Millions of people tune in for each episode of the second season of HBO's "Westworld." But the cable network's hit sci-fi drama might never have come to be if one of the show's co-creators had not made the risky decision to abruptly quit her job and switch careers.
Today, Lisa Joy is a screenwriter, producer, and director who created "Westworld" with her husband, Jonathan Nolan (whose movie writing credits include "The Dark Knight" and "Interstellar," both directed by his brother, Christopher Nolan). The show's first season received a whopping 22 Emmy nominations, including four wins. Joy's Hollywood career also includes writing and producing credits on past TV series such as ABC's "Pushing Daisies" and USA Network's "Burn Notice."
But in 2007, Joy had just passed the bar exam in California after finishing her law degree at Harvard Law School (where her studies included learning bankruptcy law from future U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren).
At the time, she took a consulting job with the global firm McKinsey & Company on a tech industry project in San Francisco, Joy told Cosmopolitan in a February 2017 interview.
However, Joy had also long harbored dreams of becoming a professional writer. In fact, before leaving for law school, she'd received money for screenwriting software from Nolan, then her boyfriend.
Despite the fact that she'd just started a new job at McKinsey and she'd spent three years working toward a law degree, Joy had also recently written a sample television script that a friend passed along to Hollywood producer Bryan Fuller, who was putting together a writing staff for "Pushing Daisies," Joy told Cosmopolitan.
Joy said that writing a sample script while simultaneously studying to take the bar exam was "a little stressful," according to a 2016 interview with Bloomberg Law, but she said she couldn't wait for perfect timing: "I feel like there is just never a good time for taking a chance and following your dreams — whatever those dreams are."
Then, one day Joy received a call while on the job for McKinsey.
"This guy said, 'You just got the job,'" Joy recalls about the "Pushing Daisies" gig to Cosmopolitan. "I said, 'That's amazing and incredible! It will take a few months or so to finish up with this company, then I can fly back to L.A. and start as a writer.'
"The guy said, 'This job starts tomorrow. If you're not there, you don't get it.'"
Joy didn't have long to consider the offer, but she decided she "had to take this leap of faith" even though she later called the decision "terrifying" in a May 2018 Reddit AMA. She still had student loans from law school and the writing job with "Pushing Daisies" was "a huge pay cut," but she decided it was worth it.
"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,'" Joy wrote on Reddit in May.
"I thought, 'This is it, I can have a passion for my work that I never even dared to dream of,'" she told Cosmopolitan. She called her bosses at McKinsey and "quit on the spot."
In hindsight, Joy's risky move obviously paid off. After writing for "Pushing Daisies" for two seasons, she became the only woman writer on staff at "Burn Notice."
Then, in 2013, producer and director J.J. Abrams (ABC's "Lost," Disney's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens") approached Nolan and Joy about writing a TV adaptation of the 1973 sci-fi movie "Westworld," where life-like robots in an amusement park turn against their human creators.
"Thematically, it was so ripe with opportunities to explore," Joy told the website Slashfilm in 2016, when the show's first season aired on HBO. The show became an instant sensation, attracting large TV audiences and critical acclaim, with HBO eventually ordering at least two more seasons of "Westworld."
In an interview with Esquire in April 2018, Joy and Nolan discussed what it's like to run a TV series as a married couple, with Joy noting that the couple has "a lot of creative tussles."
"It's not great for having laid-back beers where you talk about the weather, because it's this all-consuming thing," she said in the interview.
Joy even made her directorial debut in the show's second season, stepping behind the camera for the season's fourth episode, which aired May 13.
On the latest twist in a career that has shown Joy is not afraid of taking risks, she told Esquire: "I've tried to always be incredibly overprepared in everything that I've done. I think part of it comes from being a woman: It's hard to get that first chance, and if you mess up, you just don't get a second chance, right? So you always want to exceed expectations out of the gate."
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of USA Network and CNBC.