'Westworld': How That Big "Bad" Cameo Came to Life

Westworld Episode 12 (season 2, episode 2) Still 7-publicity- H 2018
Coutesy of HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode two of HBO's Westworld, "Reunion."]

Before the revolution, when he was just a little boy, El Lazo's parents took him to the circus. Except, they didn't. Not really.

The sad story of one of Westworld's deadliest gunslingers came into focus during Sunday's episode, "Reunion," which more than lived up to its name with several reunions: the Man in Black occasionally known as William (Ed Harris) and Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), as one such example. Indeed, Lawrence himself was reunited with one of his oldest character builds, even if someone completely different is now occupying the role — albeit someone extraordinarily familiar to fans of another beloved television show. 

Near the end of "Reunion," William and Lawrence arrive in Pariah, the den of sin heavily featured in the show's first season. Upon their arrival, a group of soldiers emerge from the rubble, surrounding William and Lawrence. Their master: El Lazo, the dangerous outlaw who once played an instrumental role in William's first trip to the park, portrayed back in those days by Lawrence. These days, another host has embodied the role, the spitting image of a villain from a Western TV show of another color…"crystal blue," as it were.

Ready to meet the man who plays El Lazo? Consider this your warning to check out: there are major spoilers about a very fun and unexpected cameo are ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

Giancarlo Esposito, best known among television viewers for his turn as Gustavo "Gus" Fring on both AMC's Breaking Bad and its prequel Better Call Saul, has officially landed in Westworld as the new El Lazo. At least he landed in Westworld temporarily. After a monologue about a long ago trip to the circus, El Lazo denies William's request to help him on his adventure. He punctuates the point by committing suicide, along with the rest of his soldiers, effectively fueled by the ghost of Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) in that moment.

It's a great scene, and a great surprise, seeing such a recognizable actor at such an unexpected moment in the show's run. Is it the last time we'll see Esposito on Westworld, considering the way El Lazo went out? For his part, Esposito certainly hopes this isn't the end of the line, according to what he told The Hollywood Reporter about how the scene came together. Read on for more from the actor on how the erstwhile Los Pollos Hermanos crime boss wound up on Westworld.

Congratulations on keeping your role on Westworld such a secret. How did you manage it?

I got a call [from the Westworld team] asking me if I liked the show. I said that I loved the concept, I loved the original movie, and then I got a call of support from my people over at Better Call Saul. They told me: "They're such great writers. They have envisioned something very different, and they can't get you out of their heads for it. We wanted to give you our support if you like them after you talk with them." So I got on the phone with Lisa Joy and her lovely husband [Jonathan Nolan], and I liked the way it sounded. And then I did it! I love Ed Harris, so sharing the screen with him is always such a treat. He's a guy who really plays. And that's when they asked it: "Can you keep all of this a secret?" And I said, "Well, I can! I don't know you're going to do that!" (Big laugh.) "I can do my best!" I think we did a pretty good job.

Who in your life knew about the Westworld cameo?

My kids knew. Being around, they see different pieces of scripts and paperwork. I have four daughters, and my second child got really excited, because it's one of the shows she watches. I told her, "Look, I'm going off to do this secret show.…" And she goes, "Oh, I know what that is!" But other than that, no one knew. Some of the actors on [Westworld, who were not present for the scene] knew. I remember going for the Emmys, and Evan Rachel Wood came up to me and said, "Hi! I know you! You were on our show!" And I go, "No! No, it wasn't me!" And she said, "Yeah, I think it was!" (Laughs.)

How was the character of El Lazo pitched to you?

They talked about a character who is a bit of a mystery. Someone who is strong, someone who is a leader. He does things very differently. They told me the whole idea about the host uprising and how all of that impacts the Man in Black. They gave me some real pearls to work with. The beauty of this show is that things can exist in different timelines and different places, which means they can unfold in different ways. I see what they're going after: creating characters who are multidimensional within themselves. You can see a character who is a completely different person, and you can see the carryover of what their history has imprinted upon them. They started talking about that, and I was sold. I thought it was such a fun show to work on, but also such an interesting storyline to be a part of.

Watching the scene, it feels like there are a couple of characters within El Lazo. You speak with the Man in Black as El Lazo, and then you speak with him almost with the voice of Ford. Was that on your mind?

