Louis Herthum Talks Peter Abernathy and ‘Westworld’ Fan Theories (Interview)
HBO’s hit series Westworld provides both the characters on the show, as well as its viewers, an escape from reality. In the series, those who choose to visit the Westworld theme park can interact with robotic (though incredibly lifelike) hosts in order to play out different narratives and experiences. When the hosts begin glitching causing them to go off-script and wreak havoc, no one, including the park’s developers and creators, is safe.
The series stars an all-star cast including Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores Abernathy), Thandie Newton (Maeve Millay), Jeffrey Wright (Bernard Lowe), James Marsden (Teddy Flood), Ed Harris (the Man in Black), Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Robert Ford), Jimmi Simpson (William), Luke Hemsworth (Ashley Stubbs) and many others.
Recently, we had the pleasure of chatting with Louis Herthum who plays Peter Abernathy on the series. Louis spoke with us about landing his role on the HBO series, engaging in the countless online fan theories, working with Evan Rachel Wood and much more! Check out our full interview with Louis below.
Denise Caputo: Thank you for speaking with us today! Before we get into discussing this current season, tell me a little bit about how you landed the role of Peter Abernathy in Westworld.
Louis Herthum: Well, it was just an audition like any other audition. My manager called me and said, “I have an audition for you for Westworld.” I said, “Wow! Is this a TV series or a remake of the movie?” He said, “Its a TV series based on the original movie.” Of course, that excited me because I am such a fan of the original movie. It was way ahead of its time and very creepy. Even looking back on it now, it still holds up for me as being a campy 70’s film and I love the films of the 60’s and 70’s.
For the audition, all the actors read from the same scene. It was a rendition of the Dr. Ford diagnostic scene with completely different characters, completely different dialogue, but you were there being put through three different characters. For an actor, we love to go into these auditions and try to impress as best we can. Being given three distinctly different characters to play in one audition, it shows a range, so I was very excited to get that chance.
Went I went in to audition, I wasn’t quite sure if they wanted the robots to be like in the original movie where you could really tell they were robots. They had robotic sort of movements, kind of like Old Bill in the Westworld pilot. I asked Deanna Brigidi, who was John Papsidera’s associate and she said, “No. You’re completely human. You cannot tell the difference. The only time you can tell you’re robotic is between the characters, and it’s a struggle. You’re struggling.” So, I did the first audition and she said, “Great. I want you to come back, but I want you to develop some sort of physicality that we see happening between the characters. The further the better. Nothing is out of whack. Just go for it.”
I had several days to prepare. I just went home and I started working on how to create this malfunction. She did give me one of the greatest notes in the history of casting which of course was telling me to develop some sort of physicality. She said, “You know how when your computer gets the spinning ball?” I remember saying, “Oh yeah I hate that.” She explained further, “That’s what’s happening to you.” I just thought that was a brilliant note. So, I came home and started working on it when it dawned on me that not only is the host having a physical difficulty, he’s trying to speak. There would be an audio difficulty too. That’s when I came up with the what I call “the hiccuping sound.” It’s sort of the breathy kind of thing. Man, when I found that everything else just sort of fell into place. I went back to the second audition and pretty much did what you see in the scene with Dr. Ford. Lisa Joy was there, and she was quite pleased.
It took maybe five weeks or so before I found out that I got the part. I didn’t think I had been cast. It was so long. I’d pretty much forgotten about it. As actors, we have to go into an audition, do it, walk out and forget about it. Then, if you get the call great, if you don’t, you move on. I got the call on a Thursday that I got the job, and then the next day I got a call from production asking me to come in that Monday to rehearse with Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, and Jonathan Nolan. Then, halfway through that rehearsal, J.J. Abrams walks in the room. It was quite a memorable afternoon.
DC: Awesome. That must have been crazy with all those notable people in one room, and you had barely had time to process that you got the role. That’s awesome.
LH: That is exactly right. That is the perfect way to put it. You’re right, and I wasn’t sure if they wanted me to do the whole physicality of this thing, but we just read it and talked about it. I came back the next day or day after, and we actually did it 100% full-bore for Lisa and Jonah [Jonathan Nolan] just to make sure we were all on the same page, and we were.
DC: Awesome! Now the series is in its second season, and there are even more moving parts to the plot – different timelines, different parks and tons of events that are being shown concurrently. It’s a little crazy.
LH: (Laughs) Yes it is!
DC: Fans are loving it, but it’s crazy! Have you found it difficult to keep up with the overall story that’s going on?
LH: Listen, I’m a fan, so yes. The answer is yes! (laughs) People always ask me, “Louis, what the heck is going on man. I’m having the hardest time following it.” I always say the way that you’re going to get through this the easiest is to try to discern what timeline you’re in. You’re going to have to look for clues. In this season, we see Bernard at the very beginning and one of the things that I use, and I don’t think this is a spoiler, is that he does not take his glasses with him. He leaves them on the beach. Now, for me, I only know what I know from the episodes I’m in, so this season is full of surprises for me! I think that’s the case for most of the cast members, except those that are in most of the episodes. So, when Bernard doesn’t have his glasses, I know it’s that particular timeline.
You have other clues like Hale, for example. She’s wearing a vest when they catch me. Then, you see her without the vest, so there are all these little clues, but yes. To answer your questions, absolutely! I have tried desperately to hang on to the different timelines, and it’s so much fun!
DC: The show is brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant.
LH: It is brilliant, you’re right. There are no mistakes whatsoever. Every word – you have to hang onto every word in this show. Before starting the second season, heck, I watched every episode of the first season at least three times and some even more – like the episode The Bicameral Mind, for example. I watched the episodes so many times to just try really wrap it all up and get ready for season two. I watched the whole season again before starting season two and I still found things that I had missed. It’s just extraordinary.
