Westworld's Ed Harris On The Difference In Playing A Host Vs. A Human

Examining the difference between humans and machines is the core theme of HBO's "Westworld." In our real life, we're edging closer and closer to sentient AI (if it's not already here), and the moral implications of that idea have been a cornerstone of sci-fi for about as long as computers have existed. 

It makes sense that when Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan decided to tackle this title, they'd be most interested in the humanity in the machine and the lack of humanity in flesh and blood people. That's certainly what the show has been exploring for the last few seasons, but what about how the actors are involved? How do they tackle the different kinds of performances, especially when they play both human characters and robot versions of themselves? 

Our own Danielle Ryan had the chance to talk to two certifiable legends who have had to deal with this very specific acting challenge: Ed Harris and Tessa Thompson.

Specifically, she asked, "Is there anything that you do to help keep the different versions of your characters aligned in your head or any little tiny things that you do to separate say Host William from human William or Charlotte versus Dolores Charlotte?" Both Harris and Thompson were impressed by the question.

Becoming more than his programming

Harris in particular responded well to the question:

"Good question. There must be something I'm doing that I do. I think it's more just the internal knowledge that you've been programmed in a certain way. The Host MIB is not a full fleshed human he's got a certain ... I don't know how to explain it. The others that have played the AI characters more than I think have a better hit on it, but I just kind of assume that I'm artificial, but still have his own feelings or his own needs and things like that. But I'm a hired gun for Hale's character and he's pretty much in season four kind of doing her bidding. So I'm hoping that within that he grows into having some other of his qualities come out, because they all seem to progress. Even if they're Hosts, they seem to escape the limitations of how they've been programmed and start evolving. So I don't know where that will go, but I'm hoping it does. If that makes any sense."

Thompson's role is a little different in that she's playing a personality in her body that is not her own and she had to study Evan Rachel Woods's physical mannerisms when she plays Dolores and try to incorporate that into her work. It's a similar challenge in that she's playing a character that is a version of herself that is not herself. This is starting to sound like "Inception" with all the layers to the reality of performance, but that kind of brain-twister is what you tune into "Westworld" for!