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Thandie Newton Returns For Third Season Of HBO's 'Westworld'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

* With so many people stuck at home, it's a good time to sink your teeth into a sprawling, big-budget TV show. Conveniently, the hit HBO drama "Westworld" has returned for its third season. The last two seasons were set in a sort of theme park, where tourists could live out their dark Wild West fantasies with lifelike robots called hosts. Now in season three, we're out of the park, and the hosts are running amok in the futuristic wider world.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WESTWORLD")

THANDIE NEWTON: (As Maeve Millay) This world wasn't meant for us. It's a trap that you'll never escape unless you come with me now.

SHAPIRO: Thandie Newton won an Emmy for her role as Maeve, one of the hosts. And she is with us from London. Thanks for being on the program.

NEWTON: Thank you for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You know, one of the big themes of this show has always been loops. Robots, including your character, are forced to play the same scene over and over, day after day. And now that so many of us are under stay-at-home orders, I wonder if that concept feels a little more potent to you.

NEWTON: I don't know. I feel like we've stepped out of the loops that we're normally in right now, and that's partly what's so surreal, is what we take for granted. You know, what we see as just our regular freedom, stepping out into the street, all those things have been disrupted. So I feel like our loops have actually come to an end.

I mean, I'm always trying to look at the positives and notice the things that we can miss with our families.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

NEWTON: You know, it turns out my 19-year-old kid is a really good cook. I didn't know that. She came home - she left home in September to go to college, came back, obviously, to be with us now. And she just is this incredible vegan chef (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Wow I was going to say, not to overextend the analogy, but in "Westworld," when people break their loops, they start to see the world more as it is. And it sounds like that is something that you're relating to now.

NEWTON: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think about other people a hell of a lot around about now. You know, you've got a small home and you're a single parent or just how much difficult it's going to make life, that what we're dealing with now. And I - I'm just - who can preach to anybody - anybody? You know, celebrities onlines (ph), you know, making stuff in that kitchen, it's like, really? I don't think so - to try and imagine other people's existence and to really be humble, and then from that place try and help.

SHAPIRO: How would you describe the way this season relates to the last two seasons? It's maybe not a reboot, per say, but it does feel like a big leap in plot and setting.

NEWTON: It is, Ari. It is a big leap. I think that strangely - I heard this a long time ago - that our showrunners, when they pitched the idea of "Westworld" to the studio, they actually pitched season three. And that's what got the green light. So in some ways, season one and two were the kind of precursors to three because three, for me, feels like the beginning of the show. This is the beginning. And what we've had before is this delicious kind of marinade that allows us to truly understand where these characters are coming from, where these AI coming from and why they've entered the planet, you know? And you don't fully appreciate that without all that wonderful backstory. And that's what's so cool about long-form TV, you know, is that you get to investigate and look underneath.

SHAPIRO: "Westworld" is a cautionary tale about technology, and I wonder if it feels like an odd time for that warning. I mean, there was a piece in Esquire that says it's unsettling watching a show about our doomed relationship with technology because technology is the only thing connecting me to other humans right now. What do you think?

NEWTON: I mean, look; just about everything powerful can be used for good, and it can be used to our detriment. Let's face it. The same with AI, with technology, it's a liberator as well as - yeah, it's really - it's problematic, of course, because we're giving up our freedom in many ways. I think what "Westworld" is doing really, really cleverly is this idea that there is a system that can be put into place where we get this sort of equality, where everyone is just looked after. The world is run by a system that we all come to rely on. But then if that's not governed by a human being, then we're really vulnerable.

SHAPIRO: Could I just ask you to take a step back and look at this moment as somebody who's devoted your life to the arts? Right now movies and TV shows are not being filmed. Theaters are dark. We don't know how long this will last. How are you feeling right now about the future of the arts?

NEWTON: I think it's going to change what people want to see.

SHAPIRO: Towards what?

NEWTON: I think that - towards solutions, truly, and towards love, togetherness, people coming together across divides. I think what we're going to want to see are ways out or ways so that we can be better educated as a humanity to prepare ourselves for these inevitable things that are going to happen. This is inevitable. So if we can get back to a place where we can be the benchmark for compassion and kindness and cooperation and tolerance.

So I'm sorry that that's not - you were talking about content. But I do think for me, the best kind of television is written and devised by people who truly care about the human condition. I don't know about your whole superhero thing. I don't know how relevant that's going to feel anymore. I mean, for me, the superhero...

SHAPIRO: I don't know. Maybe people want a savior.

NEWTON: Yeah, but don't you think the nurse who goes to work with a (expletive) mask knowing that she's risking her life to look after people - they're the heroes I want to see on screen. They're the superheroes.

SHAPIRO: Thandie Newton, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you.

NEWTON: It's so lovely talking to you.

SHAPIRO: She plays Maeve in "Westworld," which is now in its third season on HBO. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.