Lisa Joy: Courage and Taking the Leap

"I feel like there is just never a good time for taking a chance and following your dreams — whatever those dreams are."

  Lisa Joy on the set of 'Westworld.' Image via Variety.

Lisa Joy on the set of 'Westworld.' Image via Variety.

One of the best episodes of 'Westworld''s second season is the fourth, directed by the shows co-creator Lisa Joy. Lisa Joy and her husband Jonathan Nolan (writer of the aforementioned Memento Mori short story and a frequent collaborator with his brother Chris) are responsible for bringing 'Westworld' from a simple idea to a visual reality. In the fourth episode of season 2, Joy furthers her creation by directing a brilliant episode.

Lisa Joy's own story demonstrates her courage and creative persistence. She was on a path to law school and a career as a consultant, but "no matter how long my day job hours were, I always made time to write...I wrote fiction, short stories, and poetry. I never shared it with anybody." 

After Harvard Law School, Joy faced a critical moment. She got a call back for a writing gig at a show, but, rather than giving her a few months to finish up her current role, the show wanted her to start the next day. It was a moment for her to take the jump or continue on a reasonable path that she had invested significant time, money, and education in. As Joy told it on Reddit,

  Lisa Joy on the 'Westworld' set. Image via Elle.

Lisa Joy on the 'Westworld' set. Image via Elle.

"[It was] terrifying. I quit my job at a consulting firm when I was stationed in Silicon Valley and had to fly myself back to LA and start on my first show. I'd never been in a writers room and had no idea what to expect. The show was 'Pushing Daisies' and I was staffed based on a spec I wrote while studying for the bar exam. I remember calling my mom and reassuring her: 'everything's going to be fine. It's a REAL writing job. I'll have health insurance and everything. What could possibly go wrong?' Couple months later -- writer's strike. Ooops."

Though 'Pushing Daisies' didn't work out, the commitment — the "skin in the game" of making a decision and leaving one path behind — led Joy along the journey that eventually brought us 'Westworld.'

In college, I learned of the Cornell West quote calling courage the "enabling virtue," and I've thought about it much since. Lisa Joy's story is an example of how courage and decisiveness in the face of the unknown can lead to personal success. As Joy explains,

"I thought I would be a lawyer, or a business person by day, and then tinker with poems at night. When it came my way, I had to take it. [...] It was a big leap to make into the void. And it’s not a traditional path for a screenwriter."

Joy made the jump. And surely her passion and love for writing, as shown by her dedication to it even while she was studying for a different career*, helped her tremendously, and made the journey worth it.

- JG

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* - What's interesting is that the nontraditional path for Lisa Joy actually helped form her worldview, and may lead to other opportunities later in life. As she explains with a balanced perspective, "I am happy to tell the stories I’m telling now, but I also know, in life, there are many wonderful ways that people can contribute to the world. And right now, that’s writing for me. And one day, it may be law." 

  Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. Image via the New York Times.

Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. Image via the New York Times.