'Westworld' Season 3 Premiere: Aaron Paul Breaks Down His "Messy and Complicated" Debut

[This story contains spoilers for the season three premiere of HBO's Westworld.]

The Man in Black (Ed Harris) was nowhere to be found in the Westworld season three premiere, but there's one man (who is often wearing black) set to illuminate the human experience for the upcoming episodes of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy's sci-fi thriller: Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul as Caleb Nichols, a former soldier working his way through trauma and grief in a future version of our world.

"He's the first human being we've met and spent so much time with since Ed Harris' character," Nolan tells The Hollywood Reporter about Caleb, on whom much of the series premiere centers. "Ed Harris is a lovely, lovely man, but his character is quite unsavory. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has imagined that humanity is composed entirely of the kinds of people who would go to Westworld, which is, of course, a self-selecting group. She's surprised when she reaches the outside world and finds out that it's not what all of humanity looks like."

Listen to The Hollywood Reporter's Series Regular podcast recap of the Westworld season three premiere:

In presenting the character of Caleb, Nolan feels Westworld can now "paint a more sympathetic portrait of humanity," which has always been a part of his and Joy's ambitions for the series. 

"It's a place we've always intended to go with the story," says Nolan. "In the first few seasons, we wanted you on the side of the hosts, or at least watch the story from their perspective. Now we're expanding the scope to incorporate the human perspective."

For Caleb, the road ahead is a dangerous one, what with the bleeding Dolores in his arms and the ghost of deceased war buddy Francis (Kid Cudi) occasionally in his ear. But for Paul, stepping into Westworld is something else entirely: "A dream come true," he says — similar words to how the hosts often perceive their dreamlike analysis states. Ahead, THR speaks with Paul about joining Westworld, his take on the season premiere, his own personal aversion to technology, and more.

How much did you know about Caleb and his arc when you signed on for Westworld?

For the most part, it felt like they were pretty upfront when I sat down with Lisa and Jonah, which I was so excited about, just to see where they were taking the show. The idea that they saw me as very much a part of the future of Westworld was incredibly exciting to me. When I sat down with them, they gave me the broad strokes of who Caleb was and what his backstory was. He had a history with war, with guns, an interesting relationship with his mother, and then they gave me the broad strokes with what's happening with this season and beyond. It was so incredible to me, such a dream come true, to have these conversations. But with that said, the more I read the scripts as they came my way, the more layers were revealed. It just got even more messy and complicated, which I loved.

Through Caleb, we as viewers have a person showing us what it's like to live in America in the 2050s. What did you want to convey in helping to bring that world to life?

What's interesting is that I'm such a fan of the show, and seeing how much control they have over the hosts in the confines of Westworld, you quickly realize that society as a whole is not that far off from how the hosts are within Westworld. It feels like there's a big grasp and a hold of control over society. The more Caleb realizes through his relationship with Dolores, the more he trusts Dolores and her mission, but also his whole faith in humanity … he's slowly starting to lose it.

Even before meeting Dolores, we see Caleb in a tough spot, grieving the loss of a friend, who he's hearing as a voice in his ear…

And it's something we can all relate to. We have all lost ones who are very close to us, I'm sure. When I was reading that — because they actually kept that away from me, that Francis was part of his grief therapy — I saw it very much as being a reality in the distant future for people, for helping them cope. But diving into a character that is struggling with a lot of emotions, it's one hundred percent in my wheelhouse. I love sinking my teeth into messy situations. It gives me as a performer something to really play with. This is really just the beginning of Caleb's journey. Throughout the season, more and more layers are going to be revealed about Caleb's very complicated and very messy past, and truly who he is as a being.

Caleb works at night using the RICO app, which is effectively Uber for crime. Do you think that's really where we're heading?

I mean, I think we're already there! There's a thing called "the dark web," and I don't even know how you access that.

Probably a good thing.

Yeah, not my thing! (Laughs.) The shit that goes down … you know, I don't own a computer. I haven't owned one in over ten years, and I love living my life like that. I'm terrible on my phone, which actually might not be so terrible. I'm never around my phone. 

This is the first time I find myself feeling envious of your life, Aaron Paul.

(Laughs.) I love it, man! I don't know. I think people need to shake what they're used to and put their phones down and their heads up and realize there's a big beautiful world out there that they're being distracted from by things inside of their pockets.

Throughout the episode, Caleb says, "I don't do personals." He has a real moral line about which jobs he's going to accept. When he realizes what's happening to Dolores, it does not sit well with him. What did that tell you about who Caleb is, fundamentally?

You quickly understand that Caleb has gone through a lot in his life. He can't break through the ceiling he's under right now, so he's forced into doing these odd criminal jobs. But there is a line he prides himself on not crossing. He's definitely surrounded by a lot of chaos in his life, but he refuses to break his own moral code.

The episode ends with Caleb and Dolores meeting. What draws him to her? Is it just "right place, right time" — or maybe even "wrong place, wrong time"?

Yeah, I think he's a little confused by Dolores and her motivations and her mission at the beginning. But throughout this season, a lot of these unanswered questions will in fact be answered for the audience and for Caleb. But at the very beginning, I think he sees something in Dolores. Maybe it's just that he was there at the right place at the right time and he's helping her out, and he doesn't want to leave her side. But Dolores educates him a little bit on society as a whole, and how big corporations really have control over society. That's why I think he's very on board to join Dolores in her mission.

As someone who was a fan of the series before joining it, what were your takeaways from seeing how Westworld comes together?

To be honest? It was exactly how I thought it would be. I was not surprised in the slightest. I knew I could have these incredible conversations with [Nolan and Joy] on the sidelines about where we're at as a society, where technology is at. That was the driving point for me to jump on board. Not only are we telling such an interesting, complicated, fun and messy story, but I get to pick the brains of people I really look up to and admire. I feel like I have the same beliefs as them. It's so nice to be surrounded by that on the day-to-day. It's a dream come true. They are such incredible artists. The fact that they are so madly in love, and you get to see that, and you see their working relationship … it's so beautiful. They lift each other up, always. It's really sweet to be around. They're such a beautiful couple who are creating such incredible words.

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