Ed Harris on ‘Westworld,’ Hating Toupees, and the Worst Part of Success

Ed-Harris
 Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

The actor talks about playing a heavy on HBO‘s Westworld, surviving Hollywood, and his hatred of toupees.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
On his deathbed four years ago, my father told me to gird my loins, which meant buck up and get things done.

You were an athlete before becoming an actor. What did you learn about life from being the captain on the football field?
A sense of teamwork and hard work. The more you put in, the more it’s going to pay off. You’ve gotta commit yourself, or it’s going to be half-assed.

As a struggling actor in Los Angeles during the ’70s, how did you build confidence?
I wasn’t afraid to learn more or explore myself. I fell in love with acting because it involved my mind, body, and emotions. You’re also part of a larger community as an actor.

Still, it must have been difficult?
It was actually pretty great because I didn’t ever realize I was struggling. I was part of a theater group—we’d go out and perform at old folks’ homes. I didn’t have any money though. I lived in a converted greenhouse with my dad. I remember once stealing a bar of soap I found by a pool because we didn’t have any.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Relax, man. Back off a little bit. I can get intense.

How should a person handle getting older?
Keep breathing and accept it. The one thing I appreciate about getting older is that as long as I have my feet on the ground, I’m doing all right. Nobody’s meant to live forever.

You’ve worked with your wife, actress Amy Madigan, on several projects. What’s your secret to successfully collaborating?
Communication and telling the truth—you get into it once in a while, but we don’t take working together for granted.

You’ve been acting for more than 40 years. What’s your trick to surviving Hollywood?
Stay away from it and do your work. I don’t hobnob around with the A-team or whatever it’s fucking called. I just live my life.

Is there a piece of music or artist you look to for inspiration?
Ninety percent of the music I listen to is Bob Dylan.

What’s the worst part of success?
You get used to a certain standard of living, and you end up doing shit that you otherwise wouldn’t do to support it. That can be dangerous.

You’ve worked with many renowned directors, including Ron Howard and Darren Aronofsky. Do you ever feel uncomfortable expressing your opinion on the set?
I’ve never really felt intimidated by a director. If I have certain feelings about a scene or character, I feel free expressing myself—some people are easier to deal with than others.

Do you believe artists and actors should make political statements?
If you think somebody’s going to listen to you, say it. You’ve got a right to.

Do you find it difficult playing such a violent character in Westworld?
I don’t feel great about adding to the amount of violence in the world, but I’m not killing people; they’re robots. They’re the protagonists. That’s how I rationalize it.

Your roles in Westworld and The Truman Show deal with technology run amok. How do you feel about our digital age?
I’d rather be outside chopping wood or something than sitting at a computer. A generation ago, there weren’t cell phones recording you doing idiotic effing things. I can’t imagine what this world’s going to be like when my daughter is my age.

How has being a father changed you?
You wake up in the morning and no longer think of yourself—you’re thinking about somebody else.

What role should vanity play in a person’s life?
Little. Self-love isn’t such a bad thing, especially in this business, but I’m not going to get my eyes or my neck done. I don’t have a toupee, either.

Do you think being bald shaped your personality?
I think it shaped my career. My first agent suggested I get a hairpiece. I was 28 and had this awful fucking wig and actually wore it to an audition. It was ridiculous. I don’t think I get the credit I deserve for being bald and playing parts in films meant for people with hair.