The Wild West gets wilder in HBO’s sci-fi fantasy Westworld, set in an interactive adult amusement park where humans act out gunslinger fantasies with artificial-intelligence androids as high-tech puppeteers pull the strings behind the scenes. Premiering Sunday (9/8c) on HBO, it stars an ensemble of A-listers including Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and Ed Harris, who’s in the thick of the violent action as the mysterious Man in Black.
For Harris, known for such movies as The Right Stuff, A Beautiful Mind, Places in the Heart, The Hours, Apollo 13 and Pollock—which he directed in addition to playing the title role—the series marks his first TV project since playing John McCain in HBO’s Game Change.
Even though it’s inspired by the 1973 movie of the same name, Westworld is its own, often-shocking beast. Here, in this exclusive interview, Harris compares the two and takes us inside the psyche of the very twisted character he plays.
“This character figured out he can do anything he wants. He can kill people or make love to strange robotic prostitutes. There’s a part of him that is very dark, very violent.”
Were you familiar with the 1973 Westworld movie?
Yeah. I remember seeing it and enjoying it, and I watched it again before we started filming. The series is a lot less campy than the original, but it definitely takes off on the idea.
What was the appeal of this series and the role?
The chance to track a character over 10 episodes. There’s so many stories running through this, so many different narratives taking place. It’s like Game of Thrones. I’m one of the major characters but not the main focus of the piece, so I only work two or three days a week—it’s not something you’re living or breathing constantly. I get to have a great hat and ride a horse. It’s fun.
Is he supposed to be the equivalent of Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger in the movie?
The only similarity is he’s also wearing black. He’s supposed to be somewhat threatening like the Yul Brynner character, but he’s a human being, not a robot, and you’ll find out more about him as the episodes go on. You learn who he is in the outside world, and something about his past and why he is here. He has been coming here for 30 years. When he first came, he was not the Man in Black.