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

The Man in Black (Ed Harris) bows in ‘Westworld.’
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.

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—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?”

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—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.”

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—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.”

See the most-read stories in Entertainment this hour »

On Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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