Dr. Robert Ford’s journey on Westworld came to an unexpected and apparent conclusion in Sunday’s finale. Below star Anthony Hopkins chatted with EW about his role playing the theme park’s mastermind on the show — and the classic film roles that helped inspire his take on the character.
This was your first serious TV show, at least in the United States. What drew you to this project originally?
They sent me the film book to read. I love to work. And I’d seen the original Westworld. But I couldn’t remember it, I only remembered the actors — Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin. My agent phoned me and said will you meet [showrunner Jonathan Nolan] in order to talk about Westworld and I said, “Yeah.” And I said: “What do they want me to be?” And he said, “Some doctor.” So, Jon, we met and he gave me the script. He said you play the man who invents Westworld. I said, “Is it like Walt Disney?” He said, “Yeah, but it’s even darker than that. It’s almost like a Frankenstein.” So I said, “Yes, I’ll do it.”
What’s refreshing and interesting about it was starting with the first pilot — because no one knew it would be taken up [to series] by HBO. So it was a gamble, and I wanted to do it. And then the series was picked up. So what was interesting was to not know which way the story was heading. I said to Jon, “What happens to him?” He said, “I can’t tell you.” So I said, “What happens next week?” And he said, “I won’t tell you.” They sent me the script and I think, “Oh, this is interesting.” So each week I got a new script every 10 days let’s say, and they [blacked] out a lot of lines. So as a condition I said, “Look, it’s not that I don’t love it, but I always want to know the script inside out, backward and forward, so I can talk it in my sleep.”
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
There’s the scene where I’m sitting on the veranda with [Sidse Babett Knudsen], the Belgian actress [who played Theresa Cullen] in episode 4. I thought it was really interesting there was a deeper, darker side to Ford. Because he warns her. They want to control me. She looks and me and she knows there’s no way she can beat me. And I played my usual charming self. I say, “Would you like some more wine?” Of course, she knows that I will destroy her. So he’s a destructive man, as well. He wants to create a pure dystopia or utopia, but he begins to realize somewhere in there that he’s lost track of it. I think he’s troubled by his own conscience. I remember the one thing that did catch my attention when I started reading the scripts, was one of my favorite science-fiction movies — I’m not a science-fiction buff, but there’s a movie with Walter Pidgeon called The Forbidden Planet. Where Morbius creates this huge monster to guard his kingdom but he isn’t even aware that he’s created this monster until he realizes, “My god, I did this.” And then he destroys himself.
Your character’s morality is pretty cryptic at times.
One of my other favorite films, and where there’s a parallel: Do you remember The Bridge on the River Kwai?
I love that film. David Lean.
Lean and [Alec] Guinness, great performances.
You are thinking of Guinness building the bridge, right?
Yeah, to show the Japanese, to show them the British Empire. And James Donald, who plays the officer, says, “This is madness.” Guinness wants to build a perfect bridge for the enemy. And at the end when he recognizes it, and Guinness says, “My god, what have I done?” That moment is the most moving because he’s an idealist. He wanted to show them the British can do this. It’s his nature. And he doesn’t realize until then. And he falls on the plunger [and dies]. That is what Ford is.
You don’t really use the internet, I’ve read. Is there any technological device that you do love and couldn’t live without?
I sit on my iPad and read books. I do use the internet but I don’t like going into it too much because I think I’ve developed over the years a sort of diffidence or detachment from things. All I know is that I have no control and there is no controlling it. There’s no guarantee of anything. And I can watch the politicians screaming [at] each other — that developed over the years when I was a young man. I remember going to see John F. Kennedy’s grave in Arlington and I remember the assassination so well. I was 23. And I remember that night of the assassination. I stood at that grave 20 years ago and I thought, “Isn’t it peculiar? There no guarantees in the glamorous Camelot.”
Even for him.
And then for Robert Kennedy. So never mind how perfect you are, or how well you’ve got it made. There’s always something unpredictable. And that’s what I love — the unpredictability. The uncertainty. So people ask my what my opinion is about the present [political] situation. And I say “I don’t know.” I really don’t know. Do I have an opinion? Not really, but I don’t think it’s that important.
Now we often have sequels and reboots like this one. Is there any character from your past that you would like to revisit?
I made the mistake of doing two more [Hannibal Lecter movies] and I should have only done one. But I thought Godfather Part II was great.
Is there anything that struck you in the difference between working in serious television versus film — aside from the fact that you didn’t know where your character was going along the way?
It’s certainly faster. And I think, with HBO, the great power is there’s no interference on the set. With a movie you know the beginning and the end [and] that’s it. You film it and you go home. On this, it was never shown which way it was going to go. And there were lots of surprises along the way. Many big surprises.
What drove Ford? What was his motivation?
I honestly don’t know. He’s obviously a very proud man fascinated by human intelligence, the nature of intelligence, the history of the human being, the nature of consciousness, and the theory that human consciousness — as we know it today — started very recently.
Yes, recently in concepts of the divine. According to Jon, storytelling started with Homer — that’s very recent in human biology. It only happened very recently that we began to understand that consciousness was present in a voice. Where was that voice coming from? So they put two and two together. It must be an outside force. It’s God. And [in the finale we’re told] about a neurologist who went to the Sistine Chapel 20 years ago. And looked up at the painting of God giving life to Adam. But in the cloak of God [was drawn] the human brain — the Cerebellum and the vestibular. Michelangelo would take bodies out of the graves, dissect them, and he understood — the guy was a god-like genius. But his message to the world, if there was a message there, was that God, the divine, is right here in the pineal gland. All human creativity comes out of that. But we couldn’t cope with it even though it’s obviously there. It’s like a conspiracy theory, but we are the ones who are actually producing [the voice of our own conscious inspiration]. It’s like the nature of a conspiracy. That is it inconceivable Lee Harvey Oswald is the lone killer of JFK, so it must be somebody else. You cannot accept that as a reality — that you can be taken out so easily. So we must develop this conspiracy. And maybe they’re right, I don’t know. But I think that the conspiracy is there must be a god, there must be something beyond us. The human animal developed so rapidly, the brain became so explosively evolved as soon as we stepped out the jungle and started reaching for the trees, that the mighty explosion of our consciousness was already created in us as a guide, as a higher power. And maybe that’s where God came from. The instinct to worship. Because we kill in the name of god.
More Westworld finale coverage:
— Our deep-dive recap breaks down everything in “The Bicameral Mind.”
— Our Q&A with star Ed Harris about those big twists.
Later: Our finale edition of our Westworld: Analysis Mode podcast