The success of Westworld’s first season was the result of many elements coming together – superior writing, directing, production, and acting. The vision and talent of showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy ensured Westworld would be a hit, and bringing in a cast of A-list talent was icing on the cake.
They certainly struck gold with veteran actor Louis Herthum, whose turn as Peter Abernathy was a pivotal one in the first season. His performance made such an impact in the season premiere that it remains one of Westworld’s most memorable scenes. As a result, the Louisiana native has seen a surge in popularity, despite having already had a long and steady career in both television and film. His first big role was playing Deputy Andy Broom on Murder, She Wrote, and he has appeared in several popular shows over the years, such as True Blood, Longmire, True Detective, and most recently, Chicago Med. This spring, Louis was promoted to series regular for Westworld season two.
I connected with Louis on social media a few months ago, when he expressed appreciation for a portrait I drew of him as Peter Abernathy. He is one of the most genuine, humble, and down-to-earth people I’ve ever encountered, and he is incredibly grateful for the support of his fans. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Louis about his experiences on Westworld and his upcoming projects.
Your scene with Sir Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Ford) and Jeffrey Wright (Bernard Lowe) in the premiere was chilling. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that scene made Westworld my new “must watch” series. How difficult was that scene to film? Was it intimidating for you?
The scene wasn’t as difficult as it may have seemed, but for one reason only – I had a good deal of time to prepare it. And to me preparation is everything. There was certainly a great deal of anticipation however, working with both Anthony and Jeffrey, two actors whom I have greatly admired for a very long time. But both are complete gentlemen and consummate pros so it was another day at work really. I don’t mean to belittle the magnitude of the scene or its apparent effectiveness but it’s what we do as actors, so you simply have to be prepared when taking on something like it. I am sure that a brain surgeon gets butterflies before cutting into someone’s brain, but he is not nervous about it. And while this is certainly not brain surgery it was right at the top of the rung of the career ladder for me, so I choose to equate it that lofty way. Having said all of that, I felt I was on the right track because I was hired after doing much of what you see at the audition, and then in rehearsal Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] let me know they liked what I was doing. That takes a heck of a lot of the burden away as well. The nude part was the least of my concerns, really. It’s all handled so professionally and with a great deal of dignity. After 5 minutes, it was as if I was fully clothed.
What was it like playing a host – did you do anything special to prepare? How did that experience compare to playing a human character?
I loved playing a host and am so excited about continuing to play one in season two. As for comparisons to playing a human…well that is all I have ever played and so many different characters, that being able to incorporate the physical aspect of the hosts with the different personalities, the thought patterns etc…well it’s a dream job come true! And as for special preparation, yes I had to figure out how to walk the line between acting human and finding things that would depict the way a host would act/react. I was given a great note by Deanna Brigidi, the casting associate on the pilot, at the initial audition. When talking about what my host was experiencing between characters, she was explaining that this is the only place we see that the hosts are hosts, and not human. She then said, “You know when you get that spinning ball on your computer? That is what’s happening to you.” And from that I came up with what you see. But I felt it was a great note. Everyone hates that spinning ball!
Was it easy to identify with your character? In what ways is Peter Abernathy like you (aside from being a robot of course!)?
Peter and I have a lot in common. Very down to earth kind of guy (which I like to think I am), desperately loves his daughter (mine is about to turn 13) whom he lives for, not unlike myself, and has a basic sense of what is good and what isn’t, what is right and what is wrong, again which I too like to think I have a pretty good grip on. So I really identify with Peter Abernathy the farmer and family man. As for his alter egos or…the other narratives he has played and that I was so fortunate to be able to visit in the pilot…all I will say is we all have a dark side.
The scenery in the show is gorgeous. What was it like filming in Utah?
Breathtaking! Everywhere you look it’s a postcard. I have seen that scenery in films all my life but to be there and actually working in it…just amazing.
What is your favorite way to relax after a long day of filming?
I have been asked this question before in other interviews. I come home, take a long, hot shower, then relax with a nice meal and a glass (or two) of wine and think about what a fortunate guy I am!! Fortunate to have that “long day of filming” in the first place.
What was your favorite part of working on Westworld? Least favorite?
Favorite part? Just about everything. But to be more specific, the role itself, the script, the amazing crew, to work with a cast derived from ANY actors ‘bucket list of actors to work with’ and lastly, the amazingly talented, in fact, brilliantly talented creator/producer/directors of the show, Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy Nolan. Not only are they brilliant at what they do, but they are truly two of the sweetest human beings I have ever met. This is not necessarily the norm in this biz…but it is, and is exceptional, in this case. Least favorite – having to wait 2 years from the filming of the pilot till the series aired. But of course, it was well worth it.
Were there any deleted scenes that you would have liked to see make the cut?
Yes, but I would rather not talk about that because it could very well end up in a future episode.
Which of the Westworld actors did you become closest with during filming?
Steven Ogg (Rebus). We have stayed in touch, and I now consider him a lifelong friend. I am hoping to see him again in season two. He is such a lovely man. Kind, generous, crazy talented and hard not to like instantly. He has that “it” thing going for him.
