Who Is the Mysterious New Villain of Westworld?
A national film icon in France, you will most likely remember Vincent Cassel from his forays into big Hollywood feature films. The ex-husband of Italian actress and model Monica Bellucci, Cassel joined Brad Pitt and George Clooney on the all-star cast of the heist films Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen and starred alongside Natalie Portman in the award-winning psychological drama Black Swan.
The 53-year-old global film star has developed a reputation as a character actor, often taking on violent, mentally unstable, complex roles. His intense performance in the 1995 gritty French crime drama, La Haine, earned him universal praise from critics and propelled him to stardom. Now, as the new villain of HBO’s hit sci-fi series Westworld, Cassel can act more like his real self, playing a suave, stylish, charismatic Frenchman. But even after the first few episodes of season three, his character, named Engerraund Serac, remains shrouded in mystery.
As often is the case with Westworld, characters introduced as villains are much deeper and more complicated than they initially seem. Take, for example, Dr. Robert Ford (played by Anthony Hopkins) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris). As the story develops, we see how they are not completely evil and still have a chance at redemption.
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Serac is introduced as the co-founder of the tech company Incite, a data analytics firm whose flagship project is an AI system known as Rehoboam. Named after the eldest son of the wise Biblical King Solomon, the supercomputer is a predictive AI program that harvests everyone’s data and can track the entire course of your life.
“Well, this machine has the ability to read the future. So when you know what’s going to happen, you just have to change little things here and there and then shit doesn’t happen. That’s the whole idea, it’s just to control any crisis, really, so it doesn’t happen,” says Cassel. “The main idea of Serac is to get rid of suffering and poverty and inequality and all that, so when you think about it, it’s not a bad idea—it’s just that when you want to impose that on millions of people without them knowing, it’s not possible.”
The philosophical dilemma in the third season of Westworld continues to explore the show’s central themes of free will and human agency. Serac is a grim pessimist who sees the worst in people and believes the only way to save humanity from tearing itself apart is to impose high-tech surveillance on an international scale.
The show so far has kept the character’s past a secret, but beneath the smooth, calm, and collected façade he presents, you can tell Serac has lived through traumatic times, which have pushed him to become this bitter cynic. The villain reveals that as a child he watched his home city of Paris burn to the ground. One of the wealthiest and most powerful men of the 2050s, Serac grew up during the 2020s and 2030s, decades of global wars and economic crises, social unrest and environmental disasters.
The Serac character is an authoritarian personality, craving stability above all else, willing to do anything to maintain order, including take away people’s freedom to make their own choices. Perhaps this is why he feels so threatened by the show’s main hero, Dolores, a powerful woman who represents an unknown, unpredictable variable he cannot control. In season three, the tech tycoon enlists the support of the show’s other strong female protagonist, Maeve (played by Thandie Newton), to help him stop Dolores.
Cassel has nothing but the highest admiration for his female co-stars. “The show is about women. The main characters, the most driven characters of the whole series are strong female figures who are fighting for their rights, who don’t want to be controlled, who want justice. They’re badass,” he says. “I had the same feeling about my relationship with Maeve. It’s funny that this guy who is the smartest and the richest and the most powerful finally has a match in a robot. She’s the only intellectual match he has.”
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Westworld marks Cassel’s first major role in a big American TV series. He has found the experience very different from working on European film sets, having to collaborate with multiple directors and many more personnel involved in the production of a show as grand and epic in scale as Westworld. But he embraces the new challenge. “I accepted [the role] not only because of the quality of the series or because I am a fan of the show or because they told me ‘Hey, we want you to be the new Anthony Hopkins.’ Fuck, how could I say no to that?” Cassel says in a separate interview with Esquire Spain. “I didn’t accept it just for all that, but also for the chance to work in a completely different way.”
New episodes of Westworld are released every Monday on HBO and are available to stream on HBO Go.