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Asian-American actor Daniel Wu (right) in Westworld Season 4. Photo: John Johnson/HBO

Why Westworld Season 4 star Daniel Wu and director Lisa Joy click, his excitement over American Born Chinese, and his dream role

  • Asian-American actor and sci-fi lover Wu relished the chance to be in Westworld Season 4, saying the genre is not common in Asia, where he made his name
  • He will feature in upcoming Disney+ series American Born Chinese and wants to be ‘part of that change’ in which people see Asian-Americans in a different light
Daniel Eagan

This article contains spoilers on Westworld Season 4.

The robots have won in season four of Westworld. Humans have become unwitting slaves, apart from a few “outliers”. Among them is Jay, a rebel soldier played by Daniel Wu. As enemy “hosts” close in, Jay worries that a mole has infiltrated his unit.

With a cast that includes Evan Rachel Wood, Thandiwe Newton, Ed Harris and Jeffrey Morgan, Westworld presents a distinctively dystopian vision of the future. Technology can recreate startlingly realistic versions of the Wild West and the Roaring Twenties, but it also has developed sentient, and deadly, robots.

A star in Asia, Wu has focused more on the West in recent years. He produced and starred in Into the Badlands and has a recurring role in the upcoming Disney+ series American Born Chinese.
Wu in Westworld Season 4. Photo: John Johnson/HBO
In 2021 he appeared in Reminiscence with Hugh Jackman and Thandiwe Newton. That film was written and directed by Lisa Joy, who created the Westworld series with Jonathan Nolan.

“If it wasn’t for Reminiscence, I probably wouldn’t have landed this job,” Wu said during a publicity junket. “I was a big fan of the show. I even auditioned for season one, but I didn’t get the part.”

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When Joy offered the role of Jay in a text, Wu leapt at the chance. “She’s one of those directors I’ll do anything she asked,” he said. “There are very few directors I’ll agree to a part without looking at a script, like Derek Yee.”

Despite a long career in movies and TV, Wu had never worked with an Asian-American director before.

“Lisa’s background is very similar to mine,” he said. “We’ve got the same values, the same way of thinking about things. We both had tiger moms growing up. Her mom pushed a bit harder. The first time Lisa watched TV was in college, which is ironic because now she’s writing one of the biggest shows in television.”

In Hong Kong, the way I got my start was based on my looks, really. I became this matinee idol who never had the chance to delve into comedy
Daniel Wu on his desire to try comedy

Wu’s decision to work in America is based in part on his nine-year-old daughter.

“I could go back to Asia, where it would be a lot more lucrative,” he said. “Here I have to start all over again in some ways. The reason I’m doing that is for my daughter, for her generation. I want her to see people like herself on screen.”

The actor sees a new shift towards equality and diversity in an industry that wasn’t as welcoming when he looked for work 10 years ago.

“On American Born Chinese, I worked with very talented Asian-Americans: writers, producers, directors, actors, everything. You can sense an excitement and energy building. I want to be part of that change. I want people to see Asian-Americans in a different light, instead of how they’ve been stereotyped on screen for so many years. I want to make sure that the next generation sees that.”

Wu in Westworld Season 4. Photo: John Johnson/HBO

The actor also relished the opportunity to work in the sci-fi genre.

“Asia is a very futuristic place to me, but they don’t do much sci-fi,” he said. “When I came back to America, I made a conscious effort to choose science fiction projects. I love sci-fi, and its themes are very applicable to today. Good science fiction like Westworld throws out warning signs to us about technology, artificial intelligence, mind control.”

Wu believes the plot in Season 4, which finds humans controlled by sound waves, mirrors today’s society, where social media can shape political ideologies. As Jay, the actor comes face to face with the consequences of technology.

“Jay is a hard-edged rebel leader who hates hosts,” he said. “Then he does a hard left turn, becomes a host, and flips from good guy to bad guy. My job as a performer was to portray that change, show the difference.”

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Wu noted that other characters, like Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard and Newton’s Maeve, go through many iterations and changes over the course of the series. The actor expressed a bit of frustration at first over Jay’s short arc, until Lisa Joy reminded him that Jay is now a host.

“And anything can happen with a host,” Wu said. “Hosts are cool in that they’re human, but have elements that are not. It’s interesting to play that, to pick out what you want to infuse with humanity and what you don’t. If I do have a season five, I think that’s what excites me the most. What is Jay going to retain from his past? How different will he be in the future?”

Over his career Wu has played heroes and villains, drug dealers, serial killers, heroic cops, even romantic leads. What does he want to tackle in the future?

Wu in Westworld Season 4. Photo: John Johnson/HBO

“For a long time, I was into kind of noirish crime dramas,” he said. “That became my specialty. I still like that a lot, but some part of me now wants to delve more into comedy. When I worked with Ronny Chieng and Jimmy O. Yang, who were involved with American Born Chinese, they made me want to write a 10-minute stand-up set.

“I know it sounds really weird, but I’ve always been a huge, huge fan of stand-up comedy. But I’ve never had the balls to actually try and do it. In Hong Kong, the way I got my start was based on my looks, really. I became this matinee idol who never had the chance to delve into comedy.”

Wu was also reluctant to perform comedy in Cantonese, which is not his first language. He feels his humour is closer to the dry style of a Jason Bateman or Steve Carell.

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“If I got a chance to do a comedy, I would love that,” he said. “You know, a really interesting, funny character. I would love to do that.”

Season 4 of Westworld is available on HBO and HBO Go on Now TV. The eighth and final episode airs August 15.