Westworld is the best new show this season. Full stop. A big, beautiful, rich series with the depth and smarts and melancholy Game of Thrones wishes it had, it has surpassed its potentially campy robots-gone-wild genesis to become a truly poignant reflection on man and his machines. (And it’s already renewed for season two!) We spoke to series star Jimmi Simpson, who plays a sweet businessman who gets more than he bargains for when he journeys to the $40,000 per day fun-fest that is Westworld, about his character’s adventures this season, how he and Evan Rachel Wood blow off steam between takes—and what Sunday’s big finale has in store for us.
When you first got script, how many of the episodes did you get? Could you see William’s full arc, or did you just get a little bit at a time? How did it make you feel?
Well, I didn’t have any information about what was gonna unfold for William, but they gave a really detailed backstory on the emotional presence of the characters that all of us are playing. Nobody was really given a heads-up of where they were going. I was pretty in the dark—I’m actually pretty comfortable there!—so we were all just focusing on the scenes at hand. And we played them as honestly and as in-the-moment as possible. Not knowing the future really helped with that. And if we were stuck in performing and we’re like “I just need a little more information,” they would always give it to us—it wasn’t aggressively withholding; they just knew what they were doing and they knew how to make it come together really organically.
The show is rill dark— there’s a lot of melancholy and it grapples with big issues like the very essence of humanity and morality. What excited you about tackling that sort of material?
Tackling that kind of material! I respond much more to that kind of a narrative on television these days. I was a typical American, probably until I was 34, just watching so much television. It was such a pastime to turn it on and I wouldn’t really pay attention. We all tend to consume a lot of television that way, but a few years ago, I just stopped watching mindless TV because I was getting older and I felt like I was wasting a little bit of time. So I personally respond so much more strongly to a narrative that’s coming from more thoughtful brain on TV.
There are so many weighty questions central to the narrative: what makes us human? Is it wrong to murder a robot? Is it weird to have a secret clone of yourself? What is your favourite moral quandary from the show that you lie awake at night thinking about?
Well, I lie awake and think about all types of things. But as far as this show goes, it’s that question of, What would you do if someone gave you the keys to the castle? Because a lot of people get off on seeing Logan’s total self-indulgence, but I truly don’t think we all behave that way so that’s the question. It clearly it resonates with a lot of people because everyone wants to know what I would do if I were in Westworld. It’s generally the same as William: I would observe and take each thing by the moment as opposed to Logan barrelling though.
So you wouldn’t just immediately high-tail it to the chic sex bondage park at the outside of the park?
I wouldn’t, personally.
You’re like “I wanna hangout in Sweetwater. It’s chic.” They do have a killer piano there.
UGH, oh, god, the jukebox!
Now—the costumes. There is a meta aspect to the costuming on Westworld for guests; like, when William walks into the outfitting room in the beginning and they offer him the black-hat wardrobe or the white-hat wardrobe. How did that help you get into William’s headspace? How did it feel wearing cowboywear?
William is way more subdued and thoughtful and put-together than other characters I’ve played, at least stylistically, and sure its helps to put on the white hat, but I think that the grabbing of the white hat was less of this is what I am and more what I believe myself to be. The choices I’ve made are white-hat and I think it’s—not to sound lame—like life: things change and you have to adjust your sensibilities, and, sometimes, even your morality, to stay alive and that what’s happens with William—he changes.
Where were you filming? Was it insanely hot there, riding around in the dust in your woollens?
It was great. It was hot and we were wearing period clothing, but it was just so effective and the set was so realistic. It was this beautiful set up in Santa Clarita and Sweetwater is exactly what it looks like on screen—it’s there. We were all unused to this type of period dress and that threw us all into the roles even more.
Was there any off-screen hilarity that helped you keep going through doing all these often-heavy scenes together?
Oh my god, yes. If you watch Evan and I’s work together, it’s almost always very, very heavy and so emotionally connected and when we’d wrap each scene, it was like this post-coital exhaustion. And then so we’d just look at each other, hug it out, and be like “wanna make a Dubsmash?” and that was basically our outlet. We’d have to recover from each scene by being ridiculous. If we didn’t, and if we weren’t a couple of funny weirdos, I don’t know how we would have gotten through the whole season. We were each other’s spit-valves.
Did you have one favourite William scene?
The thing that was most exciting for me was playing this man who’s falling in love—I don’t get hired to do that too often. So those few sweet scenes where Dolores and William open themselves up to each other in a way they never really have for anyone else, that was also me going through that process as a performer for the first time.
What was the most shocking twist in the show so far to you?
[GIGANTIC SPOILER ALERT] It’s the Bernard reveal. So we got that script and we all ran to work the next day searching for Jeffrey: “Did you know?! How long have you known?! It’s crazy!!” It blew all of our minds collectively.
How long had he known? Did he know from the beginning? Did he keep the secret the whole time?
I think he knew a little bit; not from the beginning, I don’t think, but he knew somewhat soon. That performance that he delivered is exceptional. You watch it not knowing and you’re like, “what a sweet human,” and then when you go back and watch it knowing, it’s all very clear and you see these stories that Jeffrey’s made and he’s even more impressive.
Can you tell us about the finale?
It’s an experience. It ends the story with a lot of answers and the tone…it’s almost like there’s a breath and then we discuss the end and then things obviously get a little hectic and crazy, but, to me, it’s 90 minutes that will really satisfy all the questions that you’ve had and just really excite you for what’s coming next.