Did you expect Westworld to become such a big hit? How did viewing the completed series compare to filming it?
Yes, I was certain it would be. Viewing the series was much more of an absorptive experience than filming it, but that is usually the case, and especially with a show like Westworld. So many layers, so many surprises, so many twists. You cannot possibly absorb all of that while filming…that is to say I could not as my role was limited in season one, and I only read the pilot script. But I still think that is the case with most actors. When you film, it is in small sections. Hard to get the overall picture of what the finished product would be like. But there is no way I could have ever thought it would be as extraordinary a show as it was. Like I said, I knew it would be amazing and a hit, but it far exceeded my personal expectations.
What was your reaction when you were named TV Line’s Performer of the Week? Did you do anything special to celebrate?
I was pretty darned pleased…and honored. It’s always so nice to be singled out in this line of work because it is so, so very hard to have happen. I have never (well not in the last 30 years at least) wanted to be “famous” but I have always wished to be recognized for my work. So this was a wonderful example of being recognized by a peer group publication. No, I didn’t do anything special to celebrate other than gloat a little to my (close) friends and family!
If you could be any other Westworld character, who would you be? Would you choose a white hat or a black hat?
Man! Hard question to answer because there are so many great characters in the show, but one I have been asked before. I think I would have to go with the MAN IN BLACK (which answers your second question) though since the last time I was asked this, I might try Teddy on for size. Would be nice to be “perfect” and be the chivalrous one. I believe deeply in chivalry. Some say it’s dead…I say that it’s just severely wounded.
Do you think a Westworld-type park could work in today’s society? Why or why not?
Oh yes, it would I think. But it would be attended of course, by the 1% mainly. Heck who could afford it otherwise at $40k a day (though that is the price in 2052 so maybe less in 2017). I think it would not only work but I think it would look very similar, if not exactly as we see it in the show. And the why…again for the same reason as in the show. Jonah and Lisa have created a show that aims a very large mirror at us all. We mustn’t forget that while watching. This could be our future with AI.
How has the success of Westworld changed your life (if at all)?
Well, as I write this it is the last week in May 2017 and I have not stopped working since the show aired in October of 2016. And the best part is that most of the gigs now are offers. That is what every actor wishes for. I still have to audition for certain jobs of course, but it is always nice to get the call saying you have been offered a job. That has been the biggest change and one I am so thankful for. And outside of being recognized on the street more, not much else has changed. Like I said earlier, I like to keep it real.
You were recently cast as Papa Halstead on Chicago Med – can you tell us more about that role, and any other upcoming projects?
That was an AMAZING role and experience. Everyone was so very kind to me and so accommodating. They really made me feel special and for that I am eternally grateful. The actors and producers are… well let me put it like this, they are exactly the way any actor would want them to be. Or hope for them to be. It just doesn’t get any better. Very much like Westworld. My character’s on-film sons, Nick Gehlfuss and Jesse Lee Soffer were just tremendous to work with. Such wonderful guys. I felt a very real bond with them and that is mostly due to their acceptance of me as their pop. Colin Donnell, S. Epatha Merkerson, Brian Tee, Torrey DeVito (whom I had worked with before), Rachel DiPillo (whom I also worked with before on The Gates) were all so wonderful and welcoming. Oh, the role. Well Pat Halstead is a pretty stubborn SOB. He has been less that accepting of his son Will’s choice to become a doctor, more so his son Jay’s choice to become a police officer. But he is just old school, hard assed and blue collar to the core. But it was nice to see him soften up with Will after his near-death experience. I truly had a blast and hope very much that they bring ole crabby Papa Halstead back next season. Maybe I can redeem him in the viewers eyes a little.
As for upcoming projects, I will appear in the eighth episode of the wonderful new ABC show Downward Dog (another great experience), as well as in an episode of season three of Narcos on Netflix. I have a few movies coming out – LAbyrinth with Johnny Depp, Cadaver with Shay Mitchell and Break My Heart 1000 Times with Bella Thorne and Dermot Mulroney. And soon I start shooting an episode of Electric Dreams; The Writings of Philip K. Dick. It’s a new anthology based on Dick’s writing and will air on Amazon. Then of course, there is Westworld season two starting this summer.
In the finale, Lee Sizemore (played by Simon Quarterman) gives Peter Abernathy a “semblance” of a personality before Peter escapes cold storage; what does that mean for your character’s future?
I have no idea! It could mean anything really, but the truth is I am not so sure that the show is going to pick up where it left off. Since my last interview I have heard Jonah say something to that effect. So I can’t answer your question with any accuracy.
Obviously fans are anxious for any news about season two – what can you tell us about it? Do you have any theories or predictions?
Aren’t we all!!?? No, I really don’t. Well, ok I do have theories, but I won’t say because I am probably so wrong that I would end up looking like a doofus. Not to mention that I would not presume to have the ability to guess what the brilliant minds of the Westworld creators Jonah and Lisa will come up with. I’m not equipped with enough brain capacity for that.