9:15am PT by Josh Wigler
'Westworld' Star on His Secretive Season 2 Narrative: "Bring It On"
His eyes have seen the glory of what's coming up in the season ahead — and to his credit, he's keeping his leaps sealed: Louis Herthum, the actor responsible for bringing the mysterious Peter Abernathy online since the very first episode of HBO's Westworld.
A recurring player in the first season of the Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy drama, Herthum was upgraded to series regular status for season two, and with good reason. Near the end of the show's first year, Herthum's character — Peter Abernathy, the benevolent host and father of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) who experienced some jarring malfunctions at the start of the series — became a critical player in the conspiracy surrounding the enigmatic Delos project at the heart of the park.
In season two, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) has spent her entire storyline thus far tracking Abernathy, desperate to attain whatever secret knowledge is lurking within his head. In this past episode, Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) got a good look at that hazy information, teasing the magnitude for the audience with three impactful words: "Oh my god."
How did Herthum react when he found out the truth about Abernathy's role in the grander scheme of Westworld? He had three words of his own: "Bring it on." In the interview ahead, the actor speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about bringing the erstwhile rancher to life — a process that involves channeling many characters at once.
As of this past episode, we're finally starting to get a sense of Peter's role this season, in that he's a wanted man on multiple fronts. What kinds of conversations did you have with Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy about what to expect this season, especially in your expanded role as a series regular?
I hate to disappoint you, but absolutely zero. (Laughs.) The truth is, it's one of the things I found so fascinating with them. Once they cast somebody, they put their total trust in them. I didn't have a conversation with Jonah and Lisa at all for season two. The only conversations I had about what I did were with the directors, which was Richard J. Lewis in episode three. For my part, the main thing I wanted to do was find something that may be slightly different than what I did with Dr. Ford [in the series premiere, when Abernathy starts experiencing glitches]. He's gone from being a troubled host to absolutely overloaded with this data that's teeming out of him; 30 or 35 years worth of data from the park in that brain — or that egg, whatever you want to call it.
This season, the hosts are on journeys of self-discovery and consciousness. With Peter, it sometimes feels like he's still stuck in "the maze," but he knows it; he just can't articulate it.
That's pretty close to it. I think Peter has this encumbrance that is so overwhelming. No matter how much he tries to go back to his normal loop or try to find his own, it's all just too much. There's too much going on in there. When you see him singing "Battle Hymn of the Republic," he's harkening back to when he was programmed as a soldier. He's nowhere near as sentient as the rest of them are becoming, because he has too many blockades to deal with.
Does it feel like you're playing multiple characters within the same shell?
Absolutely. That's an actor's dream, isn't it? I can even harken back to when I first got the audition. Every male audition came with some sides of the role they would be playing, as well as a version of the Ford and Abernathy scene from the pilot. Completely different characters and dialogue, but it was basically a diagnostics scene. Finding out that I was going to be doing basically three different characters? It was exciting. And the dialogue... it's a meal. It's a feast. To be able to explore that sort of thing, it's really beautiful. It really is a collaboration. Going back to Jonah and Lisa and did we have a conversation? I believe that they trust every single person they've hired, whether it's people behind the camera or in front of it. It's fascinating. Everybody really has a grip on what they're doing. When a different director comes in every episode, for the most part, that's an enormous amount of trust, especially in a show this complicated. It's absolutely a feast. It's what every actor dreams of. I don't know if I could ever top it.
The scene between Peter and Dolores is a touching one, especially given how battle-hardened Dolores has been this season. This is her first real moment of vulnerability. What are your memories from shooting that scene?
When Evan and I work together, and it's been this way since literally the very first scene we did together in the pilot, there's this connection. I can't really describe what happens, or why. I think it's about the paths we've had in our own lives. They're similar, in that we've experienced a fair amount of heartache. When we get close together and start rehearsing scenes, directors will often say, "That's beautiful, but save it!" And we tell them, "Don't worry. It'll be there. We could do this 100 times, and it'll be there." It's the truth. It's never been an issue. The emotion and the connection... it's palpable. Really palpable. Working with her is one of my most favorite things I've done in my career. She's so amazing to work with.
There are a lot of great quotable moments in this episode; as someone who loves King Lear, Abernathy talking about being "bound upon a wheel of fire," certainly stands out. Do you see Abernathy as a King Lear type this season?
Honestly, I never thought about it, but yes, he could be. He could very well be finding himself in a similar situation. The thing I found most interesting about those quotes is that Peter, at least subconsciously, must have some cognizance of his surroundings and the situation he's in to come up with those quotes at such an appropriate time. He may not be completely aware of what is happening in the larger scheme — what Dolores is up to, and everything like that — although, maybe he is. In the [season premiere], they showed how when the hosts are in proximity to each other, they're connected; that's how they found Abernathy.
When Bernard sees what's in Abernathy's head, he speaks three words: "Oh my god." What was your reaction when you learned the answer?
I'll be honest with you: my main goal was, "Man, I hope I can pull this off!" (Laughs.) I just kind of looked at it as a challenge. I used the script as a blueprint. Any information that I don't get from the script, I'm actually okay with, especially with a character like Peter. Peter knows what he knows. He's programmed. He has that information. If he can access it? Great. If he can't, well, I won't have to deal with it until such time as he does have access. The knowledge of when I found out last season that Peter would be downloaded with all of this information, that was daunting. I had no idea what that would mean and what Peter would be like, and who he would be. Would we even see any glimpse of him? Sizemore says it in that episode: "I've given him a semblance of a personality." When I heard that? I wondered what it would be. But no expectations: "Bring it on, and I'll do my best."
What are your Abernathy theories? List them out in the comments and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.