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‘Westworld’ Star Sidse Babett Knudsen on the ‘Deliciously Horrible’ Twists of ‘Trompe L’Oeil’

Episode 7 of HBO's captivating robot drama might have been hard to watch for some fans, but for the actor playing Theresa, it was "a beautiful, beautiful day at work." 

Sidse Babett Knudsen in "Westworld."

Sidse Babett Knudsen in “Westworld.”

John P. Johnson/HBO

[Spoilers for the ending of “Westworld” Season 1 Episode 7, “Tromph L’Oeil,” follow.]

“Westworld” has kept viewers guessing since the first moments of Episode 1, but this latest adventure, “Trompe L’Oeil,” really pulled the rug out from underneath us. In the final scene, creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy confirm that Westworld employee Bernard, played by Jeffrey Wright, was a “host” under the control of Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Then, Dr. Ford wields that control in a tragic and brutal way, directing Bernard to murder Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen).

READ MORE: ‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Trompe L’Oeil’ Trades Secrets For Hard Truths and a Big Reveal

In the space of minutes, Theresa goes from learning that the man she’s been sleeping with for some time isn’t even a “real” man to realizing that her former lover is about to kill her — it’s a powerful conclusion to a gripping episode. And Knudsen loved it. “I had great expectations,” Knudsen told IndieWire, “and I was really happy to see it.”

Knudsen is relatively new to American audiences, but has a well-established career working in Denmark, including a starring role in the long-running series “Borgen.” While she declined to state whether or not she’d be seen again on “Westworld” — “I feel like they want to keep a bit of a mystery” — she was clear about the fact that Theresa as we know her is dead. Below, the actress reveals what she was able to guess about the show’s twists in advance, what it’s like to work with Sir Anthony Hopkins, and why her violent death on the show was deliberately not that violent.

Some actors really like to know what’s coming next, but some dislike that, and prefer to be in the moment. Where do you fall on that scale?

Well, I would be the first. I did a show where I played the prime minister [“Borgen”] and I had the whole road mapped out and could sort of play with that and hold back certain things. I like to make my own priorities on my own, I love that work. But I’ve always also wanted to try to do something chronological, where you just know little by little.

For “Westworld,” how much did you know going in?

I knew how long she was going to be there and I knew she was gonna die. I didn’t know how. I knew that she was somehow involved in espionage, but that’s it.

Jeffrey Wright as Bernard and Sidse Babett Knudsen as Theresa Cullen.

Jeffrey Wright as Bernard and Sidse Babett Knudsen as Theresa Cullen.

John P. Johnson/HBO

So you had no idea that Bernard was not human?

Exactly, I had no idea about that.

When did you find out?

When I read [Episode 7]. Oh, man, it was so weird because when we started shooting, I thought there was something in the way [Wright] looks kind of in my eyes but not really in my eyes — the way Jeffery would act in those intimate moments. The first scene I said, “God, you’re a robot, aren’t you?” And there was no reaction, there was no reaction at all, and then I thought, silly me, of course he’s not, come on. So my instincts were right, but I felt so ridiculous thinking it, so I was kind of ashamed. But then when I read it, I went, “Yowza!” I was right. It was so deliciously horrible to find out.

READ MORE: ‘Westworld’: What It’s Like to Co-Star With (And Get Groped By) Thandie Newton

When it came time to shoot that final scene, what was that experience like?

There was so much to shoot in that scene. I loved playing that whole episode because I knew everything — that was so nice. From the beginning of the episode, when they meet and she left last night to get out because he was told that she was the spy. It was just really pleasurable to shoot. There was so much to play on, I love that.

Then that very last scene was just — it was just so much fun, so pleasurable. There was so many things in play: Jeffery had so much to play, finding out that he was a robot, and Anthony Hopkins who is, you know, soaring completely into his amazing self there. And I had so much on my plate as well. It was really fun.

Watching the scene, though, you wouldn’t expect to hear that it was fun to do. 

I mean, “fun” might not be the right word. Bu it was pleasurable, I enjoyed it so much. It was a beautiful, beautiful day at work. It was the best day I had on “Westworld.” There was a very specific ambiance that day on set and both Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] were there, and it was very concentrated, and it was very serious but also very happy. It was really exciting — it felt like it was all about the acting. There’s so much in just the acting, we took our time. And being opposite Mr. Hopkins is like having a very private, luxurious master class.

The nuances he brings to the role are just incredible to appreciate.

Yes, yes, and it was fantastic because we did spend quite a lot of time on the angles, and all the time I had that same physical distance, which was vibrating and alive. I was curious to find out what he’d do the next millisecond, and I reacted to that. It was very, very organic, very alive, very creative, very pleasurable.

Sidse Babett Knudsen and Anthony Hopkins in "Westworld."

Sidse Babett Knudsen and Anthony Hopkins in “Westworld.”

John P. Johnson/HBO

When they were staging the violence of that final scene, how much did you know about the way they wanted to shoot it?

Well, we talked a lot about that because from the moment they told me how I was gonna die, they said, we’re not going to see it, it has to be very short, it would be dignified, very elegant. This is not violence porn. So I knew that it was going to be very swift — maybe just the sound. Then when we went to the space and saw the reflections in the mirror and the glass and they figured out how to shoot it exactly, I think we even warned the crew a day before shooting. From the beginning they said it was going to be something very classy and, you know, very dignified.

Was that something you were happy about?

Yes. I mean to me it was super exciting, it’s the first time ever that I’ve died on screen. So I was very excited about it and I like that. I thought a lot about the sound, you know, I thought it needs a good sound, the sound of the life not being there anymore. I think there’s some sort of crack and then she’s out.

What went into preparing to die for the first time on screen?

I didn’t prepare for it. What I’m preparing is, or what I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about is, when does she feel in danger? When does it occur to her that she might die? How does she react to that? And I like the fact that her last appeal, when she says, “Please, please don’t,” it’s to Bernard, it’s to the robot. Her instinct is still to try to make a connection with him, even though she knows now that he’s a robot and is programmed. She appeals to that humanity that she saw in him. I think that’s very interesting as well.

Given that the show has such an interesting relationship with how it depicts violence, do you feel like it was important that this death be handled this way?  

I think it’s very important how they choose to depict the violence and I think it always tells a story. And that makes it different than just cheap violence. It’s when we show who it is who wants that kind of violence, it shows as much about the people experiencing the violence as the violence itself, I think.

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