Revelist: You've been a familiar character actor for years — most notably in "Always Sunny," but this is a whole different level. How are you feeling right now?
Jimmi Simpson: I’m just beside myself that I’m on a show written by two huge brains, starring Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood. [...] I was at Bloomsburg, at the university going for my business and English degrees, and I took a theater course towards the end. I gave myself a few years, and just assured myself I’d get out of [acting], because ... I had no like, hopes of stardom or anything like that.
Then, in a couple of years I would get a couple of jobs, and still I would be besides myself no matter what it was. Then [I met] Charlie and then came "It’s Always Sunny"; I got to do that crazy character, which was a product of me and Charlie messing around with a camcorder when we lived together in New York. [...] The fact that I was able to maintain a career as a somewhat off-putting character actor for 15 years I literally am always thinking [about] to myself.
This was just not even close to on my radar, [it feels like] some kind of like breaking through ... doing such a three-dimensional, beautiful, substantial role on such a beautifully crafted show. I don’t think many people have seen me do that kind of work. You know, truly it’s just gratitude, pure and simple.
Revelist: William seems to be the closest thing we have to a White Hat hero so far, at least as far as humans are concerned. Is that how you see him fitting in this narrative?
JS: I actually don’t have a clear vision of how everything is going to play out, but I know that I felt like William was the audience’s POV. He’s the most accessible [in terms of] what would we be like at a place like that, but he’s there for the duration. So [you and I], we’ve seen the first four — I guess the question about William is, how pure can he stay in a place like this?
Revelist: So far, pretty pure. Are you hoping to get to do some of the sexier stuff Ben Barnes is doing every week?
JS: No, not at all. I’m so delighted to be able to play the person who isn’t trying to fuck everyone and shoot everything.
I actually auditioned for both parts; for William and Logan. I was going into this like, "Logan is a character I know, and it’d be fun to take that character to another level, but William — no one has ever allowed me to play a character like that before." It hit a little closer to my own nature, so it’s exciting to be able to play a human with consequence and grounded emotions and his eyes open.
Revelist: Given your network, budget, and time slot, "Game of Thrones" comparisons were bound to happen. Do you see any similarities?
JS: I personally do. I feel like this big medium, television, has been evolving. It allows content creators to make really big pitches to specific niches, then bend them. "Game of Thrones" or "The Walking Dead" — those would have been genre shows before five years ago for very specific audiences, but they just went for it, and it catches on. What Jonathan [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] have done with "Westworld" is that they’ve opened it up; they’ve gone full haul. There are like four or five different niches they’re talking to, and they kill it on each level.
And so, to me, it feels more accessible, and I think it’s — in my very humble opinion — just as well done as that other show.
Revelist: The first few episodes do a lot of sprawl and world-building, but some scenes in Episode 4 suggest a more centralized story arc. Am I right about this, or will several story threads — kind of like on "Thrones" — be the name of the game in "Westworld?"
JS: "I think you are going to be a bit awestruck by how all of these seemingly independent storylines start to laser in. They’re all heading towards each other.
[...] It’s all there for a reason, and that’s what I was most amazed by. Because you have great ideas all the time on television shows, but then the end happens and then you’re like, "You guys were making shit up." This does the opposite. This is like, "Oh, I didn't know brains could be that clever. That’s stunning, well done." And then you clap.
Revelist: I'm glad to hear that; I was one of the many who loved "Lost" but not necessarily NEVER finding out the answers to the questions it was asking.
JS: I didn't even have to say the title, and you knew what I was talking about.
Revelist: A lot of critics discussed the overwhelming amount of violence against Hosts in the premiere. I get where they're coming from, but I also feel that all of the violence I've watched so far serves a specific purpose. What's your take?
JS: I’m not one who looks at violence lightly, so I agree, there’s such a specific purpose for the violence on the show. By using the AI as the victims, it allows you to see both sides. I think it’s [the showrunners'] pitch for us to kind of open our eyes a little more in real life. It’s not using violence as a device in storytelling; it’s the whole point, to show us what we do.
I love a genre show, and the violence is always so deeply rooted in the story that you’re telling and the lessons that you’re learning. I don’t really catch much buzz, but Lisa would call me up and say, "People are saying this, just so you know," and I just was never aware of why people were buzzing about the show ... because everything I was watching, happening in front of my eyes, made so much sense. It had such good heart behind it; I didn’t even see it that way until people were like "Oh, people are buzzing about the show because it’s a bit violent," and I was like "Oh, they’ll see."
Like "The Walking Dead" or something ... to me, that’s off-putting. Just because you’ve now framed them as the undead, this senseless slaughter, slaughter, slaughter, slaughter, slaughter, as like a popcorn eating thing, I can’t really wrap my head around it. There’s just never any senseless violence in "Westworld," unless it’s to show you how senseless violence is.
Revelist: So should we NOT expect an epic, violent Episode 9 on "Westworld" like we've come to on "Game of Thrones?" Or do they find ways to create those popcorn moments without violence?
JS: Oh my god, do they ever! Violence is a product of humanity so there will be escalations that culminate in some pretty epic episodes of violence, but [the story's] not dependent on it, that’s just part of humanity.
These crazy, end-of-the-season episodes are just killers, but it's story-based; it's character-based. It’s not all about violence, it’s about the world shaking underneath your feet. It’s about things making so much sense, and then just blowing you out of the water because you hadn’t seen it coming.
Revelist: Finally, I have to ask — does William have a signature drink? Because I've heard people buy you milk at bars; there's got to be something better out there.
JS: It does happen — the milk being sent down the bar, it happens many times. And I’m always surprised that bars have milk, but I guess they always do.
[William] is not a huge drinker, but when he enters the park he’s given some rye and he’s a bit stunned, at his first sip, just how real everything is. So let’s switch it to rye.