"When you look at this park, first and foremost, we spent a great deal of time in the beginning breaking it down … how it would work, the division of labour, the parts of the company," he says. "And we also thought about how you'd entice people to come here. What would they want to see?"

That discussion raised an obvious question: a western-themed world does not have universal appeal. "In fact, Westworld might not even be the most popular park," he adds.

The western theme of the first season also naturally plays into the feudal Japanese setting of the second, Nolan says. "Different weapons, different rule sets, different ideas, but a very similar take on character and story," he says.

The series, the pair admit, does have a bleak tone. "Not a little bit of pessimism, a lot of pessimism," says Nolan.

"We did have to look at some of the darker things, especially as it's a story of what these creatures, the worst of what they have to overcome in order to achieve a kind of self-determining nature and consciousness," Joy says.

"But I also think that if you look underneath the surface, for me at least, there is an optimism to it," Joy says. "And it's the optimism that this world is not perfect. These people are not perfect. Many of them are very evil, right? And yet there are love stories in this to cling to."

Case in point Joy says: Thandie Newton's character, Maeve. "She has freedom, she has what she could selfishly desire for herself at her fingertips by the finale," Joy says. "And yet she returns to the park, propelled by something beyond the self, propelled by the care for another, you know?

"The same can be said in the undercurrent of a love story between Teddy and Dolores that is just at the end of the series beginning to take off because they are finally allowed to be people," Joy adds. "The question is in season two, will they find that they are people who are still in love?"

Writers working on a television series often consult a raft of experts to bring a richness of detail to storytelling, but few have probably gone as deep – and existential – as Joy and Nolan.

"We spent a lot of time thinking about the question of consciousness in the first season and [we were] somewhat surprised to realise that it is still a question largely for philosophers," Nolan says. "Neuroscientists kind of avoid it where they can.

"We've made significant strides in the last 20 years in mapping the functions of the neurocortex of the mind but we're still a long way out from understanding what consciousness is," he adds. "It's either incredibly complicated or it's incredibly simple and when you talk to neuroscientists they say things like, well, it's either something that will take us a very long time to figure out, or it's not there at all."

For the hit series about automatons who develop independent thought in a futuristic immersive resort, the pair wanted to explore not just the fundamentals of human thought – such as memory, our inner monologues and so on – but also how commercial science might apply it in the manner they have in Westworld, to "try to imbue it into other things, or try not to, as the case may be," Nolan says.

The pair, who are married, developed the series for television initially because Nolan was a fan of the 1973 film on which it is based, produced by Paul N. Lazarus III and written and directed by Michael Crichton.

The film follows a similar plot to its television reboot: an immersive Delos resort, which is reduced to chaos after a computer system failure, sending a murderous automaton gunslinger (Yul Brunner) after a resort guest, Peter Martin, played by Richard Benjamin.

But Nolan was not immediately persuaded by producer J.J. Abrams.

"I loved the original film [but] I just wasn't sure at first how it was a series," he says. "You imagine The Love Boat version of it or the Fantasy Island version of it where every week there is a new character and Dolores helps them work through their emotional problems. But Lisa saw that there was a much larger story that we could tell."

The pair also felt it was a show which naturally tapped a number of very contemporary conversations. "Everything that we were interested in that was happening in the world when you talk about artificial intelligence, but also human behaviour," Nolan says.

It also let them explore the digital world "in which everything around us is upgraded … our phones are improved and take on more functionality every six months, [and yet] we're still the same and we've been the same for hundreds of thousands of years," Nolan says.

"The question really is, can we keep up? Do we have a role in the world that we're creating?"

Westworld airs Monday April 23, 11am, Foxtel Now; 11am/8.30pm, Foxtel's showcase.

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Michael Idato

Michael Idato is a Senior Writer based in Los Angeles for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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