'Westworld': Sela Ward on Her 'Challenging' Cameo and the Meaning of That Data Card (Exclusive)

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The veteran actress joins the series as Juliet, the Man in Black's wife -- and perhaps the first person to see his dark side.

There’s nothing Sela Ward loves more than a challenge -- and she got that in spades with her cameo on Westworld.

The veteran actress made a surprise appearance on Sunday’s episode of the sci fi western as The Man in Black’s (Ed Harris) wife, Juliet. Fans knew from the Man in Black’s reveal last season that Juliet overdosed on pills and died in the bathtub, but what we didn’t know was exactly how she got there.

A foreboding monologue by the Man in Black at the top of the episode indicated that we would be focusing on his backstory. Viewers quickly learned that no matter how much he tried to hide his darkness, it was Juliet who saw through him, and by getting a hold of his data card, helped his daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers), do the same. Unfortunately, the discovery didn’t come fast enough for neither Juliet nor Emily, who was killed by her father this episode, as the series proved just how deep the Man in Black’s Westworld obsession lies (read more on the episode here).


For Ward, it was that obsession and the effect and destruction it could have on a family that attracted her to the role of Juliet. That, plus her 24-year-old son, Austin’s, begging that she accept the part. “He said, ‘Mom, you cannot not do this. You have to do this!’” she told ET over the phone last week. “I looked at the part and thought, ‘Wow.’”

“It's such a popular show. It's really struck a nerve with the audience, and I love the psychology of trying to delve into the human psyche,” she continued. “So, I find the show to be fascinating and so out of the box and unique and was thrilled to be part of it.”

Read more from ET's interview with Ward below: 

ET: We knew Juliet killed herself, but we didn’t know why -- how much backstory did [showrunners] Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy give you?

Well, I just talked to Lisa on the phone... and there really wasn't a whole chapter of backstory. What I read was really enough for me, because it's the first time you see Ed Harris' character out of the park. This is a totally different universe for the show. What I was given, really, I didn't need to understand anything except that this is a portrait of a marriage that is bankrupt of love, attention and comfort. So it's loneliness that Juliet was feeling and had been there for a long time now and building -- and it's universal in many relationships, long relationships in particular. That's really all I had to play, was just that portrait of these two people who had been married for a very long time, and the park really is his mistress. It was very easy to play if you've lived enough life.


Juliet was one of the first people to see her husband’s dark side -- and we saw her try to share that dark side with her daughter, Emily, by giving her the data card. Were you provided with any insight into her motivations for leaving that behind?

No. [But Juliet] quickly realizes as she's sort of escorted up to bed, that her daughter is about to betray her again by sending her back to what she perceives as an institution-like experience. When she looks at the data card, and she sees the extent to which the dark side of him has been manifested, and confirms all of her feelings and everything she's done for him for a very long time, it's so overwhelming. It's so incomprehensible. And couple that with her having no support from her daughter, and she's turned to alcoholism to really try to deal with her depression. It's a combination for a very depressed, unhappy soul.

I think it's just too much for her at the end. She just feels an extraordinary sense of hopelessness and takes her life. What does she have to live for? In her mind, she has no connectivity with the child she bore, with the husband she's been married to for years. He's a stranger. She doesn't even truly know him, and for the first time, she sees all of those pieces that she feels in technicolor and it just becomes not a lot left to live for. 

The scenes you share with Ed Harris are so intense. What was it like on set?

It's one of the reasons I took the role, because at this point in my career, it's much more interesting to be challenged. And I love the study of relationships, and I found that to be thrown into the middle of a relationship and all its history and shoot a scene like that with extraordinary emotion and conflict is just delicious as an actor. And it's [even more] challenging because we shot it out of sequence. We shot the end of it first, so as a performer, I had no idea what emotional state I was in... I had to really pull out all my bag of tricks as an actor over the years to try to figure out how to handle that and pull it off. I loved it. I loved working with Ed. He's a very gifted actor. And the material was challenging, which was really fun for me.

We saw a flash of your former Once and Again co-star Evan Rachel Wood at the party, but did you actually get to see her on set?

First of all, I love her. She is so unbelievably talented, and when I worked with her on Once and Again, I think she started that show when she was 12, isn't that crazy? So she really came of age on that show -- she was maybe 14, almost 15 when she finished. I didn't have scenes with her, but we had an extraordinary amount of time waiting on the set, as film production goes. So I got to really catch up with her, and that was a delight for me.

This show is so secretive. Was it hard to keep your cameo under wraps?

Not really, because I was so preoccupied with working on the show with Nick Nolte, Graves, I just went on to keep working on something else. So it wasn't hard for me to keep a secret. I don't know how the show does it. They do an amazing job of protecting spoilers and they're genius at that. So I'm glad it's not my job, because it would be hard to do (laughs).

With flashbacks and hosts -- and human/host hybrids -- there’s always the possibility that a character coule pop back up again. Could we see you back on the series?

I think there's always a possibility on this show. Nothing official -- that's a producer question -- but it would be fun for me. I really enjoyed it and it's such a terrifically written show.

Westworld airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.