Thandie Newton on why nudity can be empowering

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Kayleigh Dray
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In HBO’s Westworld, she plays Maeve Millay – a self-aware robot that’s been programmed to fulfil the tasks of a sex worker at the fictional theme park. But Thandie Newton, in a new interview, has said that she found her character’s salon girl costume demeaning, and felt far more empowered and in control when she was naked on set.

“I found myself more empowered naked than I did with the saloon outfit,” she told Mail Online.

The 44-year-old actor explained: “I was more comfortable naked 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’.”

Newton finished by saying: “It's all there to make the invitation for sex as provocative as possible and then the promise of satisfaction is practically just there.”

It’s not the first time that Newton has addressed the power of nudity; during an interview with The Daily Beast last year, she revealed that the cast and crew of Westworld treated her differently when she was naked to when she was dressed in her corset and heels.

“People treated me with respect, like they were grateful for how committed I was to trying to tell the story right,” she says. “When you truly expose yourself. When you truly show that you have nothing to hide, people are tender towards you.” It’s something she never thought about before she saw it happening: “We associate nudity with sex. Not with vulnerability. Not with tenderness.”

Predicting that people would be surprised by her interpretation of nudity, Newton added: “It’s a stereotypical question and they expect a stereotypical answer [of] ‘I know! I’m so embarrassed being naked in front of people!’

“No. I stepped into that space. I felt challenged. I felt how much I was committing and how much I was sacrificing. And I was treated with tenderness.”

Newton, an outspoken feminist and spokesperson for women’s rights, added: “Every day I went on Westworld’s set, I did not have to leave my activist hat at home. That was extraordinary to me. I felt that by playing this character I was advancing the cause of women. Of humans.”

For those who have yet to watch the series, it may be difficult to understand how a robotic sex worker – with no real sense of autonomy – can be deemed a feminist role.

However, as the series progresses, Maeve begins to ‘wake up’ to the world around her – and, in doing so, takes back control over her own body.

Or, as she puts it: “Time to write my own f**king story.”

No wonder she’s now considered to be one of the most badass, empowered, and thought-provoking characters on television.

Images: Rex


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.