DC: Each episode is so intricate.
LH: I mean, it makes my brain hurt just thinking about it, trying to imagine how they come up with this.
DC: One of the many good things about being a fan of the show is that the fandom kind of bands together to decode those clues and you see a lot of that interaction and chatter happening on social media. Do you follow any of the fan chatter and hypothesizing? What do you think about all of that?
LH: It’s fabulous! All of that chatter, the fan talk, and theorizing – that’s what is really driving the popularity of the show. In the first season, I followed a lot of the theories. I couldn’t help it! (laughs) You just read something, and one thing leads you to another link and another site. I also did an AMA on Reddit last season, so you get asked a lot of the questions by the fans.
I am active on social media. I do follow a couple of the fan pages, and I interact with them. They appreciate it. When people say really nice things about your work, it’s very hard for me not to personally thank them. I’m so appreciative that anybody is interested in my work. I’m definitely going to take time to thank them. So, yeah, I follow them. It’s amazing how astute these fans are. Some of them have such deep insight into what’s going on. It amazes me! It really does.
DC: Let’s talk about your character, Peter Abernathy. What has his evolution been so far within the series?
LH: Well, his evolution so far, honestly has not been very fast. He was basically just living his life and being shot every evening by Rebus. (laughs) You know, waking up to a blissful morning with his daughter and then being gunned down every evening. He doesn’t seem to mind it too much. (laughs) Then, once he saw the photograph, which set him off course, he’s never recovered. His arc, once you really think about it, has been pretty short. Of course, now he’s got so much information that he can’t hold a straight thought. He’s glitching back and forth. The interesting thing about the series so far is that the hosts are more human than most of the humans – regardless of what it is they are programmed to do. That’s certainly true in Peter’s case, the overriding narrative, or the overriding drive as Dr. Ford would call it, is his love for and need to protect Dolores. There was a scene recently which was very touching to shoot with Evan [Rachel Wood], where Dolores comes in and he recognizes her, but only briefly. So far, who knows if he’ll be able to recover. It’s just overload. He’s carrying around too much. There’s too much bouncing around in his host brain to keep a thought for any length of time right now.
DC: The scene you just mentioned with Evan, where Peter does recognize Dolores even for that fleeting, fleeting moment. It was such a touching moment within the series, which had been up to that point, so brutal. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like emotionally on set for those characters to connect and then what it’s like working with Evan in general? Did you guys click right away when you first started filming the series?
LH: We clicked right away from the very beginning in the pilot. The scene on the porch, all those scenes we did on the porch, we did in one day as I recall or maybe two days in a row. We clicked right off the bat, and when there’s an emotional scene like that one to be done, I can’t really describe it. I’ve never worked with an actor that I feel such a connection to. I do have a daughter; she’ll be 14 in June, who is a beautiful blonde-haired girl, kind of a mini Dolores. (laughs) I think having a daughter that is your life and your love probably helps.
Even as an actor or actress, you’re only as good as the people you work with and when Evan and I get close in the same room preparing to do a scene, I just get so emotional immediately. I believe that she does too. When we’re rehearsing the scene before we shoot, we’ve had the directors say, “Hey, guys. Save it! save it.” We reassure them, “Don’t worry. Don’t worry. It’s going to be there,” and it is every time. She gives 100% every time, and certainly, I try to do the same. It really is remarkable! It’s an absolute joy working with Evan. She is a remarkable, remarkable actress. So, yeah, it was very emotional doing that scene.
Then, when I watched it back, I had a room full of friends. We gather to watch every episode. I was just weeping! I just fell apart watching that scene. It was so beautifully shot and edited and the music. It’s one thing when you’re doing it in the room, but when you see the finished product with the lighting and the editing and the music, it’s on a whole other level. It’s probably one of my favorite scenes of my entire career.
DC: Oh wow. It was an amazing moment in the series for sure! Taking into account how the show plays with perception and consciousness and what’s real versus what’s not real, has the show inspired you at all to kind of question your own perception of consciousness and reality?
LH: Yes, it certainly has got me thinking very hard about Artificial Intelligence (AI). I can tell you this Denise, I don’t have a far-out button. I really don’t, but I’m very interested in space, for example. The universe astounds me. When you try to imagine the size of the universe, it is something that, for our thinking capacity, seems unbelievable! It’s just too unbelievable, yet we know it’s true. So, that makes me think that pretty much anything could be possible. I do believe that there are very few things that you could tag as impossible. So, yes, it does make me think about it in that regard.
As far as AI, it scares the hell out of me. I think that Elon Musk and even Jonah Nolan and Lisa, they’re definitely making a statement about AI with Westworld. I think it’s cautionary tale. We have to be very careful. Artificial Intelligence is all around us already.
DC: Okay. Without giving too much away, no spoilers, what if anything can you say about the rest of the season?
LH: I would only say that the fans are so brilliant that they should use their imagination, and I wouldn’t dare try to spoil the fun!
DC: Before we close out our chat, do you have any additional projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with fans?
LH: Sure! As far as other projects go, I have a wonderful film coming out soon with Bella Thorne and Dermot Mulroney called I Still See You, which is based on a novel called Break My Heart a Thousand Times. It’s a really fascinating film. Also, another Screen Gems film called Cadaver should be coming out probably close to the end of the year. I am appearing in a film with Johnny Depp film called City of Lies, and I also have lots of other little things in the works also, so stay tuned!
Thank you, Louis Herthum, for chatting with us here at Fan Fest News! If you want to theorize about Westworld with Louis, make sure you follow him on his social media pages. His Instagram and Twitter handle is @Louis_Herthum.
You can catch Louis in new episodes of Westworld currently airing on HBO Sunday nights at 9 PM EST or anytime on HBOGo.