Nudity onscreen is often a controversial topic – it can be seen as gratuitous or unnecessarily provocative, a cheap thrill for the audience at the actor’s expense. On Westworld, however, it wasn’t used just to titillate the audience; it served a thematic purpose. Removing the hosts’ clothes stripped away their dignity and humanity, making it easier for the technicians to objectify them. They aren’t really people after all, just sophisticated playthings.
Acting in the nude can be a stressful experience, but Thandie Newton (Maeve Millay) admits in an interview with the Daily Mail today that she “was more comfortable naked.” Newton says, “’I found myself more empowered naked than I did with the saloon outfit on… because the costume was the most potent objectification of a woman, with the boobs pushed right up, the tiny waist. It’s an invitation for sex. The fishnet tights, the little heels with the laces… It’s all about sensuality. It’s about eroticism. It’s about ‘Look, but don’t touch.’ It’s all there to make the invitation for sex as provocative as possible and then the promise of satisfaction is practically just there.”
Newton goes on to discuss how her costumes as Maeve drew unwanted attention, and that she was treated with more respect filming in the nude. There is a delightful irony to this, especially given the narrative reason for the hosts’ nakedness. We see this in the show as well throughout the first season. The hosts don’t seem humiliated by their lack of clothing; instead, they use it to intimidate the humans. For example, Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) was much more frightening unclad than she was clothed (maybe it was the tattoo?).
In another role as a woman struggling for respect – DCI Roz Huntley on the BBC drama Line of Duty – Newton spends much more time covered up. Her character is a mother of two being investigated for corruption, and Newton discusses how difficult it is for Roz to come back after taking time off to raise her family. “[In] every line of work, as a mother you just have to be twice as good and if you’re black you have to be twice as good on top of that.”
“[Roz] has to claw her way back to where she was. It’s a very real problem, what is most degrading is the sexual abuse that goes on whether it’s verbal or whether it’s physical it’s very tough on women.” Perhaps Newton’s costume choices help her defy this environment, as she says she “found the most horrible shoes and pop socks that I would insist on pulling up so you could see them.” Where Maeve found strength in her nakedness, Roz uses her clothing as armor.
You can read more about Newton’s thoughts on nudity, gender and racial inequality, and her new role on Line of Duty at the Daily Mail. Do you agree that nudity can be an effective plot device, or do you think it’s unnecessary?