrial robots. The skeletal horse is shown in mid-gallop to subvert the iconography of such a depiction. As for Clair's efforts in exposing the Western landscapes in connection with a world of robotics, he thought it sensible that it be done inside a single eye; craters and valleys are formed as the simulacrum of an iris.
The music is composed by Ramin Djawadi, who also worked with showrunner Nolan on the TV series Person of Interest. The main theme blends the use of bass notes, light arpeggios and melody, all of which complement the idea of an amusement park. The first season soundtrack was released on December 5, 2016.
Djawadi spoke about the modern songs used in the show, stating, "The show has an anachronistic feel to it, it's a Western theme park, and yet it has robots in it, so why not have modern songs? And that's a metaphor in itself, wrapped up in the overall theme of the show", but credited Nolan with coming up with the idea.
Player piano renditions featured in Westworld include Radiohead's "No Surprises", "Fake Plastic Trees" and "Exit Music (For a Film)", Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun", The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black", Scott Joplin's "Pine Apple Rag" and "Peacherine Rag", Claude Debussy's "Reverie L.68", The Cure's "A Forest", The Animals' version of "The House of the Rising Sun" and Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black". Licensing costs ranged from $15,000 to $55,000.
Prior to the airing of Westworld, HBO held virtual reality exhibits at events like San Diego Comic-Con and Techcrunch Disrupt devoted to Westworld: A Delos Destination. Attendees were allowed to navigate the process by which guests would enter Westworld, and interact with the 3D environment.
Made to run on the HTC Vive virtual reality headset, the piece was conceived by showrunners Nolan and Joy. It was designed using Unreal Engine 4, combining computer-generated content and live action 360-degree video. Users received a binary code, permitting access to the website DiscoverWestworld.com as part of a viral marketing campaign. Visitors were shown a trailer of a fictional travel site, leading them to order a trip to Westworld. A chatbot featured on the website, named Aeden, is available as a Google Assistant action on the smart speaker Google Home.
The series premiered October 2, 2016 in North America and Australia, and on October 4, 2016 in the UK and Ireland. The series is broadcast on HBO in the United States, on HBO Canada in Canada, and HBO Latin America in Mexico. In Australia on Showcase, and in the UK and Ireland on Sky Atlantic.
The series premiere had viewership numbers slightly less than those for True Detective, but much better than Vinyl, that meant it was seen as "...off to a relatively promising start..." Mandy Adams, of iTechPost noted that, "Emotional reactions on Twitter were estimated to be 545-percent greater compared to the debut of Vinyl and 326-percent higher than the latest The Leftovers season." The U.S. series premiere attracted 1.96 million viewers, with 0.8 million in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic. The premiere episode received 3.3 million viewers for its three Sunday night airings as well as on HBO's streaming platforms.
The second episode aired on HBO in the US on October 7—two days ahead of the episode's announced broadcast date—to avoid competing with the second U.S. presidential debate of 2016.
The season one finale received 2.2 million viewers for its initial broadcast, and increased to 3.5 million including replays and on-demand viewing. The first season had an average cumulative viewership of 12 million viewers, making it the most-watched first season of an HBO series, and TorrentFreak gauged Westworld as the third most-torrented television show of 2016.
Reception of the series has been positive, with particular praise for the visuals, story, and acting. After early reviews, the first season has a 89% approval rating based on 73 critics on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8.2 out of 10, and an average episode score of 94%. The site's consensus reads "With an impressive level of quality that honors its source material, the brilliantly addictive Westworld balances intelligent, enthralling drama against outright insanity." On Metacritic, the first season has a score of 74 out of 100 based on 43 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The editors of TV Guide placed Westworld fifth among the top ten picks for the most anticipated new shows of the 2016–17 season. In writer Tim Surette's overall review, he notes the perfect concept of blending the western premise into a futuristic setting, saying, "Well, Westworld has both, ensuring that it will be an exciting mashup of genres that will disrupt a television landscape that typically says we can only have one or the other." He also added, "The look of the show and its fine cast swing open the saloon doors, but the real treat will be the intelligent discussion of whether or not robots will eventually kill us all. Thankfully, creator Jonathan Nolan already showed us he's the go-to guy for A.I. with Person of Interest."
Westworld has been nominated for 3 Golden Globe Awards, 2 Satellite Awards, 4 Critics' Choice Television Awards, and 2 Writers Guild of America Awards.