Leonardo Nam Thinks A 'Westworld' Reality Is 'Not That Far Off'
We spoke to the actor about 'Westworld's second season, the nature of technology, and the need for more Asian representation on-screen.
As you count down the hours until Westworld’s Season 2 premiere, take solace in the fact that somewhere in the world Leonardo Nam is in the exact same boat. The 38-year-old actor plays Felix Lutz on the show, yet doesn’t know exactly how Westworld’s chaotic upcoming season will unfold — but that’s okay with him.
"I haven’t been privy to it all," said Nam over the phone. "I’m going to enjoy the season as it comes out."
Even if you haven't binged the first season, you’ve surely heard the hype. The series is at once brutal and introspective — that is to say, it’s a thriller with a whole lot of depth. Fans of the show know Nam’s character as the somewhat soft-spoken lab technician who helps Maeve (Thandie Newton) break free from the Westworld theme park. In a series where good humans are hard to come by, Felix seems to be one of them.
During our conversation, Nam used the word "textured" to describe both Felix’s layers and his own. And, truly, it’s the perfect descriptor for the actor's life. Born in Argentina and raised in Australia by his Korean parents, Nam has a uniquely layered personal history — one which obviously informs his outlook on Hollywood.
We were lucky enough to speak with Nam about Westworld’s second season, the nature of technology, and the need for more Asian representation on-screen.
What can you tell us about Westworld Season 2?
Leonardo Nam: I can tell you that it's a really, really exciting season. As an actor who went through [the filming process], I was like "WHAT?! THIS IS HAPPENING? WHAT?!" as they dished out each episode. This season is very ambitious... well, the whole nature of [the show] is ambitious! So it's always refreshing to come back and be like, "Oh, this is what it feels like for everyone to bring their 'A' game and to really want to give the audiences a new wonderful experience."
In regards to the story, I'm just as interested as you to find out what is going to happen.
How much of Felix's backstory do you get to know, or do you just make it up yourself?
LN: I spoke to the creatives, though not in-depth. We talked more about themes. For me personally, as an actor, I needed to create a backstory.
In terms of his actions towards Maeve, do you think Felix is a sympathetic character, or is he just easily manipulated? Or does he fall somewhere in between? In other words, how much of his character is his own agency?
LN: Well, I think you can't really talk about that without talking about the nature of a human. I think that is a part of all of us. What I love about the show is that it brings up questions of humanity, it brings up questions of consciousness, of morality. I think we all live within some semblance of that. Felix is definitely more sympathetic because he has a connection with a certain character, a lot of times its Maeve. And, along with that journey, he transforms as well. But, there are other points along the way where he has a different relationship with Sylvester. So, I think he lives somewhere in between.
I do love that audiences are finding that note within the story. I think you're going to see different textures of Felix [in Season 2], and hopefully, by virtue of seeing him, audiences will see it within themselves. He’s a very determined and very curious character. Whether that is reflected as sympathetic or not, that's really how I saw him.
It's true that everyone has a certain duality to them and different facets of their personality.
LN: And [Felix is] finding that duality within himself.
This didn't really dawn on me while I was binging the first season, but in a way, Felix is coming into his own awakening just like the hosts.
LN: 100 percent! You can see it really clearly in the hosts, and then by virtue of that, you see it reflected in the humans.
Has being on Westworld changed your relationship to technology at all? Especially as privacy becomes a bigger and bigger issue, do you find yourself more wary of technology?
LN: It definitely has shown me that we are much closer to a reality of Westworld than we think. As we were filming, I remember thinking, "Hang on, this is happening. This sliver of it, this small percentage of it is happening now. It's not that far off." As we've gone from Season 1 to Season 2, it's almost a five-year time period that I've been connected to this show in some form or another. So, I've seen [technology] grow, and it really is super scary, and exciting, and many different things. It feels like the birth of something is happening and we're riding that wave, and I'm really grateful to be on a show that is so dedicated to finding and discussing and allowing our audiences to start to open up to that conversation about [AI]. And, I think that's a good thing. You know, communication and discussion are keys to understanding the growth that is happening right now.
Yes, these TV shows are definitely opening up new conversations. I'm particularly thinking about Westworld and Black Mirror. Why do you think in the past ten years or so robots have gone from sinister, more antagonistic characters to sympathetic ones?
LN: I think part of what is fueling this is that we're starting to see subtleties. When you haven't encountered a culture before and yet when you sit opposite them, you just point out the differences. "Oh, they're like this, they do this." But the longer you stick with them you realize you have so much in common, and I think that's what's starting to happen. We're starting to break away from being purely afraid of it, to now, working with them. I know in my experience having Alexa and Siri in my house has really helped my life, I'm not going to lie. There are times I'm really grateful for them. My cooking has gotten a lot better I can tell you that for sure. My mom is even using Alexa!
Shifting a little bit, I'm wondering if you've felt a palpable shift in Hollywood in terms of diversity and better Asian representation as of late.
LN: I've got to say, I do think there is a shift. I know there are a lot of haters out there who say that nothing's changed. But it kind of has. I grew up in Australia with immigrant parents in a time where there was zero representation. And to think now, for as long as I’ve been in this industry, I’ve been able to make a living and find positive roles for myself. My focus is to give a voice to the underrepresented and to amplify those voices. I think that's the very nature of who I am and the tapestry of history that I have. There is more to go, of course, but I also think there has been a shift in conversation.
How often are people surprised by your Australian accent?
LN: I always say to them, "I don't have the accent, you do." My brother, my sister, my cousins, my mates, they all look like me and sound like me. I'm no one special, I just have a special job. I want people to understand there are different kinds of faces, with different kinds of voices. I am hopeful it becomes less of a jarring thing, less of the butt of the joke, and more of "you know, that's cool" or "that matters." Because it matters to a lot of people. I know I never had role models growing up who looked and sounded like me.
EC: Yes! It's allowing people to identify with that layered nature of identity.
LN: And, having people recognize, "That's really different!" or "I'm really different too and that's okay!"
Editor's note: This interview has been abbreviated for clarity.