Exclusive Interview | Jimmi Simpson on ‘Westworld’ Season 1
The modern take on Michael Crichton’s Westworld was practically pre-sold to fans on the basis of its creative team, Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and executive producer J.J. Abrams, as well as a stellar dream cast that only HBO could deliver. Yet somehow, one of the biggest emerging stars from the series is Jimmi Simpson, the actor who portrays William, a first-time “guest” at the park. If certain fan theories are accurate, then Simpson’s character may be at the forefront of the biggest secrets on this show.
Perhaps no one was more surprised by this turn of events than Simpson himself. During our recent conversation with him, Simpson revealed that he had no idea how pivotal that William was going to become until it happened on an episode-by-episode basis. While Simpson wasn’t allowed to discuss any spoilers from the show, he did tell us about his experience working alongside Evan Rachel Wood, his favorite season 1 moments, and the best fan theories that he’s heard so far.
The penultimate episode of Westworld‘s first season will premiere tonight on HBO, and Simpson also teased that we’ll soon see more conflict ahead for his character and Ben Barnes’ Logan.
Crave: When you’re on this show, do you get to watch the finished episodes ahead of time or do you have to wait until Sunday night every week?
Jimmi Simpson: I’ve been getting them a week or two early.
I know you can’t give us any spoilers, but I’m just curious, do you know how William’s story plays out in the context of the larger storyline?
I know how his story plays out. I knew by the end of filming, but it was kind of doled out per episode prior to that. Once we shot it, I know what happened. But through the whole thing, we had to be clear where we were headed just so we knew who we were, from Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy]. I’ve also read all of the scripts, so I know everything from season 1.
Hopefully you’ll be around for season 2.
Sure. It’s just a beautiful undertaking. I would love to do more.
How many months did you spend filming the first season?
I think we did about nine or ten [months], and we had a hiatus for about three months after about two thirds of the way through where they went back into the scripts and wanted to tighten the screws of [episodes] seven through ten. It was a nine or ten month process.
Do you have a particular favorite episode out of the first season?
I would say [episode] seven is pretty up there. I really liked how it gets the final trajectory going. It takes all of that information, loads it into a cannon and then kind of shoots it off. I haven’t seen eight, nine, or ten. Those episodes were difficult to film, just because they were so dense, and thoughtful, and beautifully written. So, I’d imagine that episodes eight, nine, and ten will be right up there with seven, I just haven’t seen them yet.
Related: HBO Renews ‘Westworld’ For Season 2
Most of your scenes so far have been with Ben Barnes and Evan Rachel Wood. Is there anyone else you’ve worked with on the show that you can talk about without giving away a massive spoiler?
Not really. Those two are who I spend the most time with and have the most perspective on.
I think we’re all eager to see how William and Logan’s reunion will play out.
I’m not supposed to give spoilers away, but I will say: if you’re wanting more conflict between William and Logan, you’re gonna get it.
Since your character was paired with Dolores, it’s really pushed William to the forefront of the show.
When you signed on for the show, did you know that William would have such an important arc on the series?
No, I had no idea. Zero idea. I was assuming that I would be showing up to add some levity to the plots and give people a break from the narrative when it becomes too much. That’s generally been my career thus far. I actually expected that. And then that first moment with the can, I’m just not someone who is going to see that and now assume that I am now bound to fall for this character. But that happened, and I did notice. And I was like “why are you having me pick up this can from the lead character?” And then when she fell into my arms in the next episode, we just started wondering.
Tell us about working with Evan Rachel Wood.
Evan and I really clicked right away. We have a lot of similar personality traits, and we’re both extremely passionate about the work and like to put in the overtime. So, we’d start working on the scenes beforehand, and discussing how it came together. She was instrumental in me…you know, I think I’m doing some of the best work of my career, and a lot is due to Evan Rachel Wood. She is such a talented artist and is always open to my questions. Like, “you’ve been doing this for so long, can we work on this? Can you help me be comfortable?” She was like “all I like to do is work, and practice, and rehearse.”
I just really lucked out, not only being given such an amazing role, but also being handed a friend and a tutor as my co-star. It was beyond lucky, I think.
I don’t know how closely you’ve been following the fan reaction, but your character is at the center of several theories. If you have been keeping up on them, which theories are your favorites?
I like the one that says William is a robot. And I think it’s clever, and the clues that they’ve come up with that [theory] make sense. I heard one that everyone is a robot. Every single person, and even Dr. Ford is a robot…he killed the one human that created it, and now it’s just a robot world. Those are my two favorites.
Those are two good ones, but I still prefer the William is the younger Man in Black theory.
That just seems ridiculous. [laughs] I’m just kidding, I know that’s one of the main theories. I think it’s hilarious and wonderful that anyone is comparing me to Ed Harris. [laughs] Yeah, that one is a favorite as well.
Speaking of which, your show has an embarrassment of riches in terms of your castmates, including Harris, Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, and so many others. That’s got to be a surreal experience seeing them all together.
I know! I can’t believe it, walking on the set and seeing Sir Anthony Hopkins on your show…it’s bizarre. And he’s as excited as every other person on the set too. There’s no division at all. We’re all just a happy family of artists trying to make something cool.
Before this show, were you familiar with the Westworld feature film from the ‘70s?
I was mildly [familiar]. I watched it again about halfway through filming, but I had seen it a decade or two ago, just because I’m a huge Yul Brynner fan, as well as a fan of Richard Benjamin.
There was actually a Westworld TV series that came a few years later. Beyond Westworld.
I heard that, and I heard that it didn’t do too well.
True, but it didn’t exactly have the advantages of this new show. You know, the network, the cast, and the creators.
[laughs] I mean, yeah. The three creators of this show are all geniuses. I’m so glad that they decided to put their energy behind this project.
Purely from a viewer’s perspective, what was the most stunning moment you’ve seen in the show so far?
I think the two most stunning moments are the pilot as a whole, and I think it’s a gorgeous piece of film work that Jonah directed, that he and Lisa created. And then, the second moment is specifically the tail end of [episode] seven. That was just a gorgeous, gorgeous reveal.
This might be a hard question to answer, but do you have anything specific you would want to see from William in future seasons of this show?
That’s a tricky question. All I can say, really, is to work again with the crew, the cast, and the creators would be a dream come true. But also, a response to how my character comes off, or is favored, I would only want to do the show if it made complete sense and still fit in with their idea and what they were planning to do.
Do you have anything that you want to tease for the remaining episodes of the season?
Just hold on to your hats, whether they’re black or white, they’re gonna pop off.