Jimmi Simpson is one of those actors who plays weirdos. You might know him best as Liam McPoyle, the milk-swilling, incest-leaning sicko who torments the gang on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; or as Gavin Orsay, the deep web hacker with a guinea pig named Cashew on House of Cards. He’s just good at playing guys who make you feel uneasy, and maybe even nauseous. But in his latest role as William on HBO’s Westworld, Simpson is finally getting to play the heroic good guy.
William is a hardworking, genuine, empathetic guy who tags along to the debaucherous titular playground with his crass co-worker and future brother-in-law, Logan (Ben Barnes). While the latter is all about getting his rocks off and using Westworld to achieve his deepest, darkest desires, William is more interested in the apparently growing sentience of the park’s hosts, and he’s particularly intrigued and attracted to Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the good girl prototype whose layers are multiplying by the minute. But there may be more to William than that, as the show (and Reddit conspiracy threads) continue to point the character undergoing through a stunning personality shift to become the Man in Black (Ed Harris), Westworld’s ipso facto villain, a man murdering his way through the park on a quest of some sort of enlightenment.
Talking with Complex, Simpson touched on about his character, the theories revolving around him, and, you know, the simple question of what makes us human.
When you first started reading the scripts for Westworld, what were thinking?
It was pretty much, what the fuck? I think Evan [Rachel Wood] and I said that to each other 40 times a day. We were obsessed with what was happening, more so than [the audience] even because we were so close to it.
So who is William? The show seems to be acting coy with your character.
Well, William grew up pretty broke, and he worked hard for everything he has. He doesn’t do the stuff Logan does because he doesn’t have that sense of entitlement, that idea that he doesn’t need to think about his responsibilities. He thinks about everything he does. He’s a complicated guy, like most of us.
He doesn’t seem like someone who would want to go to Westworld.
No, not at all. But Logan brought William there to vet him out—not just for business, but to see if he could hang with the family. At some point, you got to eat shit and go to a family reunion, you know what I mean?
He’s wearing a white hat right now—but are we going to see him don a black one eventually?
Have you gotten any hints of that? I feel like everyone in Westworld has the potential to see more colors they [currently are]. I’m familiar with the fan theories—some of them are totally interesting, others are bumping up against some truths. But I promise, whatever you think, the reality is going to be even better. I promise you, you will be satisfied.
So what do you think makes us human?
Well, what I think separates humans from other species is our capacity for empathy. And I think that quality is evolving now. It is the same thing that is separating some humans from the others. It’s an old-fashioned, very outdated, non-functioning idea that we can drain all the resources from directly around us and skyrocket to the top of a skyscraper, and that’s success. We have to understand that when one has to leech from others to that degree, then that’s something we need to watch and stop. So, I think it’s that quality: to stop thinking about ourselves.
Liam McPoyle is one of my favorite characters on TV.
He’s a hyperbolic motherfucker.
We haven’t seen him in awhile though? Can you tell me what’s up with that?
It’s just the way it’s worked out. Last season, they asked us to do an episode but Nate Mooney [who plays Liam’s brother, Ryan] was off doing something and I had to work too, so we couldn’t fit it in. But you know, I love that show too. And Charlie [Day] is one of my oldest and dearest buddies. We’ve known each other since we did theater together in the ‘90s in Massachusetts; we lived together in New York City. It’s always like coming home when I get to do that show.
Like Liam, a lot of the characters you play are pretty weird. Why are you attracted to taking on those kinds of roles?
I think you have to kind of feel like you’re pretty handsome and cool to be able to step into an audition for some kind of lead hero, and that’s just not how I look. But also, the idea of stepping into something that is completely different, it has endless potential. If you are willing to play things that are strange and off putting, you can look underneath the actions of a character and realize that we are all human, and as weird as the shit we do is, we are all doing it for a solid reason, at least as far as we’re concerned. Really, nobody is doing anything to be an asshole—most people are doing shit because they think it’s just and true. So I love that for some reason.
But Westworld has you playing what, for now, appears to be a more traditional hero.
It was really, really difficult for me and I enjoyed being allowed to try something so hard. I swear, Jon [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy]—and Evan [Rachel Wood] in particular—were all so instrumental in making me feel like I had a place there, and that I should be there doing that role. We all don’t feel like a million bucks, even if you’re an actor. You just don’t, not all of us feel like movie stars. So to have people that are like, “No, this is a collaborative art form and we are here doing it together,” I don’t know. I don’t know how I got so lucky, quite frankly.
I will say, don’t sell yourself short—you do have some swagger on the show.
Isn’t that weird?