It was. The real key is he shares something with the creator of this world, who in his own words speaks very deeply to me. "You have to let go." It's in that scene with Ford and [Arnold, played by Jeffrey Wright], where this robot is not ready to be sent out. I find it very, very interesting that strings and pieces of this very captivating Dr. Ford are woven through other characters to wake other characters up and allow them to know this is all a play of consciousness. That, to me, is some brilliant, brilliant writing.

Was it exciting to step into the shoes of not only a gunslinger, but a robot gunslinger?

I loved that. I was trying to be very specific with the wardrobe. We went through great pains to figure it out. What does that guy look like? He has so many different personalities other than him. There are all of these great leaders and cowboys within him — heroic figures who were fighting for their own revolutionized consciousness. For me, playing the gunslinger, who is so raw and so visceral and has such a certain look and a violent nature, all of that which makes up El Lazo…the fact that he can also be mythical in the stories he tells? That he's not only the guy who's going to kill you, but he's also the guy who is going to tell you a really great mythological story before he does — or before he doesn't kill you? It's great. He leaves you with something to think and ruminate about. That's the advantage of being able to put this kind of intellectual in him and in the show. It offset this raw Western with an intellectual effort that speaks about our contemporary world. We're really drawn to the idea that we can have machines do things for us and be as efficient as we are, and maybe even have some of the feelings we have. It's a big one in our world today. It's coming very quickly, and it may even be here already.

The Man in Black quickly gets frustrated with El Lazo, something he's not used to feeling all that often in the park. What were your conversations like with Ed Harris as you both worked together to craft the scene?

Thankfully, we have some experience together. We have a couple of projects we've been trying to do together — me as an actor, and one with me as a director. I've known him for a long time. I really love his work. It's very subtle and very complicated. We worked it out on the day. I know for me, when I'm on a show as a regular, you have other regulars who you work with. But when you get a guest actor, you always want to be on the top of your game. Ed certainly was. Playing my character, I had to keep reminding myself [of the reality scene], because I know Ed, and he's a powerful actor. As am I! But I had to allow myself to not at all be threatened. El Lazo knows something that the Man in Black does not. He's going to give him an example of it by telling him a piece of his story, and through the actions. 

I could see it in Ed: he was frustrated. He totally wanted to intimidate El Lazo, because he is the Man in Black, but El Lazo refuses that. Funny things happen with actors when we get into the trenches and we start to put the words into action, and put all of our emotions into everything we do. At one point, Ed looked at me, and I looked at him, and in his eyes, I could see what he was thinking: "Oh, that's the way it's going to be." (Laughs.) He literally had to walk away. I don't know where the hell he went for 15 minutes. When he walked back in, there was another idea twirling in his head. I loved it. "So he just walked away, and now he's trying to figure out another way to get inside of this armor." That's the game we play as actors. It was exciting and it was exhilarating. It was all right in the moment, fully unforced. It just unfolded. Thankfully, we both kept our cool and allowed ourselves to be in that vulnerable place where you don't know how it's going, but you know it's going. You know you're playing. That's the game of acting. I was given a very wonderful and honorable opportunity to be a part of this as this special cameo.

Is this the last we'll see of you as El Lazo?

I don't know, but for me, I'm always imagining that if I did what I do best, and if we did create the sparks that we were hoping to create? Then I doubt it. I have my senses that it's a possibility this character has great potential and I'll be back. We hope! But we don't know. We'll see what our creators think and what HBO thinks, but I certainly would love the opportunity.

Is this the last we'll see of you in season two, at least?

Well, I think this is it for season two…but, again, you never know. (Laughs.) I'll leave you there. You never know!

How about Better Call Saul season four? What's happening in the world of Gus Fring?

It's going really well. I adore our creators. Peter Gould has a really beautiful sense of artistry, and we have a great team. It gets heavier and heavier and deeper and deeper to unravel. I look forward to this season being tantalizing for the viewers. We're almost finished with our fourth season, and it's just going to keep going from there. It's certainly heating up. I love getting to the meat and potatoes with Gus. He's a character that we all know and love, but we're also in fear of. Gus can do anything. I really do enjoy that about him.

What did you think of Giancarlo Esposito's Westworld cameo? Sound off in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.