Season 1 of HBO’s Westworld brought with it a large amount of twists and turns, some expected and others more predictable. While the identity of The Man in Black (Ed Harris) was figured out by fans several weeks before it was revealed in the finale, it was still no less of a shocker. We may have known it was coming, but the moment where we finally see that The Man in Black is actually William (Jimmi Simpson) is still quite effective and will no doubt be remembered as one of the show’s more powerful moments.
As with many of Westworld‘s twists, most of the cast were kept in the dark on this, including Simpson. Throughout production, however, the actor began to clue in thanks to a slip up by one of the makeup artists on the show. Speaking with Vanity Fair, Simpson reveals how he first discovered that William and The Man in Black were the same people:
“I was with an amazing makeup artist, Christian, and he was looking at my face too much. He had me in his chair, and he was just looking at my face, and then he said something about my eyebrows. ‘Would you be cool if we just took a couple hairs out of your eyebrows, made them not quite as arched?’ It was simply that, Joanna. It was that.
I was like, ‘Why would they change my eyebrows? Why in the world?’ I started thinking the one reason was to make me look like someone else, and then I cycled through the Rolodex of the main players. There’s only one that really fit my look and dialect. They didn’t reveal any of that to any of us until about [episode] eight, nine, or ten officially. This was probably seven months before I was supposed to know this, but I just said to Lisa, “Am I supposed to be Ed Harris?” She just froze and said, “I can’t say anything, but I will say you have a hell of an arc this season.”
Of course, fans pointed to William being The Man in Black pretty early on, which surprised the actor, as according to him, the audience wasn’t even supposed to start thinking about that stuff until much later in the show:
“I was really surprised after episode two when people were calling out sh– — like specific sh– that you weren’t supposed to even think about for four more episodes,” he told Business Insider. “And I was bummed out really briefly because it threatened the idea in my mind that everyone would be shocked and surprised with the narrative. But then with each episode you guys just noticed that sometimes people figured out some of the devices that were happening but it never seemed to affect the emotional unfolding of the story or even just the peaks and the valleys. The theories and the fan boys didn’t take away any of the enjoyment as a whole.”
Once Simpson had figured out he’d be playing a younger Ed Harris, he began to watch the actor and pick up on things he could use in his performance:
“I took it upon myself to ask [Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy] for any clips [of Ed Harris] they’d be willing to share,” he told GQ. “And on the couple of days when Mr. Harris and I worked on the same set, I just kind of…stared. And watched. I tried to be as subtle as possible, and I was leaning into the narrative more than my specific physical appearance. But as William’s will is broken and his morality is tested, the weight is visible on him. I felt like you could see that on Mr. Harris, so I tried to drop that into [my performance in] the later episodes.”
From what we’ve heard, Simpson won’t be returning as William for the already confirmed second season of Westworld, but he certainly made his presence felt during the show’s rookie outing and quickly emerged as a fan-favorite character. The Man in Black reveal may not have come as a complete surprise to most, but it’s still without a doubt one of this year’s best television moments and was only made that much better thanks to the excellent performances from both Jimmi Simpson and Ed Harris.