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When the Man in Black first saw the hosts go off their loops and create chaos in Westworld Season 1 — as they killed and maimed guests at a gathering of Delos executives and investors — he looked on with delight. Finally! The stakes to the game were real, he thought. But as an institutionalized William watches humans go off their loops, so to speak, during the chaos of Season 3 — with his own therapist committing suicide — he looks on with horror. This isn’t a game he wants to play, but he has no choice.
Forced into an augmented reality take on group therapy with several variants of himself — troubled child William, young adult William, corporate/philanthropist William, park persona/gunslinger William — the mental patient has to grapple with questions about the darkness in his soul, whether his own path was written long ago, and what to do about it. (Not surprisingly, it ends in virtual bloodshed.)
Actor Ed Harris chatted with SYFY WIRE about his character’s killer therapy session, his preference regarding Westworld nude scenes, and the high-ranking figure he’d like to copy and replace.
You’re playing multiple iterations of William in this group therapy session. How did you wrap your head around his existential crisis? You essentially get to kill yourself.
Yeah. [Laughs.] It’s pretty bizarre. Well, when the Man in Black opens the door and he looks in there, he sees all these aspects of himself. He’s going, “Oh god, what am I supposed to do now?” In terms of shooting it and then playing it, you’re really focused on one aspect at a time. You’re playing the corporate guy, or you’re playing the Man in Black, and there are doubles playing everyone else, so it wasn’t that confusing. It was delineated so clearly, in terms of how we shot it, but it was quite an experience.
Having played all of these aspects of the guy, having spent a lot of time as the Man in Black and a good amount of time as corporate William, I know those guys. So I was just trying to incorporate who they were into the scene.
You once said, “I just don’t want to be naked or wearing a samurai suit.” Why?
Yeah, I did say that. And I hold to it. In the first season, we’re in the West, not in [expletive] Shogun world. I just have no relationship to Shogun World. And I didn’t feel like the Man in Black should be naked. He’s a powerful dude, and he’s not supposed to be stripped of his protection, so to speak. That’s more of a character thing. I just didn’t feel it was justified, no matter what storyline they came up with.
But I should have added one more to that list. I should have said, “And I don’t want to wear a white jumpsuit.” [Laughs.] I’m the Man in Black, not the [expletive] Man in White! The character is the Man in Black. That’s what I signed on to be. I didn’t sign on to play the Man in White, but that’s what’s happening now, so there you go.
The Man in White says he’s the good guy now. Why does he believe that?
Well, he knows that what has taken place in the mayhem that has ensued isn’t his … He doesn’t even know how insane it is out in the world, but things have broken down, people have gotten hurt, he ended up killing his own daughter, and he’s going to rectify that. Which basically means he’s going to find Dolores and do her in. I mean, that’s his plan. That’s what he’s thinking. That he has this responsibility because she’s ruined things at the moment.
When Dolores left the park as Charlotte Hale, she took five pearls. One of them is Bernard. One of them is Dolores Prime. And she duplicated herself in copies of Charlotte, Martin Connells, and Musashi/Sato. That leaves one more …
I’m going to be honest with you — I don’t pay attention to the theories. I have a sneaking suspicion of who the last pearl might be, but I’m not sure. I haven’t given it much thought.
If you could copy and replace someone, who would you want to do that with right now? What would you have them do?
When you take over who they were, and have your own mind in that person’s body? That kind of thing?
Definitely Trump, man. I mean, I could do a better job running this country than him. My first step would be to hire the smartest, brightest, most creative, imaginative people as every department head, in charge of every division of every possible thing I had control over, whether it be the judiciary, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of the Interior, etc. Just go on down the line, you know?
We live in a low-grade algorithmic world compared to Westworld’s version of predetermined fates — Netflix and Facebook versus Incite. But once people become aware of this sort of algorithmic determinism, they’re able to wake up. It’s a catalyst for change, to break out of their loops ...
That would be really nice if that was happening, yeah.
It’s interesting. There are some parallels to what’s going on right now, but it’s not something that I spend time thinking about. I hope that my belief in humanity is a little more optimistic than the Westworld point of view, but sometimes it’s really difficult to feel that way, particularly when you got a man in office who was actually voted in by the people in this country, and they’re calling it a close election coming up in November. Are you absolutely kidding me? Most people in this country would put this guy back in office? I mean, come on. What does that say about us? That’s a scary thought.
It’s going to be really interesting to see how things come back and in what manner, you know? When people actually start to feel free to get out of their homes, etc. etc. It seems to me that it’s going to take quite a while for things to get back to any kind of true normalcy. Come Christmastime, you’re still going to see a lot of people wearing masks, that’s for sure.
What are your pandemic picks? Do you have any past works that you’d like to recommend for people to watch or rewatch during quarantine?
Pollock and Appaloosa. I directed both of those. They’re pretty straightforward, honest, and interesting. And if you watch Pollock, you might learn something about a famous American artist, and something about the agony of being a creative person who has no other outlet in their life other than their art.