HBO’s Westworld is finally back! After season two ended with many of our favorite characters, quite literally, departing to greener pastures, the third season is acting (so far) as a soft reboot, focusing on a smaller core cast and fewer storylines. But fear not, two episodes in, the HBO drama is proving it still has plenty of big twists ahead.
I really have no idea what Westworld has in store for us. And as it turns out, neither does Simon Quarterman! The actor plays Lee Sizemore, the head of narrative within the park, but when it comes to the show’s many twisty plots, he often finds himself just as surprised as the rest of us.
I spoke to Quarterman about Westworld’s latest plot twist, his somewhat surprising return in episode two [“The Winter Line”], and what he’s learned from Sizemore’s character arc.
Will we see more of Sizemore? Who knows! But I really, really hope we do. It feels as if we have only just scratched the surface of Quarterman’s character (and incredibly nuanced performance). He is a delight to watch.
Read our full conversation below. Please note this interview includes spoilers for the first two episodes of Westworld season three. Catch up with the series before reading ahead.
Awards Daily: Let’s start at the beginning. When you joined Westworld, obviously you knew that it was HBO, and it was coming from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. What were you expecting going in, and how was your experience compared to that initial first impression?
Simon Quarterman: I mean, it’s really been a pretty incredible journey to be on the show. When I got the show back in 2014, it was, I have to say, a little overwhelming. I’ve never been involved in something so big before, and working with such incredible actors and creators such as these. So, it took a minute to get my bearings, I have to say.
Going into it, I really didn’t have any expectations purely because I’d never done anything like this before. But it was incredibly exciting to start working on it. it’s just been an extraordinary process and one that I’ve learned so much from, and continue to [learn from] on a day-to-day basis, really.
AD: You have had such an interesting character arc and there’s been so many changes within Sizemore’s character. I will dig into that with you, hopefully, but, how much did you initially know about where his character was going to go?
SQ: I had no idea about anything. I’m sure you’ve heard that Lisa and Jonah are notoriously secretive when it comes to their plans for you, your character, and the storyline in general. We spend most of our time trying to guess where these things are going. And I’ve been wrong every single time. All the [theories] I’ve conjured up, I’ve never been right. So, I gave up a long time ago with that.
But the arc of the character over these last three seasons has been quite extraordinary, actually. And one that’s been a real delight to explore.
AD: I’m just curious, what is one of the theories that you had that turned out to be wrong? Can you tell me?
SQ: Oh my god! There’s been so many! I’m just trying to remember one! [Laughs]. Hmm, wait a minute! There was one in season two that I really thought was going to be happening. It wasn’t that I thought that Lee was going to kill poor Maeve [Thandie Newton], he would protect her in that way, but it turned out being the other way around. He was the one taking the bullets, I thought he’d be the one dishing them out. [Laughs].
AD: One of the themes that Westworld seems to suggest, through the perspective of hosts, is that human beings have this inability to change.
AD: That’s how Dolores [Evan Rachel Wood] sees it. And I think that your character is one of those characters that proves her wrong.
AD: He started out, you know, this sort of drunk jerk, and as the show progresses, he does move into more of this heroic type of a character. So, how do you feel about that transition? And how do you feel about your character being that beacon of hope, perhaps?
SQ: Yes! Absolutely! I mean, what’s so interesting about Lee, even with his title, he was the head of narrative within the park. He was the creator of all these stories, all of these loops, all the storylines that the hosts are going through on a day-to-day and weekly basis. He, himself was a part of that, of his own loops in these storylines that he’d been running.
And in the first season, obviously we start seeing, in the very first episode, when the hosts start to glitch, they’re damaging his storylines, tampering with his creations. So, it’s happening for Lee too, that similar kind of disturbance within him. In the second season as things go completely off track, so does he. And in that process, he begins to discover a part of himself that he was not aware of. And I think that has been a very exciting thing for me explore.
My own personal feelings is that we humans have enormous capacity for change. It’s just that we’re stuck in our own patterns, you know? Sometimes we see them, and we can break out of them. And, sometimes we live in them for a lifetime. But, it’s been wonderful to explore that.
So it’s been a process of [Lee’s] stories crumbling into nothing. And then what’s underneath that, what’s underneath the stories, really? And what we start to find with Lee is just this compassionate and loving man, ultimately.
I think in this third season, even though he’s dead, the same scenes are still running on. The greatest story I suppose there is, which crumbles away, is the story of who he is. That just comes away, and what’s under all of that? And even in the parameters of the programming in the third season he’s running within, we still find a man who essentially becomes of complete service to Maeve.
I think at the very end of that episode [season 3, episode 2] he comes to a place of acceptance. It’s quite a profound journey that Lee has been through.
And yeah, I’ve always seen Lee as a little beacon, a light chink of light for humanity. It has been really wonderful. I had no idea that that’s where he was going, it’s been really fun to play.
AD: That leads me to my next question for you. When you found out that you were coming back for season three, how did you react to that? Because Lee’s ending in season two, they could have left it at that. It was a satisfying ending for him in many ways [Sizemore sacrifices himself to help Maeve in her mission to stop Dolores], how did you feel when you found out that he would be returning?
