Westworld‘s latest episode [Episode 2, “The Winter Line”] provided, perhaps, the biggest twist yet. And the return of a fan favorite, Felix Lutz.
I spoke to actor Leonardo Nam about his return to Westworld, what comes next, and what he hopes Felix can teach us in the age of this COVID-19 crisis.
Be aware, this interview contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Westworld‘s third season. Read my full conversation with Leonardo Nam below:
Awards Daily: Let’s just start by addressing the elephant in the room. Can you tell me anything about what is coming up for your character in this season of Westworld? Can you tease anything at all?
Leonardo Nam: I am just as interested as you to find out. [Laughs]. There’s nothing much I can say other than, what people saw in episode 2 [“The Winter Line”] was just a little teaser.
It was such a wonderful moment doing that episode because when I got it, I was thrilled to be part of the show again. It’s always a good moment when the show returns because we’ve created a little family and [it’s great to] just see people again.
Felix’s journey, as everyone will see in season 3, it’s going to be an interesting ride. Coming in for episode 2 and reading what it was about, it’s funny, Thandie [Newton] actually said this to me. She goes, “Well, how fascinating that you can come into a show and in the blink of an eye, in just that little moment, in episode two, you go in, and the show’s been going a certain way, then you come in for this little drop of what the audiences love and you leave them gasping for more.”
I was just floored and thankful that she thought of it that way. I hope the fans will be excited to see where Felix’s character goes from here.
AD: You touched on so many things that I want to dig into a little further, but I’m just curious, how far in advance do you know what is going to happen? When do you get your scripts?
LN: None. I mean, we get our scripts when we get our scripts. It’s so similar to how it’s always been. They have always kept everything so close to their chests, and even Evan [Rachel Wood], or Thandie, or whomever, it’s always wonderful to see them on set because everyone is trying to get little bits of information as to what’s happening in the show. It’s so multi-layered and the episodes are being written as we’re filming, so it’s always exciting to hear from other people what their storyline is because you don’t always get it. And for my character, I certainly didn’t get stuff in advance. I am always just along for the ride and grateful to be part of the show.
AD: How much time passes between when you get your script and when you’re on set? Is it the same day?
LN: Oh no, certainly not! We definitely get some lead time. There have been days in the midst of filming where things get super nuts and there were rewrites happening, and you get stuff closer to the day that you were shooting, maybe the night before when you are at work. But, that’s when you’re already in the show. When you are starting the [season], they definitely let me know way in advance what scene I’m doing, what the episode is about. They really prep you as an actor.
AD: That’s interesting! Do you prefer not knowing? Do you have a process as an actor as to how you like to prepare for something like this?
LN: Yeah. At this point, being on the show, I have learned to embrace the uncertainty of it all. The way in which I work for each project is different and it’s going to have its challenges. Westworld has offered me this unique challenge where so many things are kept so close to the chest.
When I get the scripts, I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen for the whole season. At least this time I didn’t know. But, I knew the scene in which they were going to touch on my character. But at this point, Felix has evolved, and I know Felix. So I go back to the craft and the techniques that I’ve had and I fold in the core elements of what Felix has been since season one. And I use that to kind of get myself back into character.
During season one, we filmed out in Santa Clarita, and that’s about a 45-minute drive from Los Angeles. And originally, I remember being so disheartened thinking, “Oh, it’s so far away, why can’t it just be down the road here?” Because some of the other stuff was actually filmed in West Hollywood [where] I lived so I could walk to work. But, a lot of the lab interiors were being filmed up in Santa Clarita.
What happened was that I was then given this 45-minute window before I stepped onto the set. And it offered me a time to fold in my craft. I would listen to music. I would listen to certain information that I needed to use in a scene. And one of the main key elements that I have used as an actor is music. And to me, Opera is a way that I enter the world of Westworld with Felix.
AD: Oh, that’s fascinating!
LN: For me, it’s a high drama element. It’s a very personal, internal journey using opera. I use that to always get into character. So that was the blessing of season one shooting out in Santa Clarita. Talk about taking the good, and leaving the bad. That’s what I discovered.
AD: Wow. Earlier you mentioned getting into the core elements of Felix. It’s interesting that you bring that up. I’m curious, how would you describe those core elements? What are those core elements to you?
