Leonardo Nam of HBO’s Westworld talks to Awards Daily TV about the secretive audition process, Maeve, and what inspires TV’s most empathetic lab tech.
Leonardo Nam, who plays Felix on HBO’s Westworld, knew early on in the audition process that the show was doing something special—and secretive.
“I got the audition material. It was very cryptic,” said Nam. “I thought the scene was about two guys working in a mechanic shop, clearly working on something. I didn’t know what it was.”
It wasn’t until show creators Jonathan “Jonah” Nolan and Lisa Joy asked whether Nam had any questions that the future-Felix learned what he was really reading.
“The scene wasn’t written in the show. It was different lines taken out of different scenes.” This gave Nam a clue that Westworld was going to be unlike a lot of other shows on television.
“Clearly, they’re not going to give me any more information than what they have. As an actor, when approaching a project, I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and looked for the clues in the script to see where I was going to build the character, and that’s what I did, so I guess they really enjoyed it.”
Audiences would end up enjoying it, too. Nam’s lab tech would end up being a fan favorite, especially regarding his relationship with Maeve (Thandie Newton), a connection that became one of the most captivating threads on the show, inspiring thoughtful conversation about consciousness and the evolution of technology.
“There are awakenings that are happening, that’s one thing that’s running through our storyline. Maeve is starting to wake up, my character is starting to wake up. As she wakes up, I’m like the audience. I’m waking up, too. For Maeve, there is a new kind of relationship that she’s experiencing with me. Previously, she’s only been programmed to deal with death or deal with being in diagnostic mode. But me, I’m an ‘other.’ ”
An “other” Nam dealt with as an actor was being on set with lots of naked background actors, something that might seem awkward, but which he believes adds to the show’s advanced look at sexuality, gender, and the way humans interact with each other.
“We’re taking the lid off preconceived notions. As actors, it does bring in a new level and heightened sense of responsibility and integrity. It sounds bizarre that one can see that they’re naked, but when you see the whole context of what we’re creating, it really does bring in a new belief for me in that what we do can be important. There is such respect for the work because what this show is doing is opening up a world and a conversation about things in a new way. I don’t think we’ve seen that on TV before.”
Maternal and Paternal Instincts
In addition to themes surrounding sexuality and technology, there’s also some parenting themes. Throughout the first season, Maeve re-lives a scene involving the loss of what appears to be a child. Nam believes that Felix fills that maternal void.
“It’s a new portal. I just had kids myself, and it’s a new feeling. I relate that to how she’s feeling with me. With that comes excitement, trepidation, fear, anxiety, but also flooded with joy. New kind of experiences.”
Maeve may also be responding to the unique way Felix interacts with hosts, something Felix is inherently programmed with.
“He’s energized by these creatures. Yes, it is all mechanics, but there is an organic quality to them, and I think that excites him to know he’s on the cutting edge of what the future is. When he’s inside and working with the robots, I think there’s an element that he wants to see something come alive, because everything is so sterile and planned out. I think that’s where the big connection comes from.”
And while plenty of other characters received backstories, Felix is one whose background hasn’t been revealed. Nam has specific details in mind for Felix, even if it isn’t something in the script.
“I think he is someone that lives in a barracks and takes care of things. He has a little plant that is forbidden. He has lots of things that he’s working on secretly as he treasures privacy. I think there is an element of him being there a long, long time. His work is his freedom.”
Just as Felix might be nurturing a plant in his downtime, Nam had to keep Felix growing during Westworld’s two-month production halt.
“I’d been sitting with the character for a while. You have to keep it alive. I feel like Felix grew with me as we went into the final episodes.”
As for Felix’s future, whether Delo’s most empathetic lab tech will continue to work for Robert Ford’s company, well, that remains to be seen.
“I am just as interested as you to find out. Yeah, just as interested as you. To be honest, I don’t know.”
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.