SQ: Well, I was really excited to be back because I love the show. I love everyone who works on the show— the cast, the crew, everyone. It’s a really magical place to come to work.
It was wonderful knowing I was coming back. I had no idea how I was coming back. I spent months going through certain scenarios— It could be this, or maybe he survived and he’s coming to help Maeve. But again, I had NO clue whatsoever that this [the simulation] was going to be the case!
AD: I have to ask you about that moment, because when you’re reading the script, at what point did you go, ‘Oh, is this a simulation? What’s going on here? This doesn’t seem right.’
SQ: Actually, on the first day of rehearsals, Lisa Joy pulled me into her office and sat me down, before I even had the script, and she explained exactly what was going to be happening. I just sat there open mouthed, really. I had no idea it was going to go that way. It was a real surprise for me.
AD: That’s interesting! I’m just so curious about your process as an actor. Are you someone that typically likes to rehearse? Does not knowing what comes next hinder what you do in any way? Or does it help you?
SQ: To be honest, for me, the less I know, the better it is. You know, I think my process as an actor over all these years, and it’s one that is ongoing, is about getting out to your head. So the more that I know about something, the easier it is to be there trying to work it out.
The less time you have with something, I think for me anyway, it’s the process of just doing it without any thought in the mix. You can operate in a place of just feeling your way through it instead of thinking your way through it.
And, that to me, is something that’s been great about this process of Westworld because you never know anything. You’re getting a script so late in the process before you start shooting, that you’ve just got to jump in and do it.
Working alongside Thandie, we’ve just developed a really beautiful way of working with one another, which is an awful lot of fun. We just go in and just play, really. For me, it’s just been about finding the fun within it all, even if it’s some pretty heavy stuff.
AD: Earlier in our conversation you mentioned how much you’ve learned through the process of working on Westworld.
AD: Can you share some of that? What has been the biggest lesson for you? It’s fascinating to hear you say that because you’ve been an actor for so long.
AD: I love the idea of you saying, ‘I’m still learning. I’m still working on it.’
SQ: Oh my God! To be honest, it’s only just been the past few years where I’m really beginning to settle into all of this.
You know, I’ve worked over the years, and I left drama school years ago! And it hasn’t been the easiest of journeys for me. And really, [at times] it’s been very sparse in terms of work.
I think in earlier years, and even at the start of Westworld, when those opportunities came around, there was a little bit of tightness around it because it was kind of rare. When Westworld came up, it was, I suppose, a little overwhelming at first. I guess I was the one person on the cast list I didn’t know.
Going into this arena with these incredibly good actors that have been working consistently for years, finding my own footing within that took a little moment. I touched on it earlier that my process has been more about dropping out of mind and working from my heart. Just going from there and simplifying as much as I possibly can.
You know, I learned a lot when I was at drama school and as the years went on it’s been a case of unlearning, actually. And the more I let go of what I thought I knew was way to do it, I’m finding more freedom, more space to play, and more space for things to come alive the way they need to instead of the way I might think they need to.
That is an ongoing one for me, but one that’s really exciting to me now because it’s just opening up the playing field so much more.
AD: Wow, I love that. That’s great advice for everybody, whether you are an actor or not.
You know, I was sort of nervous to speak with you because I was like, ‘He’s done so many interviews for Westworld. What could I possibly ask that he hasn’t been asked before?’ So, I went on Reddit and said, ‘I’m going to be interviewing Simon Quarterman, what do you want to know?’ And I got all of these interesting questions from fans.
As you know, fans of the show are so involved in the theories and trying to figure out the clues. And, as you were saying, you’ve tried to guess storylines yourself. So do you ever find yourself going online, just as a fan of the show, trying to put the puzzle pieces together?
SQ: I don’t, honestly!
SQ: No! [Laughs].
Just as I was saying with my process coming into a place of [learning to] let go more often, that’s kind of where I’m at with the show, too. I’ve stopped trying to work anything out, and instead just let it be what it needs to be.
AD: Ahh, that’s interesting!
SQ: The show, for me, lands in end, in a very interesting way. There are some beautiful themes going on underneath, sort of coursing through this show, that are really interesting and quite profound. It’s very exciting to be a part of.
AD: While I have you, is there anything I didn’t ask you that you wanted to mention?
SQ: Is there anything that I want to mention?
AD: Yeah! Are there any tidbits of wisdom that you have for us, Simon Quarterman? [Laughs].
SQ: [Laughs] Good Lord! [Laughs].
You know, I think we can all afford to be a bit more like Lee, really.
And I’m not meaning Lee in season one [Laughs]. But, I think right now, this world and what we are going through, we are all, I think, aching and needing for more compassion and love on this planet.
So, I think, if there’s anything I can impart to anyone else, that’s probably what it would be. Because that’s certainly something that I’ve taken from Lee’s journey.
AD: Well, that is a perfect nugget to end on! I wish I could talk to you forever, but I will let you go. Thank you so much for your time! I’m just loving the show and loving your character. You’ve just been such a delight to watch, and to speak to as well, so thank you!
SQ: You’ve got it, Shadan! Anytime, anytime at all! [Laughs].
Westworld aires Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO