THANDIE NEWTON: “MAEVE’S NUDITY WAS THE GREATEST FORM OF PROTEST”. It may come as a surprise, but Thandie Newton never knew much about the global superstar who is Michael Jordan before lockdown. The Westworld actress—who is nominated for portraying Maeve on the reality-bending sci-fi series—had to dip into The Last Dance, ESPN’s 10-part docuseries about the NBA legend, while spending quarantine with her family in London before she could safely say she now knows enough to consider Jordan a god.
Were you in London for the entire quarantine?
Yes, we’ve been here the whole time, all six of us: my husband, my daughters, and my daughter’s girlfriend. It was actually lovely to spend months together with my teenage daughters. After many weeks together we moved as one; we were so aware of each other. And that was an alkaline to the acid that was going on with the pandemic. I also did a crash course in PPE! I found myself working my fashion and media connections to help doctors on the Covid frontlines. Burberry made masks and gowns—they were absolutely wonderful. This virus has revealed fault lines in our society, but it has also shown how wonderful people can be when called upon.
There was a surreal quality to lockdown that reminded me of your show, Westworld,in which you play Maeve, the onetime madam of the fake world’s brothel. In three seasons, she has undergone many transformations, eventually ending up in the “real” world. When you took the part, did you know how her life would unfold?
I only knew the arc of the first season, which I thought was fascinating. Maeve was conceived as a purely sexual object, and then she took the power away from the men she was supposed to serve. Brilliant! But it was also scary: 75 percent of the time, I was naked or nearly naked. In the past, when I’ve been asked to perform naked, it has been problematic. But on Westworld, Maeve’s nudity was the greatest form of protest. When she wakes up, mid-operation, completely nude, and she’s clutching her bare belly, I had a bittersweet realization—the scene became a moment of strength. I realized how many times, in how many movies, that had not happened before. When Maeve feels the reality of a situation, it blows her fuses. And she became, for me, a great metaphor for those who have been lied to. Including myself.