Back to IndieWire

Ed Harris’ ‘Westworld’ Turn Was A Perfect Late-Career Move For One of Our Best Actors — Career Watch

Ed Harris is in his prime, delivering fearless indie film and theater roles while growing his following via HBO's hit series "Westworld," which could earn him an Emmy.

Westworld Ed Harris

Ed Harris as Man in Black.

John P. Johnson/HBO

It helped that Harris found the Man in Black as soon as he put on the outfit topped by his wide-brimmed black hat: “I work with the costumer, got the outfit together, put it on. I’m the Man in Black. Period. No questions asked.”


Westworld Season 1 Episode 1 Evan Rachel Wood Ed Harris


John P. Johnson/HBO

While Harris has starred in a few TV high-end TV movies and mini-series, he was not prepared for the exigencies of shooting multiple episodes at a time. The series stopped filming after seven episodes because the last three were not ready. So Harris went off to do the London revival of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” for four months and literally the next day, came back to shoot the last three.

“It was nutty there for a while,” he said. “Everybody works in different ways and styles. It was a little odd, working two or three days a week, not sure what was going on when I was not there. Anthony Hopkins would come up to me and say, ‘Ed, do you understand what’s going on here?’ ‘He was so glad when I said that I did not have a clue.”

Westworld Ed Harris James Marsden Evan Rachel Wood Thandie Newton PaleyFest 2017

For example, a friend outside the series had to inform Harris of the big reveal, that he was the older version of younger guest William (Jimmi Simpson). “I was surprised,” he said. “I trust Jonah and Lisa’s vision; they’re so cerebral about it, it’s a bottomless pit with where they’re going with this thing. My mind doesn’t work this way. ‘There’s a younger you, you own this whole place, your company runs it.’ That’s nice to know!”

Yes, it was fun to play the Man in Black: “You ask yourself, what are you putting out there? This violent individual doing nasty things to all kinds of people. But wait: they’re not people. It’s a theme park. They’re hosts, they’re A.I. That’s the rationale for putting so much violence on the screen. It’s a little bit of a fantasy, there’s some buoyancy to it. This guy’s having a pretty good time: ‘This is what I come here for,’ as he blows eight people away.”

Signature quote: “You can’t betray yourself too often, or you become somebody else.”

Image ref 40306159. Copyright Rex Shutterstock No reproduction without permission. Please see www.rexfeatures.com for more information.


Latest Misfire: Harris likes to take chances on risky material, which yields the occasional low-budget indie (“In Dubious Battle,” “The Adderral Diaries,” “Cymbeline,” “Frontera”) that doesn’t register with audiences.

Current Gossip: Harris lives on a Malibu ranch with his wife of 34 years, actress Amy Madigan, his frequent collaborator — they recently starred in the well-received London stage production of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child.”

Next Step: Darren Aronofsky’s “intense” “Mother!” (Paramount, October 13) opposite Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Last summer Harris shot Mark Raso’s “Kodachrome,” which should debut this September in Toronto. And “Westworld” Season 2 is set to resume filming this summer.

“I’m curious to see what the second year is going to bring,” Harris said. “I don’t think there will be as many surprises this year, in terms of not knowing things. [Man in Black] is there for a reason. This will become clearer in the second season as we find out more about it. I’m looking forward to it. I had no idea the way the first season ended, with the hosts set free, becoming conscious of their situation. They’re going to try use fewer directors this year, maybe have three do all of them.”

Image ref 40248597. Copyright Rex Shutterstock No reproduction without permission. Please see www.rexfeatures.com for more information.

“A History of Violence”

Career Advice: Stay hungry. Harris is always trying to get his favorite projects up and running, which is not easy these daysHe’s drumming up financing for a spring start for his next project, based on his screenplay adaptation of Kim Zupan’s novel “The Ploughman,” starring Stacy Keach, with Harris directing for the first time since 2008 Warner Bros. western “Appaloosa.” That film starred his “The History of  Violence” costar Viggo Mortensen; he’d still like to do a sequel. And he wants to make a musical and work with Spike Jonze. Well, OK then!

Get the latest Box Office news! Sign up for our Box Office newsletter here. 

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Awards and tagged , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox