The Westworld faithful will have to wait until 2018 to return to the titular theme park and its many labyrinthine storylines that encourage, nay demand, obsessive theorizing. But newly promoted series regular and self-professed fanboy Louis Herthum, who played Peter Abernathy — cyborg father to the show’s central host, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), in Season 1 — is going to get spoiled well ahead of the rest of us. The 60-year-old actor tells Yahoo TV that he’ll start shooting the HBO drama’s sophomore season next month, giving him a full year’s head start on learning Westworld‘s next round of secrets. “They’re ramping up right now,” he says, with pronounced excitement in his voice. “The actual shooting will start in mid-July. Where? I’m not sure about that. I shot in L.A. and Utah for Season 1, but who knows?”
Actually, Herthum knows quite a bit about Westworld. Maybe not Season 2, although, to be fair, he couldn’t share any answers now even if he had them. But over the course of our conversation, he reveals an in-depth knowledge of the ins and outs of the park’s first year, both in terms of what happened onscreen and the intense speculation going down off of it. Here’s Herthum on his favorite fan theories, as well as the hilarious story behind his full monty moment on the Westworld set.
I understand that there was a bit of a gap between filming the Westworld pilot and the rest of the series. Based on your material in the first episode, did you have a sense of what was in store?
I really didn’t! After shooting the pilot, there was quite a number of months before we even went in to shoot Episode 2. Plus, there was no sense that I would even be back. When I was put in cold storage, it could’ve been the end for Peter. So I was obviously pretty thrilled when they started calling and having me come in for those little bits that were in several of the episodes. It looked to me like they were finding ways to keep me around, which I was thrilled about. And then, of course, in Episode 8 — it was originally shot for Episode 7, but ended up being in Episode 8 — Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) comes in and downloads me with all that data. I went up to [co-creator] Lisa Joy and gave her a hug, because they don’t do anything without a lot of forethought, so I knew that was an indication that Peter would be around. We shot seven, and then there was another five-month break before shooting the last three. So from the time of shooting the pilot until the time it aired was like 25 months. But it was well worth it.
When you’re on a show like this where there’s so much secrecy about plot twists, how do you talk to people in your life about it? Do you kind of just have to say, “I’m sorry, that’s off limits?”
That or I’ll just avoid it completely. I’ll tell you a funny story: I got a script for the pilot, but never got any of the other scripts. When actors would report to their trailers, they’d have the sides for all the scenes that they’re shooting that day. So I would arrive, and the first thing I would do is read all the sides to try and gather any information I could. One of the days that I was there, they were shooting the scene where Bernard realizes that he’s a host. So I read that and realized Bernard was a host and had to keep it to myself for almost a year! I didn’t tell a living, breathing soul. I’m pretty good at keeping secrets.
Did learning secrets like that influence your performance at all?
It didn’t affect me as a character, but of course it started wild speculation on my part about who else could be a host. Even Ford — is Ford a host? There’s speculation about that to this day. I’m such a fanboy of the show itself.
What’s your favorite fan theory that you read during the course of Season 1?
There’s so many! There’s the obvious one about William and the Man in Black and, to be honest with you, that became clear at least to me pretty early on. Of course, I spoke to Jimmy Simpson on set, as well as Ed Harris, but we never spoke about that [storyline] at all. I’ll be honest with you: the first time I knew it with certainty, and this is not to say that everyone else didn’t as well, was the knife; when we saw William holding the knife that we had seen the Man in Black use throughout the show. That was very telling. So most of the theories I heard were right, but I know there were some that were really way out there.
I’ll say this: A lot of people seem to forget that Peter Abernathy was the first to utter, “These violent delights have violent ends,” which clearly is an audible trigger. My question is, how did I get that? Where did I come up with that? There haven’t been a lot of theories about that, and it intrigues me the most. Or why did the photograph of William’s fiancée trigger Peter to go bonkers? What’s your favorite crazy theory?
I’m partial to the one that insists Westworld is located on another planet.
Yes! [Laughs] There’s that theory that one of the tablets said it’s the year 2052. I’m not sure if that’s enough time for us to get to another planet and completely colonize it, but that is a pretty good theory. Charlotte’s plan is that Peter is going to end up in the real world, and boy, I sure hope that happens! Because I would love to see what the real world is like in this time and space. A time where, as Ford says, all the diseases have been eradicated, and that we’re very close to bringing Lazarus back from his cave in the show. That should be interesting.
Let’s talk about William’s photograph for a minute and the significance of it for Peter. As you said, it’s the thing that triggers him in the pilot. But did you have any idea of its significance when you initially filmed that scene?
Nope! Nothing. And that wasn’t the same photograph. It’s not the same photograph that was used. This is not me really giving anything away that’s not already been discovered by extremely astute fans: there’s a little tiny corner of that photograph sticking out of the dirt when I first find it, and people have blown it up and realized that the little corner of the photograph shows a piece of the Golden Gate Bridge. So people were speculating wildly about why the picture was changed and the significance of it. It’s simply a matter of between the time we shot it and the time it aired, they decided to use a different picture! Or, a different location for the picture. So there’s no great mystery behind that. It was just a production choice.
I was given no reason whatsoever [for his reaction]. In other projects, I may have questions, like, “Why?” or, “I really need to know this,” but I just trusted them so implicitly. If I’d had any real issue, they would have been happy to tell me, but I tend to use the script as my blueprint. So, if it says, “This photograph makes Peter glitch and go kinda crazy,” it was easy for me to understand why. If you look at the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s clearly not anything that you would see in the world that I exist in. Peter’s not going to know it, so why should I? It almost helped, not knowing.
Let’s talk about that other chilling moment in the pilot, where Peter is put in cold storage. What was it like to shoot that sequence?
Well, that was my very first scene to shoot! That was my “Welcome to Westworld” scene, so it will always have a special place in my heart. [Laughs] You know, it’s funny, because I’m pretty sure that Ben Barnes [who plays William’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, Logan] told me that one of his first scenes was an orgy scene. It’s sort of the way that the scheduling happened; nobody was trying to pull any unfair tricks. Lisa Joy actually apologized to me! It was very surreal, obviously. I’ve done scenes where I’ve had to be skimpily clad, but never full monty, and that was definitely a full monty situation.
Usually when you go to your trailer, your wardrobe is hanging there. In this case, the wardrobe was a device, this sort of bag, that helps you hide your manhood! That was sitting there, and I also had a robe and flip-flops. So I put my robe on, and put my “wardrobe” in my pocket and head off to makeup. Then, Timothy Lee DePriest, who plays Walter, came in and he’s got his bathrobe on. He asks me, “What is this?” and pulls out the bag. I said, “That’s your wardrobe for the scene. You put that over… you know.” And he goes: “Well, that seems weird! Are you gonna use it?” I said, “Well, if you don’t, I won’t.” He said, “I’m not going to,” so I went, “Okay… let’s film!”
So for that scene of us walking into that mass of people, we were as naked as jaybirds. It was surreal, but I have to tell you, it was so professionally done. As soon as they said, “Cut,” someone was there with a bathrobe. When people ask me about shooting it, I say, “You know that dream we all have at some point in our life where you’re standing in front of a mob naked? I’ve had it!” [Laughs]
Evan Rachel Wood’s performance is really something special to watch, particularly the way she cycles through the multiple personalities that exist inside Dolores. When you were performing with her, who did you feel you were sharing scenes with?
Well, the scenes that I had with Evan were all in the pilot, so I’m mainly seeing the father and daughter thing, until I show her that picture. Then she goes, “It doesn’t look like anything to me,” so that’s where I see the “host” version of her. It’s such a thin line to walk, and she walks it beautifully. She’s an absolute joy to work with, I tell you. A brilliant actor.
Let’s jump ahead to the end of the season: Peter has been put on that train, carrying all that data. Were you pleased with that plot development?
The part that’s exciting is that I thought we were going to pick up where we left off. But Jonah Nolan revealed at PaleyFest that we will not be picking up where we left off. So I have no idea what I’m going to be doing, whether it’s in the future or the past. Because, of course, during that diagnostic scene, we found out that I was the sheriff before I was Abernathy, and even before that, I was a professor. That, by the way, is who I was channeling when I was speaking Shakespeare to Ford and Bernard during that diagnostic scene. As I said earlier, I hope we see Peter out of the park, because I’m just dying to know what the real world is like and thinking about how much fun it would be to be a host in the real world. Added to that, the fact that Lee Sizemore [Westworld’s narrative director, played by Simon Quarterman] says that he gave Abernathy a “semblance of a personality.” I would imagine that means he’d be pretty challenged in his everyday abilities. But that may all be moot! We have no idea where we’re going to end up.
There are all sorts of different ways they can go with this: that teasing hint about “Samurai World” for example.
I don’t know for a fact, but I have a feeling that we’re not gonna be seeing Samurai World this coming season. I think that was just a tease and an FYI that this arc is bigger than just Westworld.
As you said, the first season took a while to complete. Is there a feeling that everyone’s on the same page about how Season 2 is going to go?
Absolutely. I think that the scope of this whole thing is so large. When you have minds like Lisa and Jonah, they go, “Oh, but what if we did this? What if we did that?” I think that’s what happened in the first season; I think the scope of it was so large and the potential was so readily recognized that they said, “No, we have to stop, take another look and do this.” I think the training wheels are off, if I can use that analogy, and I feel pretty sure the scripts are all done for the season, so I think it will go much more smoothly than the first season, but not quick. I mean, we still won’t air until 2018 at some point, but can you believe we’re already halfway through 2017?
Are there any actors that you’re particularly eager to share scenes with in Season 2?
Well, I would love to work with Anthony Hopkins. I have no idea if he’s coming back or not, this season or later. I’ve been a big fan of Ed Harris’s work for a very long time. I got to work with Jeffrey Wright a little bit, of course. I could watch Jeffrey read the telephone book! I’ve been a fan of his since Basquiat so I would love to have more scenes with him. Obviously, Evan, but if I were to guess, I would say we probably won’t have much to do with each other [this season]. It would be wonderful to see these two come together again towards the end of the run. I’d love to work with Thandie Newton and also Leonardo Nam. We had one tiny scene together right before they put me in cold storage, and he is such a brilliant actor and such a nice man. I was able to work with James Marsden, but that scene did not make the final cut. In fact, I saw kind of a little piece of that scene that we shot show up as just a flash in Dolores’s mind. So I’m thinking that’s going to probably end up somewhere down the line!
The first season of Westworld is streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now.
Read more from Yahoo TV:
- ‘Boy Band’: 6 Burning Questions About ABC’s New Singing Show (Starting with, “Why?”)
- Review: Spike TV’s Adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’
- #EmmyTalk: Carrie Coon Talks ‘Fargo,’ Saying Goodbye to ‘The Leftovers’