LN: I think to me it’s that he looks at everything through the lens of compassion. I think that Felix is someone that is innately very connected to his compassion and is very connected to the kindness of others. And when he sees that in sentient beings, and organic beings, that same element is radiating from him. Regardless of whether it’s what you would call a host, a robot, a plant, or another human, or Sylvester, [Ptolemy Slocum] whom he works with all the time, he radiates that compassion. A very core element [of Felix] is his humanity and he is very much in touch with that. I don’t know if he was aware of it as much [before] Maeve woke up, that’s when that element inside of him also woke up and he grabbed onto that. Throughout the seasons, I think that’s the one thing that he’s been holding on to for dear life, literally his life.
AD: I’m loving all of your insights. I did get the opportunity to interview Simon Quarterman [he portrays Lee Sizemore]. A question that I asked him, and I am curious as to your response as well — When you first found out about this project and you knew, ‘Okay, this is HBO, it’s Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, this big prestige drama.’ What were your expectations going in? And how has your experience matched that initial expectation or maybe even surprised you?
LN: Yeah. You know, as an actor, you’re always hoping for the best. When something like this comes along your way, you get the, I call it, “Bubbles of Joy,” Because suddenly so much hope gets infused into our life. [As actors], our work is so much contingent on the work that is essentially presented to us.
When I received this opportunity, I remember, Bubbles of Joy happened because it connected, for me, many reasons why I got into this industry. Why I did this is to be part of fantastic, prestigious filmmaking. And this is what I feel Jonah and Lisa have brought to this project from day one, and HBO has allowed them to do that.
When I heard that it was not only Jonah and Lisa involved, and HBO, but then also Sir Anthony Hopkins was going to be headlining the first season [with] Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright…my jaw dropped. Every name that you hear, you’re like, “WHAT?!” [Laughs]. I grew up watching these people’s films. I was just so excited, thrilled, and humbled to be a part of it.
It really is true that when you are around greatness, your greatness rises. You have to rise with your greatness. And, I really feel that with being on Westworld, that my greatness has risen because of that. And at the same time, I have to also be aware that [Westworld] is also great because I am also part of it too.
I am part of that greatness and that’s a privilege, and an honor to have that little marker in my life. I’m forever grateful.
AD: I’ve only seen the first two episodes of this season, but when you found out that [episode 2] was a simulation, what was your reaction? Did you find out reading the script or were you told beforehand?
LN: A funny thing happened with this episode. I was on another project and when the dates changed, I had to go to work Westworld. I read the scene that I was doing, and not yet the [entire] script. So when I read the whole script, my jaw dropped. I was like, “What’s going on?” I spoke to the director, who was Richard J. Lewis. When I spoke to him, I had this moment of like, “Am I reading this right?” And he’s looked at me and said, “I think you got it.” And I’m like, “So this is all not real or what?” We had a good old laugh about that. But yeah, I needed confirmation that this is exactly what they were doing.
AD: I love it. I wanted to touch on your career as a whole because I was going through your IMDb profile and you’ve just been in so many projects that I have loved through the years — The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2008), The Perfect Score (2004), and right now you’re also in MacGyver. Can you talk about your career trajectory and how you feel about where you are now, and working on all these in incredible projects? What is that like from your perspective?
LN: First of all, I am humbled that I can talk to you about a career. Being a kid from Australia, I only dreamed of being able to work in this industry. I’m just always pinching myself thinking, “Oh, is this real?”
When I look at my career, I’m such a lucky duck. I am one of the rare few that has been able to work for as long as I have. Each step along the way, I’ve discovered that you know, we don’t do this alone. It’s only because others have come before me that I have been able to even have a semblance of a career. When I look at not only people from the Asian American community, but people from other minorities that have really paved the way— In the African American community, in the Latino community, women, people of color –that have really stuck their necks out along the way so that the industry would pay attention to them, and start telling diverse and inclusive stories.
I am the beneficiary of that. And I hope that others will be beneficiary of it because I too am now a part of that sense of history. I look at people who have helped me along the way in my career. It really has been women and people of color that have really given me my break.
I’m always so humbled by that because no one had to give me anything. I didn’t know anyone in this industry. They didn’t know me. And it’s only because they heard about me through my work that I eventually got the opportunity.
