As “Westworld” has evolved over the last several weeks, brothel madam Maeve, played by Thandie Newton, has become one of the show’s most intriguing characters. The first indication that something weird was going on with her came during the Season 1 episode “Chestnut,” when memories of a past life collided with behavioral malfunctions, leading to a moment when Maeve tries to seduce a female guest visiting the park – but fails.
Getting the full court press from Newton was actress Christine Weatherup, playing the role of “Female Guest.” Weatherup thoroughly enjoyed the experience: “Of all the people to be groped by, not only is she amazingly beautiful, but also a genuinely kind and nice person,” she told IndieWire.
A working actor for many years, Weatherup’s resume includes a recurring role on “General Hospital” and award-winning work in the digital world and on the festival circuit. But she’s also landed some notable co-starring appearances on shows like “Mad Men,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Aquarius,” giving her a unique insight into the world of television production.
The level of role defined as “co-star” is above being an extra but below “guest star,” and isn’t usually more than a day or two of work. In Weatherup’s case, it was just one day — her big scene was shot over a year ago, in mid-July 2015.
The best way Weatherup could describe the attention to detail brought to “Westworld” on a production level? For her scene, there were countless extras on set… including six horse extras, who walked back and forth on the street. Since the scene took place inside the Mariposa Saloon, that meant those horses went completely unseen on screen — but were there for every take.
“The scope of it was like nothing I’ve worked on before,” she said, but for Weatherup and the other actors on the show, that attention to detail was incredibly helpful. “It really put you in the world as an actor, seeing the world outside bustling by you.”
Weatherup came to the set a day early for wardrobe fittings, which proved to be “detailed and precise,” she said, with three different layers to her costume, including a bustle that was basically just “a pillow with strings attached.” More importantly, it was seeing the wardrobe department in action that gave her first indication of how massive a production this was. For, at this point in the show’s history, there was very little knowledge about what the show was really about.
And that didn’t really change for Weatherup all during filming; she never received a full script for the episode, and was told very little about the character and the world. It wasn’t the first time she’d dealt with that level of secrecy — as one example, “Mad Men” was equally tight-lipped — though in the case of “Westworld” she was even more in the dark, since nothing had premiered yet.
“When I went to the hair and makeup artist to get my hair and makeup done they asked me ‘oh, tell me about your character?’ And I was like, ‘your guess is as good as mine — I have only three lines.’ I came in with what I got from those three lines, and my take on it.”
But as Weatherup put it, by giving her the job, “Westworld” was basically saying “we cast you because we like what you did, and we’ll direct you if we want something different.” She was happy to trust in that: “I knew I was in wonderful hands, and that they would direct me to get exactly what they wanted.”
Working with Newton was a joy, Weatherup said, beginning with the rehearsals. “Oftentimes, a rehearsal is like, ‘Oh, we’ll just say our lines and mark our steps and we’ll save it for when we shoot,'” she explained. “But from the first rehearsal she gave it her all and would really make strong choices. I really appreciated was that she went full force… which in our scene sounds kind of funny.”
In filming the scene, the biggest note that Weatherup got from episode director Richard J. Lewis (who previously worked on “CSI” and “Person of Interest”) was also the biggest clue she received about her character. “When we were talking about the scene, he said ‘well, your character did come to Westworld, she must want something.’ So, I was playing with that fine line of ‘she’s a guest who would come to this world, but maybe this is too much for her,’ and trying to figure that out just from seeing that scene, not knowing anything about Maeve and what’s going on with her character.”
Preparing for this sort of role is a whole different sort of acting challenge — one that demands flexibility. “Not knowing the details of the world even made it challenging,” Weatherup said, “so in coming up with the character you wanted to make sure it wasn’t so specific and so firmly rooted in one idea that if on set you got a direction or found out that something was very different on the show, it would be hard to pivot.”
Weatherup said she applies her own level of secrecy to getting cast in roles like these — because she worries that in the final cut, her scene might hit the (figurative) edit bay floor, something every actor working as a co-star has experienced.
With the lack of control actors experience as a basic fact of life, Weatherup’s number one recommendation is for them to create their own opportunities — right now, she’s in the process of submitting a short film she wrote, directed and acted in to festivals. “Making your own stuff is the most powerful thing you can do,” she said. “Having that control is the most powerful thing. The co-stars on big exciting projects, is the icing.”
Though who knows? “Female Guest” could one day return to Westworld.
“Westworld” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.