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[This story contains spoilers for Westworld season four episode “Well Enough Alone.”]
Ed Harris does not know how it is going to end for William, aka the Man in Black, when Westworld concludes with its fifth and final season, but he has some thoughts.
The Oscar-nominated actor has played the role of the sadistic park owner and routine guest since the premiere episode of the HBO series in 2016. In his younger days, William (played by Jimmi Simpson) seems like a good guy. But he is ultimately corrupted by Westworld where he visits to enact his wicked deeds on the robots. That is, until the uprising at the end of season one after the hosts become self-aware. Driving his wife to commit suicide and killing his daughter (although he thought she was a host) left William with nothing. And when viewers catch up with him in season four, it is learned that he somehow survived after a host copy of himself slit William’s throat at the end of season three. The presumably real William is now being kept in a huge cryo chamber by a host copy of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) as the host version of William does her bidding.
In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter prior to the Sunday premiere of “Well Enough Alone,” the stage, screen and TV veteran touched on a number of topics, including how much of the overall story he is told and when, as well as whether he thinks William could be redeemed.
In the below chat, Harris also talks about the golf scene from this week’s episode and how much grief that LeMat pistol has given him over the seasons.
How far out did you know the arc, meaning were you prepared to play an A.I. henchman version of William prior to this season’s scripts arriving?
At the end of last season, I did not know at the beginning of this season at all that I would end up being an A.I. I spent most of that season in my white jumpsuit, which I was really glad to get out of. And then [co-creator] Lisa Joy gave me an overall arc of season four, understanding that I was basically a henchman for Tessa’s character.
Did you have to rethink how the character would interact as a host?
I don’t know if there’s much difference between the two of them, but yeah. He’s really following orders. She’s programmed him to the extent that he’s really doing it in her bidding, but hopefully in the course of the season, as the other hosts have done, he’ll start growing within, getting a little more consciousness of his own being and expanding his horizons a little bit. Things start changing a bit later in the season.
Can William be redeemed, and do you want him to be redeemed?
That’s a really good question. You know, I wouldn’t mind if he, the actual human William, got out of the cryo machine and corrected some situations that he’s responsible for. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I certainly have not been told, but I’m not sure if he’s got much chance of surviving. I don’t know if he’s ever going to get back to being that man [played by Jimmi Simpson]. I’m hoping that some aspect of who he was when he was younger comes back, but I really don’t know if it will. I have no idea what they’re planning. We have one more season, which will start filming next April and May. I have no idea where that’s going to end up.
Is Westworld your favorite park on the show? And did directing and starring in Appaloosa  make this project more attractive to you when it originally signed on?
The whole idea of being in this Western, you know riding horses and being in this Western outfit, being the Man in Black, that’s very appealing to me. (Laughs.) I really enjoy my Man in Black Western outfit and who he is when he’s wearing it. Wearing all those layers of black, when I sweat — especially when it’s 100 degrees out — it keeps me cool, so I don’t mind it. But when I take that black hat off, sweat just pours down my face.
I just loved that golf scene in this week’s episode. Was that fun to shoot? Do you play?
(Laughs.) I have played in the past, but I kind of gave it up because the last time I played, I threw my putter in the bushes. I haven’t played for a few years, so a pro came over and helped my swing a little bit. It’s not a very good swing, it’s a little lurch-y, but it’s better than it was. And I actually did reach that green a few times. It was fun, yeah.
I am not much of a gun person, but I did go down a rabbit hole because I was so fascinated by William’s LeMat. From what I have read, those guns, beyond being exceptionally rare, were quite finicky. What’s your experience been with the pistol?
I’ve had a really hard time with that thing. They actually got another replica that’s a little better, but it’s really hard to cock with one hand. I gave it to different people and said, “Just try to cock this thing.” And especially if I’m supposed to shoot fast, it was really a pain. But you know, through the magic of cinema and editing, it worked out. But yeah, it was a little annoying.
And finally, I would love to hear your opinion on technology evolving at lighting-fast speeds, even since the show started in 2016. From self-driving cars to robot dogs and so on, I assume it must be wild seeing it all while starring in a show about technology going horribly wrong.
I have to say that I think it’s our responsibility as humans to deal with technology constructively. As great as the internet is in keeping people connected, it also increases people’s ability to do really evil things, whether it’s bullying or sending death threats to senators. I personally am way behind in terms of even grasping the current technology, and I don’t care. I just as soon throw the cell phone in the ocean most of the days. It’s frightening to me. My daughter is 29 and I’m 71. I can’t imagine what the world would be like when she’s my age, can’t even imagine.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Westworld airs new episodes Sundays on HBO.
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