‘Westworld’ show runner: There are some safe assumptions one can make about the Man in Black

Evan Rachel Wood and Ed Harris in "Westworld."
(John P. Johnson / HBO)

Since it debuted a week ago, the HBO series “Westworld” has been intriguing viewers with its style and invention.

The show cymbal-claps the disparate genres of futurist sci-fi and nostalgic Western as it tells the story of a theme park (the titular Westworld), along with its guests, creators and “hosts,” the androids that entertain said guests.

The J.J. Abrams-Jonathan Nolan-Lisa Joy collaboration, based loosely on a 1973 Michael Crichton movie, offered a public reveal of sorts Sunday. Creators and actors turned out for a panel at New York Comic-con, commenting on the show after the screening of the series’ second episode. (The episode aired on HBO later that night.)

While spoilers were as difficult to find as a well-behaving guest in Westworld, the panelists did offer some nuggets on how they view the show they’ve created. Here’s a sampling.


—Nolan on how the show’s main theme — the ways humans become more violent in a simulated/consequence-free world — can be found in our everyday lives:

“In L.A. you’re one person on the sidewalk and you get in your car and you’re a terrible tyrannical person. Video games are the same way who you are in real life is different from how you act in a simulation.”

—Thandie Newton, who plays the host/madam named Maeve, on the ethical questions raised by the show:

“We’re in a game. But if we really believe in virtual reality, shouldn’t we be responding with more sensitivity [to violence], as if it’s real?”


—And on the acting challenge of playing an android who may be having human-style nightmares:

“It’s so terrifying but also incredibly liberating. Now we not only play the robots but the wild feral robots who are becoming conscious.”

—On spoilers:

Well, Nolan and Joy gave up little. Joy did say there are some “safe” assumptions one can make about the character of the Man in Black, Ed Harris’ wayward gun-shooting guest, when asked if it was possible he wasn’t really a guest. But Nolan shut that down too. Trust no one; believe nothing.


—Jeffrey Wright on his role as Bernard, who runs programming in Westworld, and how he differs from creative director Ford (Anthony Hopkins):

"[Bernard] is the Walt Disney/Col. Kurtz grandfather of the park ... To Ford the hosts are tools. Guests use them for indulgences and that’s it. Ford is obviously a very isolated guy and maybe there’s a bit of a misanthrope in there. So his relationship to these things lacks all the elements of empathy that Bernard brings to it. That’s a tension we’ll explore as we move forward.”

—Nolan on the connection to, and contrasts with, his past TV work:

“‘Person of Interest’ has a distributed A.I. that will appear [in our society] first and, in a sense, already has. Anthropomorphic A.I. that, in a sense, will have to be hobbled by looking like us and acting like us [is the next level] and is something we’re fascinated by.”


—Nolan on the love of video games that inspired the show, and his wife on how he came up with it:

“When Crichton wrote his film there were no games. There was ‘Pong.’ And now games can be bigger than film or television.”

Joy: “How happy was my husband to say, ‘Honey, it’s research. I have to play “Red Dead Redemption”?’ "‎

—Ben Barnes, who stars as the morality-challenged repeat guest Logan, says the park has a deceptively complicated purpose:


“It’s more than guns and [breasts]. It’s Shakespeare. It holds a mirror up to humanity. It takes these perfect creatures to show how flawed you are.”

Or. as Hopkins says in the series: “This is not a theme park. It’s an entire world.”

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