So namely, it would be like people like Debra Martin Chase. She was a producer of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, that really stuck her neck out and said, “No, this is the guy that’s going to play Brian McBrian,” who, from the books was not written the way that I looked. But they decided that there was a whole other world that they could open up by making it a diverse character and inclusive. That gave me another notch in my career.
I look at Sharla Sumpter who helped me land the role in The Perfect Score, my first film. Another woman of color, a producer, that saw in me the talent and gave me the opportunity to headline a studio film, which hadn’t been done before.
Then I look at shows like MacGyver, they brought me in as the new love interest. It is a new moment that I can look back at in the industry and say, “Hey, you know, things are turning around for the better. I have people on my side.” There are casting directors like Jennifer Cooper who cast me and um, offered me MacGyver.
This is a turning point, I think, for my career and my reflection within the industry and I hope it continues to rise. We still have a long way to go, but we definitely are in a better place than when I started.
I hope that I keep having lucky breaks. I’m always just so shocked and floored that I have been able to have this career. I hope to continue to tell stories and be part of this industry. I hear more and from people, especially now with social media, that people can directly contact me and I hear from people about the impact that my being on camera has had for their lives. You know, one that I always cycle back to is the actor, and now fabulous filmmaker, Justin Chon. He’s directed Ms. Purple (2019) and Gook (2017).
He was an actor I’d always see at auditions and he and I became quite good friends along the way. He’s always told me that seeing my face on The Perfect Score poster is the reason why he became an actor.
AD: Oh my gosh! Really?
LN: Yeah. He said to me he grew up in Irvine. He was, you know, an Asian dude [that] thought he was just run-of-the-mill, and would never have the opportunity to be an actor. Then he saw my face on that poster. He had that desire, it connected with him. and then he went out and did it, and now look what he’s done. I’m always so grateful.
AD: Wow. That’s incredible. To wrap up and bring it back to Westworld, I love what you said about Felix and his humanity. So in playing that, what has that done for you?
And also, in 5 or 10 years, when another writer like myself is asking you again to reflect on your career, where do you think Westworld is going to fit in with everything that you just told me? Do you know what I mean?
LN: Oh, yeah, I totally get it! Well, I think 10 years from now, we’re going to look back and see how spot-on Westworld was. We’re going to see it as a reflection of our time. And, I think for me in my career, I hope that it is part of many prestigious and well-received projects and groundbreaking roles.
I hope that along the way we’re going to see my career trajectory go into “Leading Man” and that I have the support of the industry in that.
And I will always look back at Westworld and know that this is the time that I entered into a new echelon of greatness. Like I was saying before, being around this caliber of talent, you can only be great because of that too. I hope that that continues on in my career and moving forward. I know that because I have been in Westworld it has given me this new sense of reality with being involved with a show that is as prestigious as it is and is able to cut through the noise.
I hope that my career continues to evolve and that I can be part of this industry in leading man and really interesting supporting character roles.
In regards to playing Felix, holding on to his humanity, and that being a core kernel of his character, in my life that is something I always strive to do — to be a good human, to be a global citizen with integrity and dignity. And especially in this time of this COVID-19 crisis and pandemic, I think that that idea is more important than ever. And maybe this shelter-at-home period of time is offering us a moment to connect to our humanity again and realize how delicate it is and how much we need to strive to be better and to help each other.
This role has definitely made me connect to empathy so much more than ever before. And in conjunction with the pandemic that’s going on, it just resonates for me even more as a human to radiate that.
AD: Wow, that’s such a perfect way, to end our conversation. I just want to say again, thank you so much for your time. I think that our conversation has changed the way that I will watch the show just as a fan myself. I really appreciate your time, your honesty, and your candor.
LN: Thank you so much, for your fantastic questions and your time. I hope to talk to you again, many times. In this world, part of my journey as an actor is not about the awards, it’s not about getting fame or what have you. But, it is a necessary side of my work because if no one sees it and the work doesn’t get shown, the vibration of that humanity doesn’t connect with others. So, it’s because of you spotlighting me, that [the humanity] keeps elevating and radiating and helping others to be kind to each other, to have the passion and to go for what they believe in.
Westworld airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO