James Marsden Says He Lied to People for Years About His Secret 'Westworld' Return

Actor James Marsden talks to Complex about returning to the world of 'Westworld,' acting alongside Evan Rachel Wood again, trusting the creators, and more.

James Marsden westworld

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James Marsden westworld

James Marsden might be the world’s best secret keeper.

As Theodore “Teddy” Flood on Westworld, Marsden played a critical role in the first two seasons of the HBO series as the closest thing to an outright good guy a show this morally complex is capable of having. That is until, amid a robot revolution, his girlfriend Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) reprogrammed his robot mind to strip him of his moral compass in service of the larger revolt. As a result, Teddy eventually reached a point in the series’ second season where he realized what Dolores had done to him and, as a result, committed suicide in front of Dolores out of grief. As such, Marsden exited Westworld accordingly—except he didn’t.

Instead, Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathon Nolan told Marsden he’d return to the show later as a critical part of a new story arc they planned to tell. As such, Marsden had to lie to everyone around him for the better part of four years to keep his return under wraps. “With this show, you kind of have to put it under lock and key and forget about it and act as if you really are gone. Otherwise, you’ll trip up,” Marsden tells Complex. “I lied to my mother, brother, and sister that I wasn’t coming back. Mainly because—not that I don’t trust people that I’m close to—but I know how rapid these things can spread.” But it worked; a few weeks ahead of season four, Marsden’s involvement was officially announced by Joy and Nolan, much to the surprise of the Westworld faithful. 

The nature of Teddy’s return is one of season four’s biggest arcs—and for good reason. Turns out the charming cowboy is playing a critical role in the story of Wood’s new character named Christina. In this season’s fifth episode, viewers finally got more context around how and why Teddy was back, as he’s functioning as a way to help Christina discover some truths about the world in which she lives. But how and why Teddy knows what he knows remains to be seen.

As we inch closer to Westworld’s season finale, Complex spoke to Marsden over Zoom to talk about a wide range of topics, including how he found out about his return, working with Wood again, the challenges of working on such a mysterious show, and much more. Needless to say, spoilers for Westworld Season 4 are below.

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When did Lisa [Joy] and Jonah [Nolan] tell you that you were going to come back for Season 4? How was it presented to you?

James Marsden: 
I can’t say enough nice things about the two of them. They’re the most respectful and wonderful human beings, on top of being just incredible creative artists. With something like one of the main characters stepping away for a bit, obviously, they want to treat it with delicacy and respect. They were excited to share with me the idea [that] there need to be stakes—and sometimes loss. They pulled me in at the beginning of Season 2, just to kind of talk me through the overall arc of the character—at least until I return. [laughs] So they walked me through all of Season 2—the shift midway through the season when I get reprogrammed—and then they said, “We want to do something where [since] you are such a beloved character, that we want the audience to feel the stakes.”

They loved the idea of Teddy’s good portion that still was deep down in there somewhere under the reprogramming surface, was at odds with what Dolores was doing—he decided that rather than go on with her, [that] he’d take his life [instead]. They said, basically, “You’re dying! [laughs] But also, you’re coming back.” And that’s about as much as I got. But what they did say is, “We wanna do it in a really great way where you don’t just go away for two episodes and come back. You’re gonna be away for Season 3, and we’re gonna find the most coolest, greatest way to bring you back in Season 4.” And that’s kind of all I got.

So it was like, “Okay, cool. Well, I’m gonna have to lie to everybody for a good year and a half that I’m gone because now I kind of wish I didn’t even know that.” [laughs] I think they were like, “Well, but we can’t let you go do other [things]. We need to still keep your schedule free for Season 4.” [laughs] So they had to tell me. But it was cool. They said, “We think [if] we do this right, people are gonna be cheering and jumping outta their seats when they see you return at the end of the first episode of Season 4.”

In a time when there are whole Reddit boards devoted to spoilers, how difficult was it for you to keep this a secret? Did you have an outlet to talk about it? I know Evan Rachel Wood mentioned she knew, so were the two of you in contact during that time?

We were, but with this show, you kind of have to put it under lock and key and forget about it and act as if you really are gone. Otherwise, you’ll trip up. Like you said, there’s gonna be plenty of people who are gonna be pressing [you] for any information, nuggets, or tidbits that they can get. I mean, I lied to my mother, brother, and sister that I wasn’t coming back. Mainly because—not that I don’t trust people that I’m close to—but I know how, like you said, how rapid these things can spread.

Within the narrative of Westworld and the story we’re trying to tell, it could have a great impact if it’s not spoiled. I feel like it has! It being a secret for so long, it has carried a cool surprise factor [and] a power along with it. I think the fans were excited to see Teddy reemerge. So really, it was in my best interest to keep it a secret cause the more people [that] think I’m really gone, the more—hopefully—excited they’re gonna be when they get to see me come back.

James Marsden westworld
James Marsden westworld

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